Article by Ethan Nahté
Photos by Samantha Maechler
In part one of Dawn Olivieri’s story, the actor spoke a bit about her background and her love for animals, members of her family’s medical or veterinary expertise, as well as that of friend and veterinarian Cameron Stoudt she uses with her horse rescue.
We left off with Olivieri speaking about the actor’s and the writer’s strike that shut down film and TV production. The strike ended not long after this interview was conducted, but it was what kickstarted her mission to rescue horses.
“When it happened, I obviously wasn’t in any place to bring in more horses. The bills, especially from last year, were just so high because there was the drought,” Olivieri said, referring to the livestock she already owned. “Why on earth would I even think to bring in more animals that are gonna burn hay on me?
“I ended up on Facebook and I saw some woman’s avatar. It was her and a cowboy hat and she had her arm raised up in the air and she was like, ‘Help me, I’m drowning.’ I just looked at that and I thought, ‘What would make someone generate an avatar like that with such a pleading sort of look? Right? What would that be? So, just because I was curious, I clicked on it and then it was like a tidal wave rush of these beautiful horses. I mean, just so gorgeous. I couldn’t believe it. Momma/baby pairs — mares and their foals paired up.
“At the top it said, ‘Owned by kill buyers.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s not okay.’ You think of a momma and a baby, and they need to be stress free, comfortable, fed extra feed, cared for in a different way, and given the space to sort of grow and raise that young baby. Just any animal should be given that.
I looked at that and I thought, ‘You know, that is not good.’ I saw the stickers on their butts, and I was like, ‘I could probably adopt one pair. I’ll adopt one pair.’ I thought to myself, ‘You know, maybe that’s not so responsible given that my union is striking and there’s no more jobs in the foreseeable future for me, which means no money, no income coming in.’”
Despite that uncertainty, she didn’t let it deter her. Inspiration and a seedling of a thought germinated and grew.
“I thought, ‘Well, let me be creative, put it on my Instagram and see if anybody would wanna sponsor these horses.’ Then I could care for them and then maybe people would wanna share the cost of the feed and the hay and maybe it would offset my responsibility just a little bit because I love the caring for them. I’ll do that all day long, but it’s just I can’t financially afford more animals that eat like that.
“So, I put it up and immediately, people were like, ‘Yeah, we wanna help. We wanna free them.’ I was like, ‘Okay, well, here’s my Paypal. You could just send some money.’ Even before I finish the sentence, it’s like the money is there. I was like, ‘Wow, so they really wanted to do this.’ So, I bailed that pair out.
“Then I thought, ‘Well, because I made that announcement, I had extra money then in the Paypal. I thought maybe I could bail two out if they’re just sending me the money to do it, I’ll do it.”
She bailed out two and then the money kept coming in, leaving her wondering what to do next.
Her idea began growing like wildflowers. She said, “‘Well, hold on a second, I’ll do this. Do you guys want me to take more?’ and they’re like, ‘We wanna rescue more.’ So, I just kept doing it and I kept posting pictures. They would be like rescue this pair. The [hay] bales were around $1050,” she said with disbelief. “People were sending exactly that amount, and multiple times. I was like, ‘Oh my God. Now I’m really responsible. I feel really responsible for these people’s money, and they’re donating to save the horses. So, I have to save the horses.’
By the end of three days, I had rescued 28 horses. There were 14 pairs because they sent me that money to do that. I said, ‘I promise that whatever money you sent, I will rescue horses with this money. I did exactly what I said. We saved every single horse from that truck, every single mother/baby pair. I was like, ‘Okay, now I have 48 horses,’” Olivieri said with a laugh of exuberance.
The next hurdle was the problem of getting them all back to Arkansas, not to mention determining on how to properly handle that amount of responsibility and obtain enough supplies for proper watering and feeding.
“Therein lies the next phase. In my mind, I wasn’t thinking of all of the steps. I’ve never done this. You don’t think you’re naive to the fact. You can say naïve, or you can say, ‘I’m in, I have faith that whatever this thing is that’s moving is gonna help me.’ It’s not just up to me because it hasn’t felt like that this entire time. It felt like it wanted to happen.
“And these horses are doing the work. They are generating awareness and they are enticing people to then help them stay alive. All I have to do is be the vessel in which those pathways connect.
“That’s sort of how I’ve done this. I definitely was not prepared. I did not have the facilities to do this. I did not have the structure in place. Maybe some people may call that irresponsible, but I kind of look at it like I’m moving on full trust. There is, without a doubt, a divine architecture at play here and I am simply keeping fear at bay within myself that I won’t have enough. There won’t be enough hay, there won’t be enough feed, there won’t be enough… and it’s just taking care of itself. I mean, Purina has stepped up and they are sponsoring all of the feed for all of the horses indefinitely right now. I would never be able to do this if this kind of thing didn’t pop up like this.
Tractor Supply [Co.] stepped up and has donated not only water troughs, hoses and almost everything I’ve asked for. They connected me with a vendor with Tarter [USA]. Tartar brought 60 pan corral panels and dropped them off on a semi for the babies.
Literally, if I tell you I was not prepared, there are two rescue groups that I have right now on the property. The first one was that momma/baby pair. I call it the Momma Baby Army.
“When I did that, a rep from Purina came and dropped off 25 buckets of foal feed. I thought she was just gonna bring me like a couple of buckets in her car. She brought 25 buckets, and I was like, ‘Wow, I have a lot of foal feed now — milk pellets. I thought, ‘Well, maybe I should go rescue a few more foals because I can feed them right now.’
“I started looking at the other kill pens because, for some reason, over the past couple months there has been the largest, foal presence in kill pins that the rescuers I’ve talked to have seen in their entire careers. There’s been more foals that have shown up in kill pens over the last few months.”
To discover whether she rescued more horses, and the health issues some horses have had to overcome, watch for part three of Olivieri’s interview next week. Meanwhile, the standalone article of part one [The Pulse Nov. 15] has links on how you can donate.