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Take It Or Leave It (We Hope You'll Take It)

As many of you know, 4 years ago while on duty as an Animal Control Officer, I sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) along with neck, back and shoulder trauma. I feel like a broken record every time I type that out but I have to remind myself that with growth, there are many new people on this page who may not know my story. While there is no reason to go deep into details (that’s already out there for all of facebook to see), I want to remind everyone who may be reading, that this page has at times served as my personal blog while I journey through healing, growth, and reinventing myself post-injury. Although we have added new authors to this page since the days of having only 1 rescue horse, I still choose to expose my struggles here so that people can learn from them, understand what rescuers go through on a day to day basis and maybe even be crazy enough to feel inspired. It’s a scary and vulnerable world out here, posting about myself, my life, my struggles, my fears, and failures; but I have quickly learned that by running a rescue, there are going to be some people who feel they have a right to access every aspect of my life anyway, so what the hell – let’s just put it all out there.

When I went through the TBI rehabilitation program, they warned us that life would almost mimic adolescence; we would in essence be like teenagers again, feeling fearless and untouchable – forgetting just how green we are and how cruel the world can be. They warned us, that we would have to learn who we are, who we aren’t, and how to read people all over again. They cautioned us that we would be easy targets for people to take advantage of us, and like your typical youngsters (in post-TBI terms), we all scoffed at the idea and professed our confidence in handling people and their potential ill-will. Inevitably, no matter how smart, savvy and “healed” they were, patient after patient would return with stories of betrayal and heartbreak caused by trusting the wrong people.

In some way, the whole situation reminded me of 13 years ago, when I first started as an Animal Control Officer. I remember thinking my career would be 10 hour days of puppies and kittens and happily ever afters. I didn’t think about the fact that I would have to learn how to euthanize an animal - sometimes an animal I rescued just the week before. I never thought about the fact that I would have to play God according to policies, temperament tests, kennel space and behaviors that could easily be justified. I didn’t imagine my career would entail scrubbing parvo-shit off of my truck as I dry heave in the sally-port on Christmas day. I didn’t consider the possibility of responding to the call of a 90 year old woman leaving to a nursing home and her 14 year old dog had to be signed over to county. I wasn’t prepared for the moment when she looks me in the eye, as tears roll down her face and she asks, “You’ll find her a good home, right?” I smiled and made promises of “happily ever after” knowing damn well her dog would be put down at the request of her adult children because that’s just how it worked back then.

They can’t prepare you for that. You have to live it and learn how to cope, learn how to draw boxes around your emotions and justify some of the ugliest sides of life because with the ugly comes the beautiful. You just can’t have one without the other, so I learned how to process those horrible cases, so I could be there witness the good ones.

Horse rescue is sadly, no different.

I knew going into this that I would continue to see abuse, neglect and the ugliest side of humans. It’s the nature of rescue, cleaning up other people’s problems. Many times these people don’t understand the severity of the offense or neglect. We call it cultural, economic, mental illness, lack of education etc., but let’s be real…in rescue, there are also people who are just plain assholes for no good reason at all.

Drama, conflict and high school behaviors are the norm in animal welfare, we know that. It’s old news. This isn’t our first rodeo (hell, half of you guys came to us after we were involved with some BS exposing another group who got in over their head). It’s not something we look to do, encourage or regularly practice. If you don’t like how a rescue works, you either find one you do like or start your own. We chose the latter. End of Story.

Unfortunately, Facebook has only proven to magnify the problem where one rescue outs another, baits another group into answering a question wrong or take things out of context. We have been involved in both sides of that coin, and while it’s not the highlight of our existence, it happened and we moved on.

I want to make something very clear about HiCaliber Horse Rescue. We are far too busy with our own herd to pay any mind to what other people are doing. We have volunteers here every.single.day. We have people who show up unannounced to visit and hang out. We cater to domestic violence groups, PTSD folks, and kids in the neighborhood who have nowhere else to go. We partner with local humane societies, veterinarians, equine chiropractors, and farriers. We do this so our horses have a safety net of accountability. It is easy to get in over your head when you rescue. It’s easy to let your mind go down the “no one will be good enough for them” path, it’s easy to fall in love with each horse you save. So we have a huge network of professionals who are here daily ensuring that these horses are well cared for, have plenty of space to roam and get all of their social, medical and nutritional needs met.

I understand that I, Michelle, am the “face of” HCHR. It’s not something I ever looked to do, wanted to do or like being. I started rescuing horses to AVOID people. Being an Animal Control Officer for over a decade, in a county as populated as San Diego, changes everything about you and your views of the world. It’s a shitty job that I loved doing. So for anyone who might be confused about the intentions here, the notoriety, the popularity, the attention…

Screw all of that.

I signed up to save horses. If you want to dig into my life and look for things “Michelle” did wrong, have fun. You will find plenty. In fact, let me save you the time – most of its up here on our Facebook page. Foreclosure, divorce, debt, law suits, trusting the wrong people, getting screwed…it’s all there. But none of it changes the reality of the AMAZING WORK being done here at HCHR. It’s evident every day by a ton of people who call HCHR home.

You don’t have to like me, my group, my views or practices. You may not like my humor, my crass, my “F bombs” or honesty. You may think I’m in this for the facebook fame, money, popularity or clout. That’s not my concern. It’s not my job to convince you. It’s not my job to make you like me. My job is to save horses. My job is to collaborate with my team and make hard choices. My job is to try and make the world a better place for animals. Humans are generally a lost cause.

I’m lucky that I have a huge group of great people here supporting our work. We have beautiful volunteers, donors, friends, adopters, visitors and neighbors. We are highly visible on facebook, at the local high schools, feed stores, equine events and in the literal sense, right off the main drag of San Diego’s SECOND LARGEST CITY. We don’t have anything to hide.

I may not disclose that I had to put down one of my personal horses; but I’m not hiding it. I want my time to grieve and mourn privately. I don’t want to answer a thousand questions that will rip the wound off a thousand times over. I’ve already asked myself all of the what-ifs, could we, should we, can we’s. My heartbreak is entitled to be my own, and when I’m ready to talk about it, I might. Until then, my horse is my business.

I may not disclose that we denied an adoption. Our loyalty here is to the horse. If you aren’t a good match, you aren’t a good match and I’m not going to sacrifice our horses happiness because you donated money at one time. You can’t buy us here. If you want to donate, you do it out of the goodness of your heart and because you believe in what we do, not because you think it buys you rights to a popular horse. Your donation months ago does not suddenly entitle you to a horse of your liking. You fill out an application and follow the same process everyone else does. It may piss you off, and that’s unfortunate but I don’t need to announce it.

I may not disclose that we have had conflict with neighbors. What horse ranch doesn’t? We are an easy target for the blame of all things inconvenient. Whether you own 1 horse of 100, there’s always going to be “that person” who hates the flies, noise, poop, smells, fly masks or training methods. Our ranch is in a well populated area and comes with the territory.

If you want to know the in’s and outs of HCHR, just come out here! It’s really easy to figure out that we all have fat mouths and lack filters. It’s not top secret information. Ask everyone who volunteers here. We don’t hide anything. Rescue isn’t rainbows and butterflies and people need to know that. If you don’t like that we put down horses who are in chronic pain, that’s okay. If you don’t like that we will pass on 5 potential suitors to find the perfect 1, that’s okay. If you don’t like that we let our horses live in a herd environment, that’s okay. It’s not my job to make you like us.

We are still going to put one foot in front of the other and continue doing what we love for the horses we love. We are going to screw up, fall on our face and make plenty of mistakes, but we are also going to admit it, learn from them, reach out for help when we need it and make sure that quantity never takes place of quality.

I have always encouraged people to question rescues who may have “pink flags” popping up. There are many that prey on guilt driven tactics and “the truck is coming” syndrome. But at the very least, do your homework first. Don’t waste the valuable time of a rescuer asking questions when you can easily find the answer yourself. Don’t make us relive the story of why we euthanized one of our favorite horses when the information was already put up on facebook. Don’t buy into the obvious adversarial sources and their testimony. Consider your sources. Talk to the real people of the rescue you want to know about. Go to their volunteers, their vets, their chiropractors, the fellow rescues that work with them. Call the humane society and request records, call the county zoning department if you are concerned about numbers. Look up information via California Charities and the IRS if you have a concern. The answer to most questions are easy to find, but listening to people a state away spew BS about our rescue when they haven’t even been here is comical and a waste of my time; time I should be spending with our horses.

My life crumbled nearly 4 years ago when I took a blow to the head. I have been rebuilding my life since July 12, 2010. The rescue has been a huge part of my healing. So, a message to those who are going to continue riding the coattails of the “scandal” last year: if I can survive a brain injury, don’t for one second think you’re going to scare me away from rescue just because you found a couple of other people I pissed off. We are doing good things here and anyone who wants to be sure of that need only get off their ass and come visit. The door is always open.