By Ann McCreary
Six years ago Barbara Grant reluctantly gave away her 12-year-old gelding, Buddy, when she moved from her horse property outside Spokane into the city. She had owned Buddy since he was 2, and wanted to make sure he had a good home.
A friend who was moving to Twisp told her she’d take care of the horse and promised to let Grant know if she could no longer keep him.
About two years later, Grant’s friend called and said she had found a new home for Buddy with a Twisp resident named Shelby O’Donnell. Grant spoke by phone with O’Donnell on several occasions to make sure her horse was in good hands, and made plans to come see Buddy.
But then O’Donnell stopped answering calls or returning messages, and Grant lost track of her horse.
“I must have tried calling her 20 times … I could never reach her,” Grant said in an interview last week.
Four years passed, and Grant kept wondering about Buddy. This past summer, she decided she had to know where he was. “I just had a feeling that I really wanted to reconnect with this horse,” said Grant, who works for KREM TV in Spokane.
Grant Googled O’Donnell’s name, and found a reference to a Methow Valley News story about an animal abuse case involving 10 horses found starving in a field near Twisp in September 2009. Grant thought Buddy might be one of the neglected horses.
In July, Grant emailed the Methow Valley News to request a copy of the article about the animal abuse incident. Using the News article as a starting point, she began her search for Buddy.
Last week, she was reunited with her horse, but it took more than three months to track him down.
Following a trail
“Police are looking for a Twisp woman in connection with alleged cruelty-to-animal charges associated with 10 horses that were placed in a Twisp-area field with no food or water for more than three weeks,” the Sept. 16, 2009 article by former editor John Hanron began. The article stated that police were looking for Shelby O’Donnell, who put the horses in the field, and then subsequently relocated them.
Hanron reported that Bunny Morgan, who lives near the field on Highway 20 near Twisp, hauled water in five-gallon buckets and food to the horses daily. “They were skinny wrecks, every one of them showing bones,” Morgan told Hanron.
Grant found a phone number for Morgan and called her to ask if she remembered seeing a black gelding, with a white star on its face and white socks on its hind legs, among the neglected horses.
“She didn’t know for sure if my horse was in the field,” Grant said. But Morgan told her that Okanogan Sheriff Deputy Laura Wright might be able to provide more information about the case, so Grant left a message for Wright at the sheriff’s department.
“Deputy Wright called me and we had a long conversation. I learned there were pictures from the case,” Grant said. At her request, the sheriff’s department searched case archives and sent Grant photographs taken of the horses for evidence in the case.
Among the horses in the photos was Buddy, his ribs showing and his body covered with bite marks from other horses.
“He was obviously in poor condition and very thin, but not emaciated and dying,” Grant said. “I was grateful to an extent that he looked bad, but didn’t look horrible.”
The last information known about the horses indicated they had been moved to Republic and their owner had gotten married and taken a new surname. Grant searched Facebook under the new name and found Buddy’s owner apparently now living in a community more than an hour from Republic.
Grant’s sleuthing had taken a few weeks. In mid-September, one of Grant’s friends took a vacation on a guest ranch called K-Diamond-K in Republic. Knowing that Buddy had likely been taken to Republic, Grant’s friend asked the owner of the ranch if she had a black gelding among her riding horses.
The ranch owner pointed out a black horse in a pasture. The friend asked its name. “Buddy,” the owner replied. Grant’s friend called her. “You are not going to believe who I found at the K-Diamond-K Guest Ranch,” she said.
Grateful for help
Grant learned that Buddy had been traded to the ranch in 2010 in exchange for a horse owned by the ranch. Now 18 years old, Buddy was living a good life, earning his keep by carrying guests on trail rides.
In late October Grant went to the ranch. She wondered if the horse she’d owned for 10 years would recognize her. But, unlike in the movies, he just kept grazing when Grant approached and patted him.
“Honestly, I can’t tell you that he recognized me,” she said.
She was thrilled to have found him healthy and well-cared for. A lifelong horsewoman, Grant rode Buddy while helping the ranch owners move cattle, and was told she was welcome to return and ride him whenever she wants.
O’Donnell was charged with 10 counts of second-degree animal cruelty in this case. Following a trial in September 2010, she was convicted and sentenced to spend 10 days in Okanogan County Jail – one day for each of the neglected horses.
Grant said the information from the News article and the contacts it provided helped her trace Buddy. She said she was surprised by, and grateful for, the help she received in her search. “Everyone was so open and friendly. I think it was because I was looking for a horse,” she said.
Her friend’s unexpected discovery of Buddy on the guest ranch convinced Grant that “it was definitely intended that I find him … I’m going back as soon as I can get there.”