Debbie McLain, president and founder of the Downeast Equine and Large Animal Society, gets a kiss from Yama Llama, one of the sanctuary’s residents. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTOS BY JOHANNA S. BILLINGS

Animal sanctuary to offer quiet spot for people



DEBLOIS — Author Richard Rowland believes animals can teach people healing lessons.

So does Debbie McLain of Deblois, founder and president of the Downeast Equine and Large Animal Society, a 43-acre farm offering sanctuary to more than 100 animals, most of which have been abused.

At an open house Sept. 22, McLain will introduce Safe Haven Corner, a place for humans, especially veterans and first responders dealing with emotional trauma, to find their own sanctuary watching the animals.

Rowland, author of “Unspoken Messages: Spiritual Lessons I Learned from Horses and Other Earthbound Souls,” will be the featured speaker. He is a Vietnam veteran and retired Kentucky State Police officer.

Safe Haven Corner, which will be open to visitors after the open house, will offer a quiet setting from which visitors can watch the animals living at the sanctuary. McLain said she hopes the animals can offer them some peace.

“A lot of my friends are in law enforcement,” she said “I have a lot of military [service people] in my family. I want to give back.”

Visitors won’t have direct access to the animals. Instead, they will be able to watch some of the 24 horses, 11 geese, 10 ducks, nine goats, nine dogs, eight cats, four pigeons, three pigs, a llama, an ox and about 50 chickens from behind a fence.

Visitors also can build a fire in the fire pit, and a guest book will be available for those who care to write something. A privacy fence will keep Safe Haven Corner hidden from the road and any prying eyes.

“It’s just a quiet place to sit and watch the animals,” McLain said.

A herd of horses, an ox and other large animals enjoy some hay at the large animal sanctuary in Deblois, where veterans and first responders will soon be able to come and find solace watching the animals.

She said she was surprised to learn there is a high suicide rate among first responders, which include police, firefighters and EMS personnel.

“If I can stop one of them from doing it, then all the work I’m putting into this place is worth it,” she said.

The idea for Safe Haven has been stewing for awhile and McLain decided it was time to make it happen. “It was do or die this year,” she said. “I’m either going to do it or stop talking about it.”

McLain, who grew up in Franklin, founded the animal sanctuary about 14 years ago after being asked if she could take in a donkey, three ponies and two goats. From there, McLain and her husband, Stanley, continued to take in large animals seized in cruelty cases, left behind by people who moved and who were otherwise homeless.

In one situation, several horses, goats and a llama were left behind in a pen when the former owners vacated a foreclosed property. By the time the animals were discovered, one of the horses had died.

“Of course one died. They were two weeks without food,” McLain said.

Another of the sanctuary residents is an 11-year-old horse that had been poisoned for the first three years of her life. McLain said the horse’s former owner tried to save money by buying cow feed, which includes an ingredient poisonous to horses. As a result, the horse’s hip bones protrude and her thigh muscles have atrophied.

“She’s doing well for what she went through,” McLain said.

As the animal population at the McLain farm grew, so did expenses. Currently, McLain spends $200 a week on grain and $50 a day on hay, which she could not afford on her own. So, she decided to make the sanctuary a nonprofit.

“It was either nonprofit and trying to raise funds or not being able to help,” she said. “Everybody thinks there’s state funding. There’s no state funding.”

In addition to the large animals, McLain also cares for a variety of smaller critters, including guinea pigs and birds, which are kept indoors but not in cages.

Sometimes McLain will allow other people to adopt a sanctuary resident, but only when she believes it is best for the animal. Those born at the sanctuary are not adopted out, however. Nor are the dogs and cats, which are technically not part of the shelter. When animals are adopted out, McLain wants them back should there be any problems.

“I always know where they are and I have always taken them back,” she said.

The public is invited to the open house. McLain also invited state and local representatives and Washington County business owners. For more information, email [email protected]

“I’m hoping for a good turnout,” she said.

Johanna S. Billings

Reporter at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Johanna S. Billings covers eastern Hancock County and western Washington County. An avid photographer, she lives in Steuben with her husband and several cats. She welcomes tips and story ideas. Email her at [email protected]

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