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Grace Foundation seeks help from community

By: Margaret Snider, Telegraph Correspondent
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A recently shuttered local horse rescue operation may be getting a grace period thanks to the helping hands and checkbooks of area residents.

The work day and open house at The Grace Foundation of Northern California on Jan. 19 marked the beginning of their “Saving Grace: $5 for Life” project. The El Dorado Hills animal rescue and rehabilitation ranch is asking for 10,000 community members to donate just $5 each to raise $50,000 and make it possible to reopen their doors and secure feed for the animals for the next two months.

Lauren Brown, 9, of El Dorado Hills, presented founder Beth DeCaprio with approximately $50 she had raised by taking a flyer around to local elementary schools and spreading the word about the open house at her school, Oak Meadow Elementary.

“She’s very passionate about the horses and the animals, because she loves the animals so much,” said Janine Brown, Lauren’s mother.

Volunteers labored to catch up on cleanup and repair needs since the ranch closed to the public in October. 

“This is great, because this is what it used to be like, back when we were open to volunteers,” said Lisa Dowling, ranch manager. “Our weekends were just filled with people and a great energy and great spirit until we had to close.”

DeCaprio said the ranch was not closed completely since it still has 250 rescued animals to feed and care for.

The closing was brought about largely by expenses from the care of abused and neglected horses removed from a Susanville ranch in 2011, and relocated to The Grace Foundation.

The rescue center’s financial difficulties center on the banks alleged refusal to honor agreements to reimburse costs for care of the animals and their decision to remove the horses to a location in Lassen County. DeCaprio believes the Lassen group is not able to care for them properly.

“We’re in this for almost $900,000 at this point,” DeCaprio said. “It’s not as simple as you just feed the horses. We had 22 births of these babies that were at high risk. We had to hire full time veterinarians. We had to buy equipment to be able to do this.”

Attorneys Anthony Perez and Christine Garcia filed a lien in El Dorado County to prevent removal of the horses, motions to intervene, and asked for a temporary restraining order. The situation came to a head on Tuesday, Jan. 15, when the banks sent trucks to remove the horses in spite of being served with the lien.

“We served them the lien, they tried to muscle their way in; we called for civil backup and they called for civil backup,” DeCaprio said. “After about a four-hour standoff with police here, the courts decided that they were out of line and that they couldn’t take the horses without the lien being taken care of.”

A couple of days later, according to DeCaprio, the Lassen County judge on the case recused himself from the case completely, saying he cannot be impartial.

Of the work being performed to restore the ranch, program director Julie McBride said that getting Pony Town back in shape is their primary focus, because recent storms had damaged the area, and because Grace carries out its therapeutic programs there.

“The hardest part about this has been stopping the programs,” McBride said. “It was heartbreaking, not just for us, but of course for the riders.”

McBride said she is very blessed to see how the ranch affects people.

“Not just our special needs population, but our volunteers, people who have lost loved ones and are kind of lost and have isolated themselves start coming out here,” McBride said. “They make new friends and their hearts open up, they find purpose again.”

DeCaprio said that she refuses to be a victim.

“We really decided in 2013 that we were not going to let that horrendous situation determine our fate,” said DeCaprio. “We started with nothing, and with the community we built, we’ve helped over 50,000 kids and saved over 7,500 animals, so we can do it again.”

They will most likely open in stages, beginning in February.

“We will be doing a lot of these work parties in a lot of ways,” DeCaprio said. “I believe in the end we’ll be stronger and better for it.

The Grace Foundation will continue to ensure the horses’ safety, DeCaprio said, and to fight for what it is legally entitled to.

“To see all the kids here today and all the people who have spent every Saturday, and built Grace as part of their life, we can’t let somebody take that away,” DeCaprio said.

For more information on The Grace Foundation, and to donate, go to thegracefoundationofnorcal.org, or mail donations to: The Grace Foundation, P.O. Box 4692, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762.