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    Modern-Day Posse | Winter 2011 Out Here Magazine

    Stolen Horse International uses the power of the Internet to corral horse thieves

    Debi Metcalfe worked furiously to get back her stolen horse, Idaho, and she wants to help others do the same.
    Out Here

    By Jodi Helmer

    Photography by Laura Mueller

    When Debi Metcalfe saw the cut fence and hoof prints ending where tire tracks began, she realized that her family's missing horse hadn't merely escaped her pasture; she had been stolen.

    She and her husband, Harold, filed a police report but Shelby, N.C., law enforcement officials were not hopeful about finding the white mare named Idaho.

    "We found out quickly that if we wanted to find the horse, we were going to have to do it ourselves," Metcalfe recalls.

    Metcalfe launched a frantic search for Idaho, calling neighbors, local stables, and horse auctions — anyone she thought might have a lead.

    "A horse is just like a missing child," she says. "The longer the horse is missing, the farther it gets from home and the harder it is to find."

    After a few months of making calls and hanging posters, Metcalfe knew she needed to extend her reach if she hoped to find Idaho. She broadcast her search over the relatively-new Internet, sending e-mails to law enforcement, horse dealers, auction houses, farmers, and animal advocates, asking them to distribute fliers, pass along information, and be on the lookout for Idaho.

    The efforts eventually paid off: Metcalfe received a tip that led her to her horse and on Sept. 17, 1998 — 51 weeks after the mare was stolen — Metcalfe and Idaho were reunited.

    "Every night during the search for Idaho, I said my prayers and told God that if He would help me find her, I would never turn anyone away who needed help finding their horse," she says.

    Metcalfe estimates she has sent out 500 alerts — each viewed by about 50,000 people, she says — and helped recover 240 horses.

    She promptly established the nonprofit group Stolen Horse International, the first national group of its kind.

    "People have no idea that (horse theft) is happening just as much now — maybe more — than it did in the Wild West days," she says. Horse thefts are tracked on the local level — no national statistics are compiled — but Metcalfe estimates that some 40,000 horses are stolen each year in the United States.

    Stolen Horse International is fighting back with a modern-day posse by way of the Internet at NetPosse.com, which works similar to an Amber Alert for missing children: theft victims file a report on NetPosse.com and alerts are sent nationwide to a group of dedicated volunteers, who keep a lookout.

    Metcalfe estimates she has sent out 500 alerts — each viewed by about 50,000 people, she says — and helped recover 240 horses.

    Earlier this summer, Metcalfe helped find a stolen American Saddlebred mare, Standing Still, that was reported as "lost in transport" between Colorado and Illinois.

    "The seller asked me, "Do you really think you can do something that the police can't?" Metcalfe recalls. "My response was, "Yes, we often do."

    The horse was located mere hours after NetPosse sent out the alert.

    Because she remembers the helplessness and despair when Idaho was missing, Metcalf is eager to reach out to those who are living the same circumstances.

    "This is not a 9-to-5 job," she says. "Sometimes the phone rings in the middle of the night and I always answer because I know the call is from someone who is in trouble."

    Jodi Helmer is a North Carolina writer.

     

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