Orange County Animal Services has a longstanding relationship with many animal-rescue groups.
“We probably have in the neighborhood of 75 rescue organizations with which we work,” director Bob Marotto said. “In 2012, I think we re-homed 400 animals as a result of transfer from animal services to other placement partners, which put them into a foster home. Independent Animal Rescue (IAR) has always been one of the mainstays of this particular program.”
Denise Heflin of Durham is the team leader for the IAR dog foster program and for a year had been working closely with Animal Services on a hoarding case in Hillsborough, where a woman had 40 dogs and an untold number of cats, both domestic and feral. “I was trying to convince her to get them spayed and neutered,” she said.
Despite the county’s efforts, the situation got worse. Last winter, the woman got an eviction notice and immediately called Heflin to help find homes for all of her dogs.
“She loved her animals but they were in horrible condition,” said Heflin, who persuaded the woman to sign over all 23 of her remaining dogs to Animal Services. “I told her that I would get as many as I could into IAR if she would sign them over, and she did. Animal Control let her say goodbye to each one. She petted and kissed them.”
IAR works exclusively with cats and dogs, though. So when Heflin learned there was a horse on the property, she offered to take Heidi, an emaciated mare, home.
“It was just a split-second decision,” she said. “I knew she wouldn’t survive just anywhere.”
Home is a small farm in Durham that Heflin bought in 1989. Until Princess arrived, Heflin was a two-horse woman.
“I have Buddy and Czar,” she said. Both have special needs but thrive under Heflin’s care.
Still, adopting another horse would require some creative financing, and Heflin knew the new horse’s needs were great. The horse she renamed Princess when the mare would not respond to “Heidi” was in her mid-30s and could not chew grass or hay well enough to swallow it.
“Buddy and Czar are both senior horses and I thought they were old, until I got Princess,” Heflin said.
Julian Freeman, an Orange County animal control officer, was there the day the Hillsborough woman surrendered her animals.
“The challenge was to find out what to do with the horse,” Freeman said. “In the past, people have stepped up to board them for us so it was just a matter of trying to find someone to do this. When Denise offered, we were ecstatic.”
Heflin left the property that day with six cats bound for foster homes and drove to her home to get ready for Princess. Amid this flurry, she still managed to call Hannah Beaver, the animal care technician at Animal Services.
“Denise wanted us to know that IAR was committed to helping us with any potentially adoptable dogs from this case,” Beaver said. The dogs were in horrible shape, both mentally and physically.
“I don’t think that anyone involved that day would have imagined that a total of 14 dogs would end up being placed in foster homes,” Beaver said. “This is a perfect example of what can be achieved when organizations work together.”
Beaver said that Heflin’s taking Princess, who did not want to be touched and required round-the-clock care, was a huge contribution to the positive outcome of this hoarding case. “Denise is a modern-day superwoman.”
Princess’ coat, which was in horrible shape from a skin infection and lots of old tick bites, is now sleek and soft. Slowly but surely, she has come to love being touched.
Heflin says her whole life has changed.
“When Princess came, I was feeding her 12 times a day. Now she is down to six times a day,” she said.
Taking care of Princess has been a labor of love, she added, but she could not have done it without friends’ financial help and fellow volunteers.
“I just moved forward on faith, and the support has been there in a miraculous way.”