Andrea Doolittle doesn’t actually talk to the animals, like the Dr. Doolittle of Disney fame, but she does rescue some of them. Doolittle is founder and CEO of Second Chances Equine Rescue, a rehabilitation and adoption center for horses in Hinesville. She often ends her busy day before most people have started theirs. Yet, she says she loves what she does.
Nestled on about 98 acres, the rescue is off of Highway 196 West. The story of its beginning started in England, when Doolittle was serving in the United States Air Force. Scrolling through pictures of horses at an auction, she was determined to save Spirit, a horse headed for the slaughterhouse.
“It just happened, no plans necessary,” she said, laughing. She bought the two horses from the auction by luck and with determination. She called her then 17-year old son afterwards, and told him to build a fence.
“That was the busiest 30 days ever,” Doolittle said.
In less than five years, SCER-GA has had 181 horses cycle through the rescue. These don’t include numerous horses they’ve helped online by advising owners on feed and care.
“When I jump, I jump,” Doolittle said, and it’s been a lot of hard work. An educator by heart, Doolittle focused on education and curriculum development for the Air Force. She took those skills and focused them on equines after retirement.
SCER-GA provides the necessary veterinary, farrier, nutrition, time and training to a horse that requires rehabilitation, according to their website. Currently, they are in the process of developing their War Horse program, which focuses on equine assisted learning for veterans and first responders. They’ve sent a representative to attend the O.K. Corral Series to earn certifications, in order to continue program development.“We need volunteers,” Doolittle said, during the Courier’s morning tour of the facility. “There’s so much flexibility that nearly everyone can do it.”
Volunteering doesn’t just involve mounted activities, she said, but ground-based activities too. Their volunteer base hovers at 62 people, but a much smaller, core group of 15-17 people spend most of their time around the horses. All of the volunteer information is on SCER-GA’s website.
It’s not all fun and games however. When Doolittle started the rescue in 2013, she didn’t realize the outstanding need for it in counties surrounding Liberty County.
“We have horses on a waiting list that we can’t pull in yet,” she said. “We just need the right person and situation to adopt the ones we have already.” All but seven of the horses on the property are adoptable. It’s both the human and the horses’ judgement that determines a potential adopter’s status, according to Doolittle.
“If that horse doesn’t like you, it isn’t leaving this dirt,” she said. “I don’t care what the papers say. We don’t want the horse going back into a bad situation.”
Doolittle has seen her share of bad situations in the local area, within the last year. She spends a lot of time driving the roads, looking at and tracking horses’ conditions. She’s even gone as far as knocking on peoples’ doors, offering assistance.
“People resent me, but I’m not evil,” she sighed. “I’m just trying to educate and address the problem.” In February of 2016, Doolittle counted almost 400 horses in Liberty County alone, not including the ones she couldn’t see.“No one realizes there’s a problem,” she said. “There are very few show barns in the area… those who have horses are usually middle or low income unfortunately.”
Doolittle mentioned that there are equine laws in place for Georgia; but only three counties enforce those laws. There’s a rescue in north Georgia that has good relationships with surrounding counties, she said. So the laws get followed, Doolittle added.
Doolittle said some people’s unfortunate “throw-away” mentality causes problems for the rescue.
She said 44 horses have been brought to her rescue by law enforcement, "Three of them due to seizures the others were surrendered in lieu of the owner’s arrest. But there remains no accountability; what’s stopping them from going out the next minute and buying another animal?”
Education is a start to resolving the problem and Doolittle can’t say it enough.
“Thank God people care,” she said, shaking her head. “Ninety-five percent of the time, education solves the problems.”
The rescue needs help, Doolittle said. Volunteers, donations, time — whatever can be given. As a non-profit, they rely on outside donations. Tomorrow, a fundraiser is being held for the rescue: The Mane Event from 5-7 p.m. at the La Quinta in Hinesville. The goal is to raise $2,500 for a Becker Sling, which is a piece of rescue equipment for large animals.
“In the past three months, we’ve had two calls where a horse was down within five miles of here,” Doolittle said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have the necessary equipment to help them and they had to be euthanized.”
With the purchase of the sling, Doolittle hopes to train first responders on its use so nothing like that happens again. Right now, the closest Becker sling is either Macon or Jacksonville, too far away to be of any use to anyone.
“It’s a small statement for a huge problem”, she said. The rescue is pulling from an 80-mile radius, and 19 of the equines saved weren’t within that radius. A major problem for such a small rescue, Doolittle says she does the best she can with what they’ve got.
“They give me a purpose, every single day,” she said. “I want to save the world, or at least my little part of it.”Looking to volunteer or adopt? Visit SCER-GA.org for more information.