S'Mores the mini horse doesn't have to wonder where his next hearty meal of hay will come from or worry that he'll be neglected ever again.
No, S'Mores is happy, healthy, fed and loved, "living his best life" at River's Wish Animal Sanctuary in the words of Kit Jagoda, who founded the nonprofit refuge for all manner of species with her husband Pete in 2004.
The mini horse, who arrived at the sanctuary in west Spokane 10 years ago due to having a hoof defect, is one of more than 120 animals currently cared for by the Jagodas and about three dozen regular volunteers. The refuge menagerie currently includes goats, horses, pigs, cows, dogs, cats, turkeys, chickens, sheep, geese, ducks and rabbits.
"The majority of our animals are all seniors, and those animals are here permanently," Jagoda says. "But we do quite a few rabbit adoptions, and we have the rabbits spayed and neutered and follow the House Rabbit Society philosophy; they are advocates of keeping rabbits indoors like a dog or cat."
Aside from providing a safe and loving home for the many animals in its care, River's Wish also shares its mission of humane education through workshops, events and advocacy.
"We teach that everyone will see each animal as an individual and respect its right to live and be loved," Jagoda says.
"The main thing I find most interesting and helpful for the animals is for people to meet them," she continues. "It takes that abstract notion away from a species when people come out and meet a bovine for the first time, or a turkey. It puts a personality to that being. That is something I think is really important in building connection and empathy, which we're really passionate about."
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has required River's Wish to pause all public tours and in-person events. Only volunteers are currently allowed on the premises to help care for and socialize with resident animals.
When it's safe again for the public to come out and visit, though, Jagoda says the sanctuary will resume its regular tours and workshops like Art and Animals, a series of art classes in collaboration with Spokane Art School (Jagoda herself is also an artist), and its Garden to Table and Compassionate Living workshops centered around veganism.
River's Wish's annual Art for the Animals fundraiser was also impacted by the pandemic, but the outcome of moving the event from in-person to online turned out better than expected, Jagoda says. Because there were no overhead costs to host the event at the refuge, money raised went further, with an online auction netting about $32,000. Those funds, about $12,000 more than usual, will help purchase 140 tons of hay for animal feed.
The sanctuary's two fall events held around Thanksgiving are also both canceled this year, with no current plans for any virtual replacements.
Jagoda says having to pause crucial events for fundraising and raising mission awareness "has created a sense of loss and has made us examine ways to connect the public as we move into the future."
"Through technology, we hope to add virtual visits with the animals," she adds.
Despite these challenges, River's Wish has been able to focus on its most important role: Providing compassionate care for all of its furry and feathered residents.
"Through all of these changes, we have experienced ongoing support for the animals and are very grateful," Jagoda says. ♦
Learn more at riverswishanimalsanctuary.org.