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Woman becomes horse's best friend

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NORTH BEND - Dena Smith recently saved a friend from an abusive relationship.

This friend was routinely abused by a man who would get so angry when he was drunk that he would beat Smith's friend on an almost daily basis.

There was little the police could do to help so Smith worked to get the friend away from the abusive man. It worked and now the friend is recovering with the help of Smith and her husband Pete.

That friend was a horse.

"When we got it [the horse], it was in bad shape," Smith said. "But all it needed was a little TLC."

For the past nine years Smith has given shelter and rest to horses that have been abused, neglected and in some cases, just plain forgotten. Some of the horses have been moments from death, but Smith has arrived just in time to nurse the animals she loves back to health and happiness.

Like humans, abused horses often come from broken homes. Smith said people often get horses with the best intentions, but when a family deals with divorce or drug use the care of the horse often falls to the wayside.

With her network of horse lovers, Smith has been able to find out about horses that are in trouble. Most of the time the horses have simply been abandoned and Smith will get a call from a stable owner wondering what to do with a sick horse when the board has not been paid.

Other times, things can get a little uneasy and downright nasty when taking a horse from its owner. When people are confronted about the lack of care they have given their horse, Smith said they don't want to hear about it.

"What is amazing is the denial people have," Smith said. "They all want to keep their horse because they want to be a cowboy or a cowgirl, but they can't see how bad of shape their horse is in."

One recent rescue got Smith involved with the King County Sheriff's Department. Although Smith and the horse came away clean, it reminded her that she will not always be making friends with her work - a fact that doesn't bother her.

"I didn't care if I got arrested," Smith said.

The saving rate for the horses has been 100 percent, and most end up being placed with owners Smith routinely checks on to make sure they are doing well. She and Pete recently purchased 30 acres near Easton, which will give them one good location to take their horses. In the past, Smith has had to drop horses off with friends all over the state.

All of Smith's referrals, which she estimated to be about five to seven a year, have come from word of mouth. That word of mouth got to Michael McIntyre, owner of the Mount Si Tavern, who heard about her work and offered to donate all the dollar bills that have been stapled to the ceiling of his tavern. It never really occurred to Smith to seek any help for her work since she had funded the whole thing by herself. She doesn't even have a name for the horse rescue project, now she and Pete are thinking of forming a nonprofit organization to fund their work and have some collection boxes placed at Valley businesses. They have already raised more than $1,700.

"We are really the only ones doing this is the Valley," Smith said. "And there is a big need here."

It may take a lot of time and effort to save a horse, but Smith said it doesn't take much to make them happy. If a person gives a horse food, water, shelter and care for its teeth and hooves, the horse will be in good shape.

But it may be the love Smith has given them that really keeps them going.

* For information on the work Dena and Pete Smith do, contact them at P.O. Box 560, Snoqualmie, WA 98065 or (425) 888-6308.

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