Gerda Silver interacts with a horse at Gerda’s Animal Aid in West Townshend.(Mike Faher/Reformer)
Gerda Silver interacts with a horse at Gerda's Animal Aid in West Townshend. (Mike Faher/Reformer)

TOWNSHEND -- The work never ends at Gerda's Animal Aid.

On a sunny February morning, founder Gerda Silver joined others in celebrating receipt of a grant that helped fund an important upgrade at her West Townshend horse-rescue facility.

But Silver already was thinking beyond that project. She's looking for more attention, funding and manpower for the cause she calls her "life's dedication," and she also looks toward a day it is no longer necessary to seek out horses headed to slaughter.

"My goal -- my dream come true -- would be that we're not necessary to do what we do right now," Silver said.

Silver has been doing that work since 2005 through her nonprofit. Arguing that "American horses are being shipped to Mexico and Canada every day for consumption," her organization finds such horses at auctions and online.

"We get a lot of horses off of Craigslist, because Craigslist is the perfect swimming ground for the dealers," Silver said. "When they see a horse on Craigslist, they don't have to pay for it. It's usually free. And they will bring their children and convince (sellers) that this horse is going straight home to a deeply bedded stall and carrots galore. And, P.S., they go straight to the auction."

"There's so much subculture -- so many different layers that are involved with this," she added.

Silver, who moved to Vermont from Long Island, says her rescue operation is simply a "Band-Aid" on that problem. But she works to ensure that the horses that make it to West Townshend are carefully nurtured and, eventually, placed with carefully selected new owners.

"It's important," she said. "What are we doing if we're not going to make sure that they're going someplace safe?"

The organization will take back adopted horses "if it's not working out," Silver added. But that has happened just twice.

Horses available for adoption are listed on www.gerdasanimalaid.org. Gerda's Animal Aid also has a Facebook page.

There is a lot of work to be done, however, before a rescued horse is ready to be sent to a new home. For instance, new arrivals are kept under strict quarantine to avoid spreading any health problems to the facility's other equine residents.

"They carry sicknesses from being in these kill pens. They don't get food. They don't get water," Silver said. "They are extremely stressed horses that are just fighting and struggling. Their immune systems, if they weren't bad before they got there, are horrific. And there's a lot of contamination that goes on there."

That's where the new grant, a $6,000 allocation from the Stow, Mass.-based Red Acre Foundation, comes in. The money went toward installation of several prefabricated buildings where newly acquired horses will undergo a second phase of isolation and care.

"It's a huge addition," Silver said. "It's just the icing on the cake as far as making sure that you have horses that are clean when they get adopted -- that they're going to be going out as best as they can be."

David Ayer, a Red Acre Foundation director, visited Gerda's Animal Aid both to deliver a check and to survey the operation.

"I am very impressed with the facilities, the work that they've done and the service that they provide in saving horses," Ayer said.

He found evidence that Gerda's Animal Aid is trying to promote a "human-animal bond," a goal that the foundation shares. He also was happy with Silver's business model.

"It's certainly evident that this program is going to be ongoing," Ayer said. "That's something we look into."

Long-term viability is something that Silver does not take for granted. It is no small task to support the organization's current census of 25 horses, some of which are in foster care.

Even the prefabricated-building project had a price tag far exceeding the Red Acre grant; fundraising continues so that administrators can cover those costs.

Silver recounted a recent bottle/can drive that netted more than $1,000 for the organization. And there are plans to open a tack shop stocked with donated equestrian supplies.

Coco, a 2-year-old mare at Gerda’s Animal Aid in West Townshend.(Mike Faher/Reformer)
Coco, a 2-year-old mare at Gerda's Animal Aid in West Townshend. (Mike Faher/Reformer)

"We find a lot of different ways to raise money," said Shelly Huber, a business consultant who serves as operations manager at Gerda's Animal Aid. "We have a lot of different kinds of fundraisers."

Volunteer help also is needed, Silver said.

"You don't have to be a horse person to volunteer, either," she said. "We have people who come here and just love to be around them, and they want to clean."

It is all in the service of the horses, who receive individual attention tailored to their backgrounds and needs. An example is Coco, a Morgan mare that was transported from Western Pennsylvania -- where she was scheduled to be transported for slaughter -- to Gerda's Animal Aid.

Once in Vermont, Coco spent a year at The Greenwood School in Putney, a facility aimed at educating boys with learning disabilities.

"She spent a year at the boys' school," Silver said. "They trained her very nicely, and they in turn learned a lot about compassion for other living things. She had a little purple sash on graduation day. I have her diploma."

Someday, Silver hopes, Coco will find a new home -- joining other alumni of Gerda's Animal Aid, which has placed horses in places as far away as California.

"They just were all lucky that there was a fork in the road for them," Silver said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.