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Unexpected twist accelerated charity’s race to build horse sanctuary

Updated October 22, 2021 - 3:43 pm

No one knows exactly how long Annie was on her own.

A 430-pound mare, Annie was abandoned somewhere in the Las Vegas Valley. Christy Stevens, the founder and executive director of Hearts Alive Village, a Las Vegas-based charity that helps rescue animals find forever homes, doesn’t know where she came from.

Annie wasn’t alone, exactly. When animal control found her earlier this year, she was with a few of her friends — Chase, a 12-year-old American Eskimo dog, and five goats: LaVern, Whitaker, Finn, Ansel and Jax.

They were initially brought to The Animal Foundation, which has a small barn, but Annie and her friends needed a long-term home, or at least a place with more space.

Within a month, Annie had gained 160 pounds and was happily living on a brand new horse sanctuary in the Las Vegas Valley. Her journey required a bit of luck, some good timing and a couple flights across the Pacific Ocean.

Stevens and her team had always dreamed of building a horse sanctuary in the Las Vegas Valley. Earlier this year, Stevens mentioned it in an interview with a reporter as a long-term goal, maybe a few years down the road. Then things picked up.

First, David Hammer and Alice Whitfield-Hammer, members of the Hearts Alive Village board of directors, decided to sell their property in Hawaii and buy land in Las Vegas. That meant that Tom and Sharon McGarry, who had managed the Hawaii property, suddenly had a new job offer — in Kyle Canyon.

Excited for a new adventure, the McGarrys soon moved into a house on the property.

The plan was to eventually build a stable on the 4.5 acres, suitable for 20 horses as the Hearts Alive Village horse sanctuary. It would be ready near the end of the year.

For a little bit, it was just them and their rescue dog, Jack, who was scared to leave their side and explore the property.

Then, in August, Stevens heard about Annie, and she called the McGarrys to ask if they could take her in on just a few days’ notice. A spokeswoman for The Animal Foundation declined to make anyone available to be interviewed for this story, offering only a one-sentence statement saying that they “appreciate all of our partners.”

Hearts Alive Village wasn’t ready to take in a horse, but it was time to accelerate their plans.

“We didn’t have a trailer yet,” Stevens said.

“We didn’t have a shelter,” Tom McGarry said.

Just a few days later, they did, working through the weekend to make sure they were ready for Annie’s arrival. They also took in all five goats, building a spacious pen for them to roam. Suddenly Jack had a group of friends. Only about eight months old, he routinely wandered around the ranch, playing with the goats and making the rounds before nightfall each day.

He also developed a heartwarming friendship with Annie. Sometimes, when Tom McGarry takes Annie out to walk around the property, Jack will grab the rope in his mouth and lead Annie himself.

The McGarrys also plan to welcome Tyler, another rescue dog from Hearts Alive Village. There are plans to expand of the ranch by the end of the year.

Hearts Alive Village has the same priority — finding forever homes for animals that come through the charity.

But it’s always helpful to have a wide network of potential foster homes, and having a large property to house not only farm animals but also dogs and cats is a huge help for the charity’s mission, Stevens said.

“We’re just going to work our tails off to try to be gold standard,” Stevens said. “And like the rest of Hearts Alive Village, the goal is to move animals into homes, but knowing it’s extra difficult to find homes for horses, they’ll have a forever home with us.”

Contact Jonah Dylan at jdylan@reviewjournal.com. Follow @TheJonahDylan on Twitter.

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