For the love of a Horse

Roswell woman finds inspiration to battle breast cancer through rescue

DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
Palmieri shares a special bond with Trouble who provided her with purpose during her treatments while nursing him back to health.
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta
DEVON MORGAN/Photosynthesis Atlanta

Trouble came into Miaka Palmieri’s life for a reason, and stayed forever.

But unlike the breast cancer she has successfully battled to the curb, this Trouble was welcomed and came in the form of a headstrong donkey who spent his days alone, rejected by all, and slowly giving up on life.

Palmieri has a deep connection with animals. The Roswell resident is the founder and president of the For the Love of a Horse Inc., a rescue organization that has worked to save and rehabilitate injured horses since 2009.

And the lonely donkey who spent his days alone in the corner of a pasture looking out on Highway 20 was breaking her heart.

“Oh my goodness … Trouble gave me a purpose, a challenge,” said Palmieri. “He came into my life for a reason. I needed him as much as he needed me.”

Palmieri knows Trouble reflects her fight against breast cancer, of everything she wanted to do when she was diagnosed in 2013 with the most aggressive form of breast cancer. She wanted to stop the treatment, retreat to a corner and give up the fight, until friends and family begged her to try. Two years later she is in remission.

“Trouble gave me a reason to get up and get out of the house every single day … if only just to let him know he wasn’t alone and someone cared for him,” Palmieri said of the donkey whose owners handed him off to her not long after her cancer treatments ended.

She grew up in Long Island, New York, married her high school sweetheart, Richie, 25 years ago, and moved to North Fulton in 2000. Palmieri worked for a time in “corporate America” but realized her time and talents were better spent on her community, and primarily in animal welfare.

“I’ve always had a love for all creatures great and small,” she said. “My love and first interaction with horses came when my best friend and I would sneak in to the paddocks at Belmont Race Track and pet the horses.”

She was volunteering for a local animal rescue when Gracie limped in with a hurt shoulder and broken leg, most likely caused by a car.

”It was love at first sight,” Palmieri said. “The rescue was going to euthanize her after getting a bad prognosis. We couldn’t let that happen.”

So she and four other volunteers adopted Gracie, sought treatment out of state, raised the money in every way they could, and got the help Gracie needed. And For the Love of a Horse came to be.

“It is because of Gracie, and the need to help other horses like her with critical medical care needs, that we formed FTLOAH,” Palmieri said. “We felt strongly we could help horses that would otherwise be euthanized because their owners don’t have the money to get them the care they desperately need.”

Four years into her work with FTLOAH, Palmieri got the devastating news that affects about one in every eight women in the United States. Breast cancer. She followed medical advice for an aggressive approach she felt would stop the spread.

“I elected to have a radical double mastectomy to ensure we would remove any possibility of the cancer spreading, and so I wouldn’t have to have chemo or radiation,” Palmieri said.

But lightning struck again just after the surgery in August 2013. She learned she was among the low percentage of women with triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive, fast-moving form of the disease which required intensive chemotherapy. Palmieri said “no.”

“I was adamant I was NOT going to get treatment … after all, that’s why I went the radical route,” she said. “My family begged me to reconsider. Time was of the essence. I was holding firm.”

But after years of Palmieri saving the lives of horses, her horses saved her.
“It was not until my brother said to me, ‘Miaka, the horses need you. What would happen to them if you’re not here?’ It was at that moment that I consented to explore getting treatment,” she said.

Two months later, in October 2013, Palmieri began treatment at New York’s Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, and she is coming up on two years in remission. Back home, her horses were being tended to by a network of volunteers who filled in the gaps and kept FTLOAH going strong.

After six years, the rescue group has a long list of success stories, and is often the last hope for horses suffering from broken bones, starvation, cancer, old-age issues and a host of other ailments many traditional rescues won’t take on.

“Each situation is different, but they must be ‘critical medical care’ cases. Our organization will arrange and pay for treatments for the equines cases that are approved by our board,” said Palmieri. “No money exchanges hand with the owner, we pay the care provider directly, typically University of Georgia, Auburn or local vets.”

Vet bills can run many thousands of dollars, so fundraising is an important part of what FTLOAH does to continue its mission. A golf tournament hosted annually by the group, the Fore the Love of a Horse Golf Classic, now in its fourth year, provides many of the funds needed.

While some horses are returned to their owners with the promise of continued welfare checks, some find a permanent place on Palmieri’s farm and further the goals of FTLOAH.

“Gracie, Sterling, Bishop, Gambit and Cole will have a forever home with us,” said Palmieri, whose personal menagerie of 14 pets includes horses, donkeys, goats, dogs and cats. “They are used to educate the public and bring joy to all those who visit us or through the visits we make to nursing homes, assisted living centers, etc.”

With cancer in the background, Palmieri says her “perfect days” include breakfast with her family, working with her horses and other animals, and knowing in her heart they are happy and safe. She adds her “typical days” also include mucking out stalls, and lots of cleanup, but everything leads back to a sense of fulfillment.

“Taking care of [my animals] is a powerful way with which to get in touch with thoughts and feelings. They have a unique ability to sense our emotions and they react accordingly. I’ve been able to work with them to develop trust,” she said. “I am comforted by their gentle, loving and peaceful souls.”

And as for Trouble? He, too, is enjoying a happy ending.

“I’m so proud to say Trouble is now with us in a loving home where he is a spoiled brat,” Palmieri said with a laugh.

For the Love of A Horse future plans:
• Continue to raise enough money, through fundraising and grants, to be able to take on more critical care medical cases and help more horses
• Expand the community outreach program to include equine therapy, work with at-risk children/young adults
• Grow their volunteer program
• Continue to educate horse owners and the public about proper equine care and the problems of neglect, abuse and slaughter
• Attain a sanctuary property whereby they could house/care for abused, neglected or unwanted horses to rehabilitate and find proper, loving forever homes for them

To find out how you can help For the Love of a Horse, visit the website at ■


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