Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
TIJERAS – There are eight dogs here at the Masleña Rescue Foundation, a 22-acre animal sanctuary off NM 337. You know that because they are all right there with you as soon as you drive through the gate.
It takes only a little while longer to find out there are two goats, four sheep, seven hogs, eight llamas, nine alpacas, nine cats, four donkeys, two burros, a hinny (the offspring of a male horse and a female donkey), 20 head of cattle and 53 horses here, as well, not to mention three geese, and some chickens, guineas and ducks.
“I wanted a rescue ranch, but I thought it was going to be horses,” said Jeffrey Morewood, 57. “Then there were two heifers after the horses. And then a bull to fertilize the herd. And then the rest of the animals for one reason or another. There’s a circumstance behind every one.”
Hogs and harmony
Masleña – más leña means more firewood, or more wood in Spanish – is about 12 miles south of the Interstate 40 exit into Tijeras. Morewood inherited the property from his late parents and has lived here about 30 years. He and Tori Ashley, 30, who joined him nine years ago, are the sanctuary’s caretakers.
Animals come here because their owners can no longer care for them, because they were found wandering on country roads and their owners cannot be located, because they have been abused. Masleña does not put its animal residents up for adoption. Once here, they live out their lives at the sanctuary.
Morewood was born in Albuquerque, and worked for his contractor father and as a maintenance man for various food businesses. He’s good with his hands, an asset that comes in handy at Masleña.
“There was nothing here when I got here,” he said. “I built everything here.”
That includes several large structures packed with hay. There’s also a large storage container filled with sacks of feed at the ranch, and two water trucks, a tanker that can carry 4,000 gallons of water and a tender that can take on 2,100 gallons.
At midmorning on a day earlier this month, the hogs were dozing in the warmth of the sun. Morewood and Ashley make some introductions.
Bobo likes eggs, pizza and ice cream. MeMa is the biggest of the swine in residence. They don’t know how much MeMa weighs, hundreds and hundreds of pounds, but all you have to do is look at her to know she’s the biggest.
Nikki is sleeping as soundly and contentedly as the other hogs, apparently oblivious that Colt, a goat, is standing on her.
Ashley is from Belen. She likes classic country music, has performed as a singer and has a 2017 CD to her credit. She has also done some modeling, but she’s not afraid of getting her hands dirty. She was working for Morewood’s neighbor, a handyman, when he suggested Jeffrey might need some help at his place.
“I started working over here, and we hit it off and started dating,” she said. “I’m happy. This is everything I have ever imagined. I love the peace and harmony. There is no other piece of dirt I would like to walk on.”
Midnight, a mare, trots by, her colt keeping pace at her shoulder.
Morewood’s childhood dream was to be a rancher, living in the country and looking after animals. His family’s property afforded him a slice of country life, but it was a horse named Sassy that started him on the road to ranching. The horse’s owner, who cared deeply for the animal, was looking for a good home for her.
“When the lady asked me what I wanted to do with her, I just said, ‘Love on her and take care of her,’ ” Morewood said. “I guess everyone else was planning to work her, and that’s fine. But I wanted a companion to live out her days with me. I had never owned a horse before. I didn’t know a thing about horses.”
Despite his lack of experience with horses, Sassy’s owner was won over by Morewood’s response.
“In 1999, I got Sassy,” he said. “In 2000, I got two more horses.” He has been living with, and learning about, horses since then.
Ashley’s family spent summers in Creede, Colorado. She loved being outdoors there and always wanted a horse.
Some years back, she acquired Diesel, a handsome palomino. A few years after that, she got Barney, a white hinny, as a companion for Diesel.
Both Diesel and Barney now live at Masleña.
The most remarkable thing about the sanctuary is that, for the most part, animals of all species mingle freely and amicably with each other. Animals are segregated in a corral only when they are new to Masleña and need time to acclimate to their surroundings, when they are ill, or when they are displaying some behavioral issues.
But, at feeding time, when Morewood rolls into the big pasture on a tractor to start pulling out hay, horses, cows, steers, bulls, llamas, alpacas and donkeys amble out together to share lunch, some of them emerging from the shade of nearby Ponderosa pine, piñon, juniper and Gambel oak.
Cody the goat is there, too, but more for the ride on the tractor than the food.
Beyond romantic notions
“It’s an interesting setup, having multiple species living together,” said Alexanda Eckhoff, field veterinarian for the New Mexico Livestock Board. “It would be great if humans could get along so well.”
Eckhoff was at Masleña earlier this month, inspecting the sanctuary to see if it qualifies to be certified as an official state equine rescue facility.
“The main thing for equine rescue operations is that they should put horses in a better situation than the one they came from, roaming the roads or cases of cruelty,” Eckhoff said. “Some rescue operations work on adoption and training. Masleña wants to be a sanctuary. There is a need for both. Some horses may be too old to be adopted out, or they may have behavioral or physical issues.”
For example, Winter, a paint mare that came to Masleña in 2020, is blind in one eye. That’s most likely why she tore her shoulder on a tree limb while running. The injury was severe, requiring Morewood and Ashley to render swift and extensive aid. Bandages, sutures and antibiotics were required.
“They are beyond the romantic notion of looking out the window at beautiful horses,” Eckhoff said of Morewood and Ashley. “Rescue animals are a money pit. People have to be prepared to work every day, weekends and holidays, to feed and care for animals. They have to be prepared to deal with putting an animal down when that is necessary. It’s an emotional process.
“And rescue operations have to deal with being in the limelight. They are often targets on social media.”
Animal rescue work takes thick skin, soft hearts, physical endurance and money.
Morewood and Ashley are blessed with personal resources to fund their operation, but they could use some help as they continue to take in animals.
“We will always have room for another rescue horse,” Ashley said.
Masleña recently acquired 501 (c) (3) nonprofit status, which could aid in obtaining donations. State certification could help in that regard, as well.
Eckhoff said certification is a matter of Masleña getting its paperwork and documentation up to state standards. She said the sanctuary’s level of care meets requirements.
“Their facilities are optimal, ample food and water,” Eckoff said. “It’s obvious they have worked a lot with the animals, invested time and energy so that the (animals’) personalities come through. They have had horses that have been shut down and worked with them until they came out of themselves.”
Garden of Eden
Morewood welcomes community involvement at Masleña. Volunteers have come out to work on building projects or to help feed the animals, and he likes the idea of school tours, maybe having a petting zoo for kids.
“We have sheep and llama-shearing exhibits,” he said. “I’m looking into getting kids off computers, off Game Boy and Xbox.”
Morewood wants people to experience, if only for an hour or two, the things he and Ashley love about life at Masleña.
“One thing nice here is we are off the beaten path,” he said. “I love our quiet and our privacy here. This is our Garden of Eden.”
A visitor suggests it is more like Noah’s Ark, with a pasture instead of a deck.
“Well, we need to get a giraffe, a rhino and a camel,” he said.
Maybe two of each.