Jet, Copper and C.C. are horses finding comfort at Bruno's Castaway Treasures, a non-profit horse sanctuary. Its mission is to take in injured and abused horses for rehabilitation and placement in loving homes. Bruno, who has worked with horses since 1988, said she doesn't show or breed horses. Her concern is for the horses themselves, making sure they are healed and adopted out to good homes. "I'm not here for people. I want the horse to have a good home. They are the ones that have been victimized," she said.
Bruno has dealt with such horses for 15 years. She has treated horses after they have been beaten, starved and left to die. "No one wants to know; everyone wants to live in a pretty world. If you don't know, you don't have to deal with it," she said.
The battered horses come to Castaway Treasures in a variety of ways. Veterinarians and good Samaritans rescue horses from auction, avoiding eventual slaughter. U.S. Border Patrol, federal park rangers and Arizona Livestock Board also bring horses there. Horses too old or sick to be adopted will always have a home at the sanctuary.
In her 15 years of business, Bruno only turned away one horse. The horse had Cushings Disease and was dying. After being with the horse for 14 years, the owner did not want to witness the death but Bruno insisted the owner owed the animal time and attention. "She had an obligation to the horse."
Obligation is not a word Bruno would use to describe her workload. She and her husband, John, often sleep only four hours a night, but Bruno doesn't complain. "People think I'm crazy ... but I get a lot more than I give. They give back 10 times more."
Bruno has found the most abused horses are the most grateful. Jet was chained in the backyard for 10 years on an eight-foot rope. Copper was beaten so severely in the face, he lost an eye. C.C. was beaten by his owner and was sold at a yard sale for only $5. "It just shows you the indifference people have to horses. People were taught you use a horse as a tool. When it doesn't work, go get another one. It doesn't occur to them that these are feeling creatures. They feel joy, pain and sorrow, just like us," said Bruno.
One of Bruno's board members, Pat Fowler, runs a satellite branch of Castaway Treasures in Cave Creek. Even though it was a lifelong dream for her to perform this work, Fowler is frustrated by the lack of support she receives. Feed stores are reluctant to let her put donation cans on their counters. "They don't care. They just care about breeding horses and winning trophies." Fowler works around the clock. "All you do is work, lift, travel and cry," she said.
But volunteers make a difference. Bruno's neighbors routinely help out and give the horses love and attention. Developmentally disabled adults and locals also lend a hand. Veterinarians such as Dr. Janet Muller of Broadway Animal Hospital donate their time and knowledge. "It makes a difference when we have people here to spend time with them. [We have to] let them know it's OK here," said Bruno.
Opponents have suggested some horses should be euthanized, but Bruno is clear about her role. "You can tell when they want to die. They have a blank look on their face. It's not my job to tell a horse it's time to die," she said. Horses near death will not stand, eat or socialize, she explained. Until then, she makes their lives as comfortable as possible.
Bruno is an outspoken advocate for horses. In 1993, she spoke with elected officials, the vet board and the press in regard to conditions she found at an animal hospital in Phoenix. Bruno's horse, Rocky, was recovering from surgery on bedding full of bacteria in a metal-lined stall. Bruno's husband John voluntarily fixed the inoperable coolers. Frustrated at the lack of care for abused animals, Bruno began taking in more horses herself. "If you have the ability to do more, you should do more," she said. In 15 years of business, Bruno has adopted out 113 horses.
Bruno's outspokenness appeals to board member Fowler. "She's touched a lot of people. You have to speak out. That's what I like about her. She cares more for what's right than herself," said Fowler.
Bruno is particular about who adopts her horses. Prospective adoptive owners must come to Castaway Treasures for six months to learn how to take care of a horse. Bruno must approve of their facility, which must be privately owned. In addition, each owner must adopt two horses to provide socialization for the animals. "We want to adopt them out because then they can get more individual attention," said Bruno.
But while they are at Castaway Treasures, the horses and their human caretakers provide fond memories. Bruno recalls one community service volunteer as a "biker type you wouldn't want to run into in a dark alley." She found him in a stall crying with his arms hugging a horse. She wondered if he ever connected to a human in that way before.
Another memory is of Maxine, a white horse with black spots. Maxine had chipped bones in her knees, calcium deposits, arthritis and bowed legs. She would lovingly put her head down next to Bruno's shoulder. But one day Maxine could not stand anymore and had to be put down. Shortly afterward, Bruno's yard filled with white butterflies with black spots. Perhaps it was Maxine's way of saying goodbye, she suggested.
Goodbye is not something Bruno will say to her work anytime soon. She continues to seek help for her horses. Southwest Gas Corp. donated a truck and outdoor night lighting to her project. Members of St. Peter and Paul's church came to bless her animals. Bruno works with an abundant spirit but limited funds, caring for each horse that comes across her path, offering a smile and safe and comfortable home. An oasis indeed.