Twenty years and four rented ranches in two counties later, the South Florida SPCA has found a home.
The non-profit horse rescue operation, which a handful of volunteers with big hearts and near-empty wallets founded in 1992, has begun moving animals from a location in northwest Miami-Dade to a recently-purchased ranch in the southwest part of the county. The group keeps the exact locations secret, for security reasons.
“It’s been a long time coming,’’ said Laurie Waggoner, a founder, now director of ranch operations. “We’ve always lived hand-to-mouth. You get a little ahead and all of a sudden 30 horses come in. Day-to-day expenses can double in the blink of an eye.’’
What made the difference was a surprise bequest in the will of Davida Pippinger of Kendall, who died in December. She’d never been connected with the group but was close to one of her neighbors, Nora Denslow, who’s involved with a horse “retirement’’ program and steered Pippinger toward the South Florida SPCA, said the group’s president, Jeanette Jordan.
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The reclusive Pippinger had no heirs, but loved animals, Jordan said.
“The last two companions in her life were her two beautiful boxers’’ — now with Denslow, Jordan said.
The bequest “gave us a nice down payment’’ on a former commercial riding stable with multiple paddocks and rings, a pasture, a barn, and a 1970s-era house on seven acres, said Waggoner. The cost: $595,000.
She also left a gift to the Greater Miami Humane Society Adopt-a-Pet, Jordan said.
“I bless her every day. We will dedicate the ranch in her honor, and she will never be forgotten.’’
The South Florida SPCA functions on donations to pay for personnel to care for the animals, transportation, vet care and food for the animals.
The group functions as the large-animal equivalent of Miami-Dade Animal Services, a county agency that deals only with dogs and cats. Police call the South Florida SPCA to rescue abused, neglected and abandoned livestock. The group nurses them back to health then puts them up for adoption.
On Thursday, Waggoner and Lillie Corrieri, another original volunteer, led four horses from a trailer into paddocks carpeted with lush, green grass. The South Florida SPCA, which also rescues cows, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens — in fact all barnyard creatures — will continue moving animals through the end of the year, said Waggoner.
Waggoner, who just retired in May from Publix, will live in the ranch’s house with her six dogs so she’ll be ready 24/7 for emergencies.
The ranch means that for the first time in 20 years, she doesn’t have to jump in her truck and drive for miles to get to the ranch.
“It means I don’t have to sleep in a chair waiting for a mare to foal,’’ said Waggoner.
Which could happen any day. One of the horses moved to the new location on Thursday is due to give birth. Her name is Jewel, and she was part of a group of starving horses that the South Florida SPCA rescued last spring.
“Now she can give birth in a real maternity stall, which is very wide,’’ said Jordan. “There’s plenty of space to lay down and get up and not roll on the baby.’’
The ranch “is the culmination of a 20-year dream,’’ she said. “I kept thinking of the John Lennon song Imagine. I imagined these green pastures and white fences. It’s real! ’’