A safe haven
It all started with a crippled mule, a blind pony and an aged nanny goat.
Dedicated to helping animals, Kris and Ron Nelson not only opened their hearts to these creatures but also a refuge for abused, neglected and blind animals.
The couple operates their 20-acre animal refuge north of Bricelyn. Currently, they care for about 50 animals of which five are draft horses. They also have 12 donkeys, 12 mules, six blind horses and 15 dogs.
“We don’t need much room,” explains Kris, “because many of our animals are crippled or blind.”
The Nelsons believe all animals are beautiful soulful creatures who deserve the chance at a good life just as every human does.
“All of these animals have spent their life in service,” says Kris. “They all worked, whether it was in a petting zoo or as pack mules, so I think they deserve a good retirement.”
The Nelsons acquire their animals primarily from two organizations. Another Chance 4 Horses, Inc. (AC4H) is one of their contacts. It is an equine rescue, rehabilitation and placement center located in Pennsylvania.
“AC4H does more for equine recovery than any other group,” say Kris. “They rescue and place about 150 horses per year. I can’t say enough good things about this organization.”
The other source the Nelsons have adopted animals from is Great Expectations Ranch in Pillager, MN.
“Sue and Brook McPherson of Great Expectations were the people who got us started. We got Pearl, a blind pony from them, as well as Rufus, a crippled mule with a back club leg and Mary, a starved old goat who slept with the draft horses. These three completed the first set of animals we adopted from them.”
During the past five years the Nelsons outgrew their animal refuge site near Madison Lake. They relocated their retirement home for animals near Bricelyn and presently are filled to capacity.
Kris says daily chores take about six hours.
“I used to bike 27 miles every day, butit did not give me the pleasure like caring for the animals does,” she explains.
It also takes more than a generous heart and a strong back to maintain her animal retirement home. In fact, AC4H estimates the normal and reasonable cost to keep an average horse per year is about $2,300. This includes veterinary fees as well as feed costs.
“The animals here consume about 600 pounds of feed per week,” she says. “This does not include the 25-30 bales of hay we use daily or the carrots that fill about half of our refrigerator,” she adds while being nudged by one of her hungry, spoiled pets wanting another carrot.
Kris comes from a long line of rescuers. In fact, her mother rescued dogs and her sister is currently the vice president of the Humane Society in Mankato.
The family passion for saving animals also extends to her husband, Ron. Kris says he is probably her best supporter and will drive 48 hours straight in order to rescue an animal.
Several of the animals on the Bricelyn site are mules. Kris says they are the smartest animal. When you ride one you’re always safe, because they won’t do anything to endanger themselves. This is why they are used as pack mules at dude ranches she explains.
“I especially love donkeys,” admits Kris of the animals she has in her care. “They are the sweetest and most loveable creatures. They have such a sense of family and belonging to each other.”
As a result, she feels most of her animals, who she individually names, should be teamed up with another animal. Among her pairs are mules Pumpkin and Sugar, Jackson and Jillian, or Jack and Jill, Timmy and Emily and donkeys Louis and Lola.
“I can’t understand the cruelty in people,” says Kris. “There is a lot of sadness in the business of animal rescue. In fact, I can’t go into a sale barn. I’d have a tough time, my heart couldn’t take it.”
When she and her husband first saw Jillian with her crooked leg and a three year hoof growth, Kris confessed she and her husband wore sunglasses, because they didn’t want to let the other people see them cry.
Among the animals she and her husband have brought to their Bricelyn refuge site is Clyde, an 18-hand Belgium horse who was so severely beaten his fur does not adhere to his skin.
Then there is Felix. He is a former dressage horse who is blind.
Jackson is a pack donkey who worked at a dude ranch in Colorado before he became blind.
Left in a slaughterhouse pen for one year, 18-year-old Thoroughbred mare, Starlight, was sentenced to death because of blindness in one eye and being lame in one front leg. When they first saw Starlight she was thin and covered in bite marks. She, like many of the animals cared for by the Nelsons, loves attention.
Also going to be ‘put down’ were Timmy, because of blindness, and Emily who has a parrot mouth. This defect makes it difficult for her to chew food. Emily’s joints also lock-up and become stiff making mobility difficult for her.
Felina came to the Nelson farmsite in December 2008. She is a mule pony who would not allow anyone to touch her.
Another pair recently acquired is Cutter (20-plus-year-old quarterhorse gelding) and Pappy, another aged quarterhorse gelding.
Pappy was very emaciated and missing hair all over his body. His feet will continue to need a lot of hoof care too.
Also relatively new to the Nelson menagerie is Strouba, a 1982 bay three-quarter Arabian mare. She has a permanent halter mark on her face due to wearing a halter too tight and for too long.
As Kris walks along the fenceline and into a barn, the animals fondly follow her. She calls out greetings to each one and pets those most insistent to get some attention before heading toward the enclosure where Mack is housed.
“Mack is an amazing mule who was ridden in hard arenas. He is very arthritic,” says Kris. “If the temperature gets under 30 degrees he founders. So I put him in my husband’s outfitter tent with a heater to keep him comfortable.”
All of the animals cared for by Nelson are blanketed in the winter and nothing on their ranch is bred or can be bred.
Another thing Kris Nelson is adamant about are her blind animals. These she never ‘adopts out’ to another home.
“Some animals take to blindness well while others cannot adjust,” she says.
All of her animals also have unique personalities. There are clever ones, grumpy ones and even those with a sense of humor. Some are timid while others are brave. Some are lazy or athletic, obstinate or willing. At any rate, the Nelsons have discovered there are as many types of animal personalities as those possessed by people, thus making their retirement home for animals all the more interesting.
Even with their varied temperaments and personalities, Kris says the animals seem to rise to the challenges people have set before them, asking little in return.
“If these abused, neglected animals could only talk what would they say,” asks Kris.
Nelson says there are a lot of people who help dogs and cats but horses are more at risk. They are doomed for slaughter if not rescued.
Presently, the U.S. forbids the slaughter of horses, but this does not prevent owners from shipping them to Mexico or Canada.
“There is a lot of inhumanity in the horse market,” she says. “Horses are cramped in haulers for 24-36 hours without being fed when they are shipped for slaughter. A horse can smell blood ten miles away, so you can imagine how frightened they are as they near a slaughterhouse.”
Nelson says shipping animals for slaughter is also a moral issue. A horse is often a pet not a food animal, so we as a society have to educate people to responsibly breed their animals and to have stricter regulations in force.
Once horses are slaughtered in Mexico and Canada the meat is often shipped overseas to be used as a food source she says.
“Can you imagine what a pregnant woman in an Asian country consumes?” asks Nelson aware of what goes into horses. “The horse meat is tainted with wormers, pain medications and fly sprays all of which have been absorbed into the skin and the meat of a horse.”
Preventing even one horse, donkey or mule from being slaughtered continues to be the goal of Kris and Ron Nelson. They want to give something back to the old and injured animals who can’t live a life of service anymore.
“I just want to keep the animals healthy, happy and fat,” says Kris of her animals.
A native of Germany, Kris has traveled extensively, so that is not on the top of her list when she and her husband retire from their Mankato Refrigeration business. For her 50th birthday she didn’t get diamonds either. She got a four-wheeler from her husband.
Kris has gone from high heels to rubber boots to follow her passion of caring for abused and neglected animals.
“This is my condo. This is my retirement,” she proudly says as she points to the animals on her 20 acre refuge.
It is also the loving retirement home for the Nelsons’ menagerie of animals who no longer are unwanted, unloved castaways.
And to think, it all started with a crippled mule, a blind pony and an aged nanny goat.