Grace, the badly injured, half-starved horse that was rescued from the wilderness outside Cooke City, has a new owner.
Park County commissioners voted Tuesday morning to allow Debbi Purvis to buy the horse from the county. Purvis said it was a victory for the community of Cooke City, where she lives and is a part owner of the Beartooth Cafe.
“I may be on paper Grace’s owner,” Purvis said, “but I feel the whole community is invested in her.”
Kay and Bill Whittle, the Cooke City couple who hiked in to rescue Grace in mid-July, spoke at the Park County Commission meeting Tuesday morning. Early in the afternoon, they were in the process of hauling Grace to Alpine Veterinary Service, just west of Billings on Christensen Road.
Purvis, who was in Billings Tuesday, said she has been taking her horses to Alpine for years and is confident that Dr. Mark Robinson, who owns the service, will be able to continue the care that Grace had been receiving from Dr. Jim Murray, a veterinarian in Livingston.
Emily Post, public communications administrator for Park County, confirmed that Commissioners Steve Caldwell and Marty Malone voted Tuesday to turn the horse over to Purvis. Commissioner Clint Tinsley was absent.
Purvis testified by phone at the commission meeting. The Whittles testified in person, as did Troy Wilson, owner of the Cooke City General Store, and his daughter Tessa, who went up to Daisy Pass with Purvis to assist the Whittles in completing the rescue.
“I think the community and the commission were just sold on the value of the horse staying with her,” Post said, referring to Purvis.
Last Best News reported last week how Grace, a sorrel whose age has been estimated at 5 to 7 years, survived for at least two months in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness with an ugly wound on her right rear leg, unable to leave an area strewn thickly with deadfall.
The body of her owner, Christopher Shaul, 49, was found on June 3 at the top of Daisy Pass, near Cooke City, at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. Park County Coroner Al Jenkins concluded that Shaul died of exposure, most likely in early to mid-May, when the upper reaches of the Beartooths were still heavily blanketed in snow.
Hikers spotted Grace in a meadow on July 13. The next day, the Whittles went in and found Grace, then led her on an all-day hike over Daisy Pass, past the wilderness boundary and down to a point where Purvis, waiting with a pickup truck and trailer, could take Grace back to Cooke City.
Purvis and her husband Bob already own four horses, which they keep on their property between Silver Gate and Cooke City. Eventually, she said, Grace will stay in a barn on property closer to town that she and Bill recently purchased and are in the process of upgrading.
Purvis said Grace will probably have to stay with the vet for nearly a year, given the severity of her leg wound. At the earliest, she said, Grace could be back in Cooke City by next May.
To take custody of Grace, Purvis paid her vet bill in Livingston, which came to a little more than $1,300—which she said was clearly far less than the value of the work Murray had done on Grace. She said a friend is helping her set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Grace’s continuing care.
As one example of how much Grace has meant to Cooke City, Purvis pointed to Tessa, the 17-year-old who helped with the rescue. Purvis said Tessa has repeatedly thanked her for allowing her to go along that day, and she has also said that the experience cemented her intention of going into animal care, possibly veterinary medicine.
“That was the first clue as to the impact Grace could have on people,” Purvis said.
The connection with Cooke City is also important because of how much the community has already done for her, Purvis said, beginning with the outpouring of support when her first husband was killed after rolling his jeep on a mountain near town in 2006.
The town rallied around her again in 2013, after Purvis was diagnosed with breast cancer. What was intended to be a party to celebrate the end of her radiation treatment turned into a “Save the Peaks” fundraiser for breast cancer awareness.
The fourth annual fundraiser is scheduled for this Saturday, starting at 8 p.m. on Main Street in front of the Cooke City General Store.