Dog rescue efforts at North Stonington nonprofit in doubt after barn collapse

North Stonington - Cathy Leinert, who has saved more than 300 dogs with her nonprofit Rottie Rescue Rehab & Sanctuary, does not want to choose between the dogs and her four horses.

Since the collapse of a horse barn on her property last week, and the subsequent discovery that her insurance doesn't cover the loss, she fears she may have to.

But she is also finding out that there are animal lovers out there who want to help.

The barn roof collapsed very early last Thursday at the property she owns with her husband, Roger Whitehead. North Stonington Volunteer Fire Department members used chain saws to rescue the horses. Whitehead just missed being in the barn when it came down.

The draft horses are currently outside in the field, although a local person has offered use of his barn until hers is rebuilt. There are currently 10 dogs on the property and another 18 in foster homes.

"The fact is that we have to come up with the money to rebuild the barn," Leinert said. "That is money that could be used to run the rescue. It puts us in a very difficult position. I don't want to stop doing rescue work, and I'm not giving up my horses. People with horses just don't give them up. They are like your children ... ask anyone who has horses."

According to Leinert, the lack of coverage surprised her because she carries insurance for her property, including for the barn and horses. But it turns out she was insured in a lower "peril group" that covers fires but not roof collapses.

"My horses, horse trailer, house, barn, everything is insured," said Leinert. "But they are saying that my barn is in a lower peril group and is not covered for ice or wind damage."

Attempts Tuesday to reach a representative at Farm Family, Leinert's insurance company, were unsuccessful.

Leinert said the barn, which was valued at $20,000 in her policy, has been torn down because it was structurally unsound. Lost with it were horse supplies and equipment, dog crates and dog fencing. She still is trying to put a value on her losses.

Leinert said volunteers, donations, fundraising events and her husband's job at Electric Boat make her rescue work possible. She says a $400 adoption fee doesn't cover the cost of the actual rescue of the dogs, which mostly come from the New England area. She also works with local animal control officers.

Adam Conley, hospital manager at VCA Turco Animal Hospital in Westerly, said that Leinert spends on average $5,000 a year in veterinary care for the dogs. This year alone, she has spent $2,500.

"This breed is difficult to place, and she does phenomenal work," Conley said. "They have been given another chance at life, based on her work."

Leinert said the last couple of weeks have been stressful. The washing machine used to clean the dog blankets is broken. Her husband's truck broke down. She reflects on Thursday's events and simply says it's a "miracle" that no one was hurt or killed.

The roof collapsed around 5 a.m., the time her husband normally goes into the barn to tend to the horses. On that particular day, he slept in.

"It just sounded like a freight train," Leinert said. "If he was inside, he would have been killed. We grabbed our flashlights and went outside, but there was no way to get the horses out."

Leinert credits North Stonington firefighters for a quick response and their success at saving the horses. Despite exposed wood with nails coming down, only one horse sustained any injury - some scratches.

The 30-by-50-foot barn was about 30 years old, she said. United Builders Supply in Westerly said it will donate some supplies to rebuild the barn. An anonymous donor paid the rescue's $2,000 veterinary bill after hearing of her plight.

A GoFundMe page has been created to help rebuild the barn. Those who want to donate can go to gofundme.com/711z5O.

"It's just been a really stressful time," Leinert said. "I love my work, and I love my horses. How can I choose?"

i.larraneta@theday.com

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