When Patti Truman adopted Polo and Elmo, a horse and his mini donkey friend, she planned to keep them for the rest of their lives.
It was not an unreasonable expectation – she had owned ponies and horses for decades, ever since she was a child, and she knew the dedication it took to be a good caretaker.
“I would never give one up,” Truman said.
But then, last year, she had to. After 14 years with Polo and 13 years with Elmo, Truman’s life changed, and she suddenly had to find her beloved animals a new home.
Her first try, done on her own, did not work. The animals’ new owner was about to send them to an auction.
Then Truman heard about Maine Horse Matchmaker.
Run by the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals in Windham, the 3-year-old online service helps horses that need homes connect with homes that want horses.
Within days, Truman had a list of people eager to adopt.
“I really felt that every prayer was answered,” she said. “I was at a point where I was worried I would never find a home, and now I had the joy and opportunity to choose.”
The society helps abused and neglected horses, but it does not accept horses just because their owner needs to re-home them. No animal shelter in Maine does, according to the society. Traditionally, that has left owners with few options: Advertise their animal online or in print, try to find a home through friends and friends of friends, or take their horse to an auction, where it ultimately could end up in a bad situation or be sold for meat.
Over the years, the society has regularly gotten calls from horse owners desperate to place their animals somewhere safe. Some of the owners were sick or dying, some had a financial catastrophe, others experienced a sudden change—a death in the family, a divorce, an injury—that prevented them from caring for their horses.
“These people are in a difficult circumstance and they’re trying to do the right thing,” said assistant CEO Kathy Woodbrey.
Maine Horse Matchmaker was a way the society could help without taking on those horses itself.
“This was our solution to saying, ‘No,’” CEO Meris Bickford said. “We decided to say, ‘Yes, and here’s how we’re going to do it.’ ”
The society created a webpage where owners could submit information about their horse, then a Facebook page where those horses were listed. Owners provide photos and detailed information, both positive and negative.
“Has minor arthritis, a bit chubby – she’s a very easy keeper!” one owner wrote recently for Matchmaker.
Listings are free to owners, and horses are free to their new homes. While the society created and runs Matchmaker, it does not assess the horses or the people offering to adopt them. That is up to owners or potential owners to work out.
Last year, Maine Horse Matchmaker listed 23 horses. Fourteen found new homes, including Polo.
Truman still has trouble talking about her decision to re-home middle-aged Polo and Elmo. She had had a half-dozen horses and a couple of ponies over the years, and she took care of them until they died.
She planned the same for Polo, who once stood steadfast beside her when a mother bear charged at her, and for Elmo, who was so skittish when he arrived Truman sat in his stall and read “Harry Potter” to him until he began to trust her.
But then, about 18 months ago, Truman suddenly had extra responsibilities – school in addition to work, travel in addition to her life with Polo and Elmo.
Her time with her beloved animals dwindled until she was taking care of only the basics for them.
“I said: ‘I can’t do this. I have to give them something more,’ ” she said. “It just broke my heart. I had no choice.”
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