Knoxville, Tenn. (WVLT) - It's rare for a job to come with an office equipped with front gates that lead to a haven of beauty. But even on the picturesque West Knoxville property of Horse Haven of Tennessee, things aren't always so pretty.
"Hope is a hard thing to hold on to when you are dealing with animals that have been abused and suffering. It’s hard to hold on to hope because you don’t always win, the animal doesn’t always make it," revealed longtime Horse Haven employee Stephanie Solomon.
Solomon has helped rescue hundreds of horses during her 12 years with the organization. As she pulled a file from the office filing cabinet, she explained the case from which she never recovered. Wonder was a blind mare left behind on a Jefferson County farm by her owner who had been evicted.
"When we got to her up on that hill, she had eaten a circle around herself. She could have walked three feet in any direction and had food to eat, but she didn’t because she was scared," Solomon remembered.
Stephanie and her team had only one way to get the starving horse down the hill, by sliding her on a tarp and then lifting her onto the trailer.
"We thought we had her rescued, and it should have been sunshine and roses, but it wasn’t. We were too late," said Solomon.
Wonder was too far gone, suffering major stomach issues caused by extreme undernourishment. Solomon recalled getting the phone call that a decision to say goodbye had to be made.
"And I had to do it. And it just sucks sometimes always being that person that has to say, nope we can’t save this one," Solomon said through tears.
At the time, it seemed Stephanie's hope couldn't be saved either. At least, not by a horse.
It took another case, one just as bad, to remind Stephanie her work is more than a job. After two years on the loose, a donkey named Mr. Jones arrived at Horse Haven of Tennessee suffering from a festering wound that nearly killed him.
"It was a halter that was put on him as a baby, and then he grew for two years. So it was 3.5 to 4 inches deep. The smell was terrible, you could smell him from 50 feet away," Stephanie recalled.
Even then, Mr. Jones refused to give up, and it took the stubborn fight of a donkey to show Stephanie she still had some left in herself too.
"It makes me very happy to see an animal with that much will to live, and it just helps me remember why I do this," she said.
On the day Local 8 News interviewed Stephanie, we watched her inside a corral with Mr. Jones, working on touching his face and body to make him more comfortable with human contact.
"We’ve worked on touching his ears, and it took me a long time to be able to rub his face. That was really scary at first," she said.
Slowly but surely, through daily treatments given by Stephanie, the maggots inside Mr. Jones' deep cut disappeared, and the wound began to heal. Not just in Mr. Jones, but in Stephanie, too.
"His spirit is so great, he makes me laugh, he makes me very happy," she said.
Stephanie will never forget the cases she didn't win—the cases like Wonder. "I don’t want to let them go because in some cases I’m the only one who remembers them."
But now, like the beauty on the farm she works every day, hope is everywhere she looks.
"He make me feel hopeful. The ones that end well are the ones that recharge you. And he’s going to have a good ending, I’m going to make sure of it," Stephanie promised.
Teresa Pollock, the owner of Mr. Jones, was charged with animal cruelty and ordered to pay restitution.
Pollock did not enter a plea because she planned to apply for judicial diversion. If that diversion is granted, Pollock will plead guilty and receive a suspended sentence or probationary period of 11 months and 29 days.
She was also ordered to pay court costs, $2,636.29 in restitution to University of Tennessee Veterinary Medical Center, and undergo random checks by the sheriff's office or animal control.