Jamie Castano is no stranger to rescuing animals. However, when had he saved one horse from almost certain slaughter in 2017, it had a profound effect on him. That’s because the animal’s response to her newfound freedom touched him deeply.
Castano founded Freedom Farm Animal Rescue in New Jersey in 2014. The creatures that the non-profit works with have usually been rescued from a lifetime of neglect and abuse. Furthermore, lots of animals Castano and his organization rescue come directly from slaughterhouses where their only fate is often death.
Animal lover Castano first became dedicated to saving livestock after rescuing a lamb named Clark in 2016. Around about the same time, he and his girlfriend became vegan after becoming aware of the brutal reality of the meat and dairy industries.
Sadly, little Clark died of an infection soon after Castano rescued him from a dairy farm auction in Upstate New York. However, while their relationship may have been short-lived, it had a lasting impact on Castano and his approach to animal rescue.
In February 2018 Castano told Peace 4 Animals, “Even though I only knew him a few months, he made a life-changing impact on me.” He added, “We couldn’t contribute to more Clarks.” As a result, Freedom Farm Animal Rescue turned its intention to rescuing the victims of agriculture.
With that in mind, as president of the organization, Castano often took it upon himself to attend livestock auctions. At such events, Castano was able to identify animals in need of Freedom Farm Animal Rescue’s help. However, they can be quite harrowing affairs to witness.
Describing some of the scenes he’d witnessed at auctions, in 2017 Castano told The Dodo, “You stand there in a warehouse, and… you see that there are thousands that are going to be killed today, and it almost makes you feel like, ‘What are you doing?’”
But attending such events was a necessary evil in Castano’s fight against animal cruelty. Even if he could save just one individual from a life of suffering and misery, such visits felt worth it – no matter how heartbreaking they might have been.
So in summer 2017 Castano and some of his fellow animal rescuers went to a livestock auction house in the hope of capturing footage and photographs inside. On that occasion, they didn’t intend to rescue any animals. However, it seemed that the fates had other plans.
As Castano looked around the warehouse, something caught his eye. It was a horse with the number “25” branded on her neck. Straight away Castano had to investigate, since the figure had a special significance to him.
Castano explained to The Dodo, “I actually have the number 25 tattooed on my arm as a memorial for my uncle who had passed away.” Consequently, the coincidence was too strange to ignore. “So when I happened to see her, I was like, ‘Oh my god,’” he added.
The horse in question was in a “direct ship” pen, which meant she would be dispatched to slaughter after the auction. And to make matters worse, it didn’t appear that the animal had enjoyed a nice life to begin with. That’s because, according to Castano, she had “pin firing marks” on her legs.
Revealing the possible cause of the holes, Castano explained to The Dodo, “They give them to racehorses. It’s pretty much like a shot of acid to freeze the tendon or muscle. So when they have an injury or they’re not performing their best, this is supposed to make them not feel that area. My vet had said, ‘Maybe four or five pin firing marks is almost normal,’ but she had 18 on each leg.”
The horse’s plight touched Castano so much that he decided to fundraise to buy her freedom. Thankfully, some kind animal lovers donated to the cause, and soon the equine was on her way to the Freedom Farm Animal Rescue sanctuary with Castano.
Her rescuers named the horse Joanie, and it didn’t take long for her to show them just how grateful she was for a second shot at life. In fact, as soon as Joanie arrived at her new home, she shimmied all across the floor in happiness.
Recalling what he witnessed during Joanie’s first taste of freedom, Castano said to The Dodo, “We backed up the trailer to her quarantine field, and as soon as we let her out — we didn’t even taken the stickers off her butt yet — she walked right out and started rolling.”
Castano later discovered it was likely that the horse had been born in Illinois in 1999. After retiring from a successful stint as a racehorse, she was sold off to become an Amish buggy horse, before winding up at the livestock auction house where Castano had found her.
So after a whole lifetime of toil and torture, Joanie finally found a safe haven at Freedom Farm Animal Rescue. However, it would take her some time for all her scars to heal – particularly when it came to trusting humans once more.
Castano revealed to The Dodo, “At the auction, when we first walked up to her, I said, ‘Wow, she’s beautiful.’ I put my hand out to pet her and she flinched and threw her head like she was terrified of me.” He added, “But now she’s been in quarantine for three weeks, you can walk up to feed her, she runs up to the gate and she’s all in your face. She definitely knows she’s no longer on her way to slaughter.”
Soon, thanks to Freedom Farm Animal Rescue, Joanie had completely transformed from the terrified horse that was not long for this world. “She’s just an absolute sweetheart,” Castano enthused to The Dodo. “If we’re in her field, she’ll follow us all around. To go from a horse that was on her way to a slaughterhouse to following us around the pasture — that’s incredible.”