Opinion Columns & Blogs

Honoring a man and his passion

Joe and his horse
Joe and his horse

It is both my prayer and belief that when Joe Mann, proprietor of Big Oaks Rescue Farm, left this earth on Tuesday, beneath a delicate crescent moon during a clear, glorious autumn morning, that he was met by every horse, pony, cow, and assorted livestock that he tried mightily to save but who instead were brought home by the divine physician.

When I met Joe it was because I was looking for a home for an aggressively territorial donkey Paul and I had taken in to replace our late 40 year old, Mini-mule, Lionel, who served as a field companion to another horse. Lionel had only shaken his head and half heartedly walked towards anything that might enter the field (probably because at that stage, Lionel needed a walker) but Teddy, more excessive than many donkeys, was a killer, and had to find another home free of cats or dogs.

Joe took him into his herd of animals at his Greenwood, South Carolina rescue, with a donation, and I promised to work hard to raise awareness and further donations to all the good work he was doing. At the time, this man, then in his early 60s, told me he had spent his life savings (which, if I told you the amount, would make you fall off your chair) on the feed and veterinary care that was needed as each animal, often rescued from abusive or neglectful circumstances, until they could be adopted after a thorough screening process.

The farm began to work its magic on Teddy whom I witnessed, during a visit, had become best friends with another Jack, and lo and behold, a duck, that would stand beneath Teddy during the summer, seeking shade, and gobble up whatever grain fell from his mouth at feeding time. Perhaps all the animals at Big Oaks realize they were rescued as most travel around, as my friend, Mary Lu, put it, in a sort of ‘swarm,’ devoid of any aggressive or dangerous behavior. I can only tell you that had that duck been on my property when Teddy lived with us, it would have been killed. Besides going after our cats and dogs, I saw Teddy trample a squirrel and a rabbit, so his new, docile behavior could only be associated to the good naturedness of all the Big Oaks family, with Joe living smack dab in the center in a tiny, weather beaten farm house.

In fact, I had carefully picked my way over empty buckets and empty feed bags on the screened in front porch (screens destroyed by varmints long before) as I went to knock on the door during my most recent visit. As Joe opened the door, the remains of his half eaten lunch on the kitchen table, I had the shock of my life as a deer bounded up the front steps, past both of us, and into the house.

“Dancer!” he hollered, then began running off the other names of deer that resided at the farm, as a harried mother does when calling trying to call one child and not the others, “Dasher! Vixen! Get outta here!” and he ushered the doe back out before she could finish his sandwich.

Joe, with Mary, Patricia, Penny…so many volunteers that deserve recognition are the ones that stepped up to the horrific conditions you and I would wince and flinch away from when we see abuse and starvation cases televised, exclaiming, “Someone ought to do something! That can’t be allowed!”

While the rest of us returned to our dinner, muttering about South Carolina is pathetically ranked number 47 in animal welfare legislation, Joe Mann did something about it. Every day. He took the verbal abuse doled out by aggressive owners upon their starved animals being confiscated by the police, he spent his own money nursing, quite literally, a thousand horses, back to health. Big Oaks is one of the rare rescue farms that takes in all farm animals, which are far more complicated and expensive than dogs and cats. He had been pulled from his bed in the middle of the night to see to a deer, hit by a car, or investigate an ancient, shivering pony left out in the snow with no shelter, no food.

Joe kept his illness private. In the end he left the hospital opting to spend his remaining days in the bed of his humble home, surrounded by those who loved him best: his family, friends and animals.

I’m not someone who normally would use a column to ask for donations. But I’m asking now. Joe was afraid that if his illness went public, people would assume Big Oaks was closing and would stop sending donations. Indeed, donations are down and winter is coming and, with it, a great need for hay as the pasture grass goes dormant. The farm is continuing with Mary at the helm, but she needs our help. So I ask all animal loving persons to consider a gift in the memory of a man who gave every bit of his heart, every day, to God’s creatures, as they were rescued from their suffering by the hands of men. It took a good man, Joe Mann, to make a difference. May light perpetual shine upon you, Joe. Thank you.

www.bigoasksrescuefarm.org or mail: 2305 Kate Way, Greenwood, SC

Reach PAM STONE at pammstone@gmail.com.