Spokanes help in horse rescue

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WELLPINIT, Wash. – Spokane tribal members are largely responsible for the rescue of 33 horses, even though the animals belonged to a non-tribal member and the tribe had no responsibility for the horses.

It began in late December when a Caucasian man in his mid-70s walked into the Spokane Tribal Police Department and asked if he could sit inside to stay warm. The region was experiencing the most severe winter weather in recorded history, both in snow depth and in prolonged periods of near zero temperatures. The man explained he had been living in his truck in the nearby hills and it didn’t have a working heater. Cliff Matherly, BIA corrections officer for the tribe, was on duty that night.

Matherly found out the man had nearly 40 horses and was having difficulty caring for them. The horses were within reservation boundaries but belonged to the man and recent personal problems had caused the situation to become critical for the horses.

“I told him after I get off work at six, I’ll get my friend (Mike Wiyrick) and we’ll come and help you out,” Matherly said. “We followed him out there and the work began after that. Two hours of breaking trail we got to the top where his horses were. We went back down and hauled two bales up at a time and helped him feed.

“I took him home that night, gave him a hot meal and he washed his clothes and showered. The next day I made a few phone calls to get some help. Other tribal members came and Reggie Peone donated 15 bales of hay. Joseph Abrahamson came up and plowed for us.”

The Stevens County Sheriff’s office was then contacted for assistance since the owner of the horses was not a tribal member and they contacted two separate animal rescue shelters in the county for additional help.

“It’s been long nights, wake up, come to work and do it all over again,” Matherly said. “I want to see this thing all the way through and make sure the horses are taken care of.”

Pam Swiderski operates Fantasy Farm Thoroughbreds and was enthusiastic in her praise for the Spokane Tribe and its members. “The tribe really came to our rescue the first night we went up there and everybody treated us, my gosh, like we were princesses. They were so good to us. They went out of their way to make sure the roads were open. We went up there with trucks and trailers on compact ice and snow. The tribal police gave us an escort coming home. I handed him some chocolates and told him I owed him some hugs. The people in the tribe couldn’t be better and it wasn’t even their obligation.”

Some horses had already died. Swiderski and her people found four dead including one newborn. Her daughter, Cathy, did much of the rescue work at that point, roping horses and dragging them off the hill in snow several feet deep. They ended up bringing 24 horses to the rescue shelter.

“We got the most emaciated ones off first. Some are bony and ribby and some have long ski-like hooves.” But the horses are doing well. “When they came off the trailers onto our property they instantly became a big, quiet herd.

“I just can’t say enough,” Swiderski said. “Others in the area have offered hay. As soon as the situation was aired on local TV and people on the reservation found out about it they started going in to Cliff Matherly and handing him money. He had to put outa can.

“The people embraced us with their heart and soul. It’s part of their heritage. This was not their obligation.”

Carrie Aenk runs Shepherd’s Way Animal Rescue, which was also involved and is now caring for the remaining nine animals. “They (tribal people) plowed. They came with trucks and trailers. They helped in ways in which we could not have done. We are very thankful for that. Cliff Matherly continued to check on the final horses till all were removed. I cannot thank the tribe enough for helping in a difficult situation.”

“It’s because of the love of horses by our people that we just stepped up and did what we could to help the horses and the man,” said Jamie SiJohn, who works in public relations for the tribe.

But the tribe wasn’t finished. The Spokane Tribe also provided $1,000 to each of the two animal shelters to provide care for the 33 horses rescued.