(VIDEO) Rafael’s journey: From a life of cruelty to one of compassion | TheUnion.com

(VIDEO) Rafael’s journey: From a life of cruelty to one of compassion

Rafael, a quarterhorse rescued from abuse and starvation on the streets of Juarez, Mexico, arrived at his new home Sunday at the Center for Animal Protection & Education sanctuary facility in Grass Valley,
Submitted by Jessica Burgess |

Learn more

Center for Animal Protection & Education: http://www.capeanimals.org

Compassion Without Borders: cwob.org

The Donkey Sanctuary: http://www.thedonkeysanctuary.org.uk/

Donations may be made to a medical fund for Rafael’s recovery at CAPE’s website. Sign up for periodic emails on Rafael’s progress by emailing info@capeanimals.org, jpnovic@sbcglobal.net or by calling JP Novic at 831-336-9918.

To view a video of Rafael’s rescue: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MdgrG0zZ8Ts

Rafael’s days were spent pulling a poorly designed cart overloaded with metal on the busy streets of Juarez, Mexico. The horse was starved and routinely beaten by his handler.

During his “time off,” he lived on a small, concrete patio in Mexico’s third largest city, wearing his patched, inhumane harness around the clock for years.

As in Rafael’s case, the harnesses become convoluted and embedded. When he finally reached medical care, it took more than an hour to pull the layers from his body, causing open sores and eventually leaving significant scarring on his upper spine.

“Rafael has lived a life of misery, both physically and mentally,” said JP Novic, executive director of Center for Animal Protection & Education.

A journey to a vastly different life would soon be set in motion for the approximately 12-year-old quarter horse. It would ultimately lead him to permanent sanctuary at CAPE’s facility off McCourtney Road in Grass Valley.

His new life officially began Sunday.

‘The right thing’

Many months ago, a woman came across the emaciated horse struggling to pull a heavy cart on a Juarez street, collapsing to his knees in exhaustion under the weight.

His handler beat him profusely in an effort to get Rafael back on his feet.

“It’s amazing. He was on a busy road with people all around. Why didn’t anyone get involved before this? Maybe they are just used to seeing it,” Novic said.

After calling the police, the good Samaritan asked Rafael’s handler what it would take for him to give up the horse. Two hundred dollars later, Rafael began his journey away from the streets of Juarez.

“The woman who rescued him was so courageous. Standing on the streets of Juarez, she made the decision that Rafael would no longer be abused,” Novic said. “She stood up and did the right thing.”

It was then that Compassion Without Borders, a dog rescue nonprofit working in Mexico, became involved.

“We went through the entire process of getting Rafael squared away,” founder Moncho Camblor said. “We arranged for the transportation and all of the medical care and crossing the border. It was a bit of a circus. We normally do dogs … so it was a learning curve.”

CAPE worked to raise funds for Rafael’s transportation costs.

Crossing the border

Rafael was initially taken to a dog shelter; his journey to the U.S. was stalled at the Mexico border when U.S. Customs agents denied him entry because of his poor physical condition.

CWOB arranged for him to be transported to an animal care facility at the University of Mexico, where he received supportive care.

After many months, he had gained enough weight to pass the medical tests required for admittance into the U.S. While waiting to cross the border, where lines are long and temperatures high, Rafael became ill.

“We had to rush him across the border to El Paso (Texas) to a veterinarian who agreed to care for him,” Camblor said. “But it’s good, Rafael is now going to have a good life.”

For three months, Rafael was under the care of Dr. Sergio Jurado, a veterinarian in El Paso. The horse was in very poor health when he first arrived at Jurado’s clinic. The first priorities after getting him stabilized were to deworm him and treat a kidney condition, which will require ongoing treatment.

Rafael suffers from severe malnutrition and remains significantly underweight. It appeared he had subsisted on a diet of junk food; it was discovered he was quite fond of tortilla chips. Someone at the clinic happened to be eating chips nearby and Rafael immediately walked up to the fence line.

Up to that point, he had expressed little interest in “normal” horse feed; he has since been transitioned to a healthy diet.

“He is now in good condition,” said Jurado. “He will do well (at CAPE).”

While Rafael was calm and patient with the more than two dozen well-wishers greeting him upon his arrival at CAPE on Sunday, it was not always the case, Jurado said.

When Jurado first met him, the horse was “mean” and found it difficult to trust.

In the three months since, it is clear that Rafael and Jurado have developed a close bond. Rafael’s trust issues seem to be behind him.

“I am so proud” to be part of Rafael’s journey, said Jurado. “I will miss him.”

Rafael’s new home

CAPE was contacted three months ago to see if Rafael could find a permanent home at the sanctuary. After a resounding “yes,” his journey finally had a destination.

The sanctuary received a call about two weeks ago that the horse was healthy enough to handle a road trip.

Jurado and three of his associates transported the horse from El Paso to Grass Valley, leaving Texas on Friday night and arriving at CAPE before noon on Sunday. To make the trip as easy as possible for Rafael, they traveled only at night to keep him from overheating.

They also stopped frequently to take him for walks and to administer fluids and medication.

The big picture

Rafael is the lucky one, with several organizations and individuals stepping up to save him, while many unprotected “beasts of burden” — horses, donkeys and mules — are still working under inhumane conditions in Juarez.

He is fast becoming the face of change, with supporters from across the globe rallying around the cause.

“I think he is already making a difference for so many others just like him because people everywhere are talking about him and the issues he represents. … Lots of good will come from Rafael’s story as so many hearts have already been touched by it,” said Novic.

A Care2 petition (http://bit.ly/1KPP1xS) was started by CAPE and has since garnered more than 190,000 supporters as of Wednesday, with residents from countries such as Australia, Thailand, Malaysia and England signing on.

The petition is aimed at the mayor of Juarez, Enrique Serrano, asking that laws be implemented there protecting working animals by requiring sufficient nutrition, adequate water and breaks. CAPE is also asking for humane harnesses to be required.

The sanctuary also has been receiving guidance from The Donkey Sanctuary, headquartered in Essex, United Kingdom. The U.K. sanctuary has developed a humane, ergonomic harness for animals that are used to haul carts.

CAPE hopes to purchase some of the harnesses in the future and provide them to handlers in Juarez.

Compassion Without Borders is working toward a similar goal.

“We are trying to get some agreement with the government to put in a basic understanding that if I have to have my lights and blinkers working in my car to go in the streets (of Juarez), these guys should have rules against overloading carts,” Camblor said.

Camblor feels that they will not be able to stop the use of carts entirely because of the tough economic conditions in Juarez, but his hope is to bring treatment standards to the working animals.

“But in Mexico, it’s a long process. All the bureaucracy, it takes a lot of finessing the situation,” he said.

First day at new home

Rafael had a busy first full day at CAPE Monday.

He received a thorough checkup from CAPE’s veterinarian, followed by getting to know some of his fellow sanctuary residents.

“It has been a total joy having him at the CAPE Animal Sanctuary for the past 24 hours. He is a real character and we have seen him actually playing with the goats … He follows us around like a little puppy dog,” Novic said.

He is pastured with the goats for now, but will graduate to spending his days with the sanctuary’s rescued burro population as his health continues to improve.

Rafael has already won the heart of at least one of the sanctuary’s volunteers.

“He is as beautiful on the inside as he is on the outside,” said Carol Hansen-Dix.

To contact Copy Editor Kim Midboe, email kmidboe@theunion.com or call 530-477-4251.

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