Wolf-dog rescue takes in orphaned feral horses

Hannah Grover
Three orphaned foals eat hay Thursday at Carol Sanchez's animal rescue facility near Jackson Lake north of Farmington.

FARMINGTON — Predator and prey have found a home at a local animal rescue facility located near Jackson Lake north of Farmington.

Founded last year to take in wolf-dog mixes, the 4 Corners Wolf/Dog Rescue and Sanctuary has since expanded to take in baby horses.

That change came when a neighbor asked the nonprofit organization's owner, Carol Sanchez, if she could help find homes for five orphaned foals. She was told the foals were taken from their mothers following feral horse roundups on Navajo land in Arizona.

“They were pulled from their mom, and they don’t know what’s happening,” she said as she watched the three foals currently living at the facility as they ate hay on Thursday.

Herds of feral horses have overwhelmed resources, leaving few options for officials charged with managing the land. The horses deplete vegetation, contaminate water sources, cause car crashes and compete with other livestock and humans for resources, according to the Wild Horse and Burro Program of the Bureau of Land Management.

More than 67,000 feral horses and burros are roaming on Bureau of Land Management lands in the western United States, according to an estimate released in March. The BLM estimates that 27,000 horses and burros can live in a sustainable fashion alongside wildlife and other livestock on healthy public lands. That does not include the horses on reservation lands.

One of the options to manage large herds of feral horses is rounding them up. According to the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture, people are required to give 10 days' notice to the tribe's chapters and receive approval from chapter officials prior to rounding up horses.

Carol Sanchez walks with a pair of orphaned foals  Thursday at her animal rescue facility near Jackson Lake north of Farmington.

Sanchez said without the roundups, the horses could begin dying of starvation and dehydration. However, after horses are rounded up, they have to be adopted out or placed in holding facilities.

A controversy arose in 2013 when some horses rounded up by the Navajo Nation Department of Agriculture were allegedly shipped to slaughter houses after the tribe began rounding up horses due to extreme drought conditions. That controversy led then-Navajo Nation president Ben Shelly to suspend the roundups performed by the agriculture department.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez acknowledged that a wolf-dog sanctuary may be a dangerous place for foals, but she says she has not had any incidents of a canine attacking an equine at the sanctuary. That is because of strong fences that are 8 feet high, Sanchez said.

Caring for the orphaned foals is new territory for her, although she has kept horses, cows, pigs and chickens in the past.

“I have experience in dealing with them, but not orphaned foals,” she said.

Carol Sanchez, left, and animal trainer Kim Anderson talk Thursday at Sanchez's animal rescue facility near Jackson Lake north of Farmington.

At the same time, she has found the techniques she uses with feral wolf-dogs are similar to the ones needed for the foals. For example, she has to spend a lot of time in the pen with them getting them used to her presence.

Kim Anderson, a former horse trainer who now trains dogs, visited the sanctuary on Thursday to see the foals. She said the biggest thing the horses need other than nutrition is socialization. Without socialization, dogs and horses can lash out at people.

“But, with horses, you’re working with a much bigger animal with a much swifter kick,” Anderson said.

Sanchez has taken in more than a dozen foals since March, and the majority of the horses have since been adopted. However, the sanctuary has seen some losses. On Wednesday, a foal that had developed an infection died while receiving veterinary care at the Animal Haven Clinic. Sanchez has lost a total of four foals, including one that died of tetanus and a colt that she was advised to euthanize due to quality-of-life issues.

Currently, Sanchez is caring for three foals — two chestnuts and a bay filly. Sanchez estimates the oldest of the foals — a chestnut filly — is 3 months old, and the other two are between 8 and 10 weeks old. Because of their young age, the two fillies occasionally try to nurse on the chestnut colt. 

Three or four times a day, Sanchez sets out buckets full of milk for the foals. She said one bucket of milk costs her $90, and she has been accepting donations to help care for the foals. One donor even anonymously paid for one of her vet bills — nearly $300. More information can be found at her organization's Facebook page, 4 Corners Wolf/Dog Rescue Sanctuary. She can also be reached at 505-793-7484.

Sanchez will soon begin working on halter training the three foals, which she may try to find homes for in the future.

“They’re starting off bad, but they have the most amazing potential,” she said.

Taking in the orphaned foals has also inspired her to expand the focus of her sanctuary, and she hopes to find a larger parcel of land that will enable her to take in more animals of all kinds. Her dream is to expand and change the name of her sanctuary.

In the meantime, she hopes to continue helping the feral horses.

“If I can’t save the parents, at least let me help the babies,” she said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.