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RIP, Ripley: Marengo shelter mourns gentle giant

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
(Sarah Nader – snader@shawmedia.com)
Jennifer Finkelman, vice president of Destination Safe Haven, spends time with Ripley in Marengo in 2011. Ripley died just before Christmas.

MARENGO – An unlikely local celebrity that captivated fans from Europe to Australia and turned attention to an unknown Marengo animal shelter died days before Christmas.

Ripley, a 13- to 15-year-old Belgian draft horse, arrived at Destination Safe Haven in Marengo nearly three years ago and about 1,000 pounds underweight. His frame was frail and he suffered from an infection in his right hind leg that had been untreated for five years.

Ripley’s battle with the infection, known as lymphangitis, ended Dec. 20. The horse refused to stand and walk around the shelter’s grounds along Busse Road in Marengo. With guidance from its veterinarian, the shelter euthanized Ripley.

“He had not been in pain before. He ran around; he played,” said Deb Novak, president of Safe Haven. “But you could see it in his face. He was done. He wanted to be done.”

After accepting Ripley in 2010, Novak and other volunteers steadily rehabilitated him and managed to contain the infection, which routinely caused swelling, so that he wouldn’t feel pain.

Known for his gentle spirit, Ripley was popular with people who visited the shelter, Novak said. Shelter staff developed pen pals, from horse owners in Belgium to schoolchildren in Australia, who wanted to be informed about Ripley’s time at Safe Haven.

Novak credited Ripley with turning the small Marengo shelter into a recognizable organization. It currently treats horses, ponies, goats, pigs and even a rooster.

Ripley was the first draft horse adopted by the shelter, which initially worried that such a large, powerful animal could break through Safe Haven’s fences. But the trusting horse never tested those boundaries, Novak said.

A loving personality defined Ripley, who never was hostile toward anyone, despite neglect by his previous owners. Veterinary records showed that his former owners decided not to treat a wound that led to his lymphangitis, Novak said.

With her voice quivering, Novak said Ripley’s presence will be difficult to replace at the shelter.

“An absolute gentle giant,” Novak said. “We don’t really talk about it.”

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