DEADWOOD — Shiloh Horse Rescue and Sanctuary owners Todd and Jill Weber are betting that Deadwood’s slag pile property on Highway 14A just outside of town in Boulder Canyon will be a fine place for their equines and a few other animal species to live out their lives.
So much so, that they’re moving: 35 horses, including 10 miniature horses; four burros, including two miniature burros; four goats; five potbellied pigs; one mini zebu bull; one alpaca; one llama; and one great Pyrenees dog to the property from Shiloh Horse Rescue and Sanctuary, just south of Las Vegas, Nev., beginning March 23.
Plans are to have all animals onsite by April 30.
“In 2019, we’ll be setting up the infrastructure, moving everyone up here, the shelters and things and of course, all the animals,” Jill Weber said. “We hope to open to the public in 2020 for tours.”
Shiloh Horse Rescue and Sanctuary is a nationally recognized 501(c)3 nonprofit started in 2003 by Jill and her late husband, actor Tony Curtis. The mission of Shiloh is “A place of peace for horses in need.”
“We rescue from auction, abuse and neglect, and seek to educate the public about the animals we are responsible for,” Weber said.
Ultimately, the Webers would like to have the sanctuary open to the public for tours and education, with the idea of a rescue zoo, not a petting zoo, the goal.
“The slag pile is being leased with the intent to give our animals a comfortable location to live out their days,” Weber said. “After we get all the animals here and get our pastures and structures set up, we plan to embrace the history of the site. Ultimately, we would like to open to the public as a rescue zoo, populated by older rescue animals. Working with Deadwood Historic Preservation, we would like to include some structures and possibly a tour of the smelting area.”
The animals would be housed on a shelf above the property entrance, the upper part of the 28-acre slag pile property.
The Webers ended up in Deadwood and their Williams Street home by way of their associated business booth set up at the Days of ’76, selling an item that helps fund the sanctuary.
“We also have a wholesale and retail business, selling decorated horseshoes,” Weber said.
Todd Weber welds the creations, including statues for the Kentucky Derby, and the business warehouse is located in Las Vegas, while the items are sold to more than 1,000 businesses in the United States and five countries.
“Hay is extremely expensive. It’s two to three times the price it is here in Las Vegas,” Jill Weber explained. “We do retail vending around the country, and it brings in good money and supports the rescue.”
The Webers first vended at the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, then ventured into Deadwood, where a short stay turned into a two-month stay, and now, a permanent move.
“We just fell in love with the town,” Jill Weber said. “We love the Deadwood television show, and we said one day, ‘We want to get a house here’ … we scraped everything we had together and bought the house on upper Williams (Street). We just absolutely love it. We’re going to use it as a base.”
Shiloh was founded in 2003, primarily to save horses from slaughter.
“I was watching the Oprah Winfrey show and it was about, ‘What are you doing to use your life?’” Weber explained. “I decided to look up horse rescues … a few months later, I bought my first one for $20 from an auction.”
Weber estimated that her efforts through Shiloh have been responsible for the rescue of 650 horses and rehoming 450 horses.
“I’ve bought them for as low as $5 and as high as $250,” she said. “I tend to find the one that needs the most help, the scraggliest one, and take them home.”
Weber said the philosophy in running the sanctuary is simple.
“Really, it’s about quality of life for us,” she said. “We believe that even if a horse is old and has issues, if it’s content hanging out with its friends, standing in the sun, as long as it’s still interested in its environment and willing to keep going, so are we. … Basically, we just really believe that older horses are priceless animals. They’re neat animals. They’ve done so much throughout history to help people. I don’t like to see people not be responsible for animals.”
The Webers would like to see the rescue ranch and the education that would accompany it as a family-oriented option for Deadwood visitors.
“If that helps people stay in town a little bit longer, that’s good for us, for the animals, for everybody,” Weber said.
With the list of animals headed to Deadwood, none are exotic.
“We have a mini bull that’s a wedding present I got from Todd, but I don’t think people should have exotic animals as pets,” Weber said. “We kind of tend to do our own thing, stay low-key and educate.”
With five of the 35 horses in their 30s, Weber described the sanctuary as an end-of-life facility, “Where the horses are coming to the end, have special needs, are not adoptable, but they’d be great with people,” she added.
Because she believed in them, some of the stock has gone on to greener pastures.
“I don’t believe that an animal that can go on to a new life should sit in a sanctuary,” she said. “Especially when it can have a new life and be loved by a new family. If the horse is adoptable, I believe it should go on to a new home.”
Deadwood Planning and Zoning Administrator Bob Nelson, Jr. said the slag pile property is zoned commercial highway and that it is zoned appropriately for the sanctuary’s intended usage.
“Horses or ranch animals and because there are no structures within 100 feet of the leased property, they are allowed to do what they are proposing,” Nelson said.
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