Two Shetland-sized miniature horses from Massachusetts have touched people’s hearts and are fortunate to be in Windham. Misty and Michelle are now getting something valuable they did not receive at their former home — loving care.

Two weeks ago, these horses arrived at the Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals on Windham’s River Road. They were part of a group of 19 miniature horses recently rescued from severe neglect. Some needed hospitalization and received treatment at Tufts University. Among the list of concerns were malnourishment, parasitic infections, hair loss and unkempt hooves.

Misty is a young brown and white paint and Michelle is black.

So severe was this case that the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had to reach out to other New England horse rescues. It was the first time folks at MSSPA in Windham could remember working with their Massachusetts counterpart — a bond they’d like to strengthen.

“In this time of shrinking resources we all have to work together,” said Meris Bickford, CEO of MSSPA.

Horse rescue has a long tradition in New England. Started in 1872 to care for older horses from the Portland Fire Department, MSSPA is not the oldest in the region, but it is the largest. There are 65 horses boarded at the facility.

Since the animals’ ordeal, Bickford is happy to report that Michelle has been adopted. The remaining horses in Massachusetts have also been fortunate enough to find new homes.

“This group of animals has really touched people’s hearts,” Bickford said.

MSSPA wants to get the word out that Misty is still available to a good home. With her placement, all 19 horses will have found a new home.

Michelle Melaragno, MSSPA’s volunteer coordinator, went to Massachusetts in the early stages of this herd’s adoption process.

Along with the rest of the rescued animals, she said the two that came to Windham were largely feral and pretty wary of people when they arrived.

“They’re starting to find people more interesting,” she said. “They now realize that people are where their food comes from.”

Rehabilitation is ongoing. Melaragno said it would take some time before the animals are comfortable receiving routine veterinary care. They also need to put on weight before the two will be able to go to adoptive homes.

Melaragno explains that horses are herd animals and need to be with other horses. “Misty would make a great companion for another horse,” she said.

Adopting a horse from MSSPA is straightforward and comes with extensive ongoing support. There are no charges or adoption fees.

“Our primary goal is making sure we match the right animal with the right home,” Bickford said. “I like to tell folks that when you adopt with MSSPA you really adopt with us. Our horses go out with a lifetime guarantee in that if circumstances change within a family, such as finances, they need not be burdened with a horse’s care. The animal can come back here. We find that’s very comforting to people.”

MSSPA checks in with adopters regularly. With the recent economic downturn, many horses ended up coming back to MSSPA. On average, it costs $3,000 a year to feed and care for a horse.

Thankfully, MSSPA receives some corporate support as well as community donations to sustain its mission. Currently, the nonprofit facility is in the midst of its “Buy a Bale” campaign. Five dollars will buy a bale of hay for a horse in need. To date the organization has raised $35,000 with a goal of $100,000.

To find out more about Misty, the bale campaign, or to learn about the many volunteer opportunities, visit www.msspa.org or call 892-3040.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

[email protected]