The case of a stray pony that made state bureaucrats look like donkeys has ended happily.
Blaze was sold at auction on Wednesday to a Paterson family, which adopted him several months ago.
“Such a little pony for such a fuss,” said Carlene Whitesell, the matriarch in Blaze’s new human family in this Columbia River town.
The Whitesells adopted Blaze five months ago after the pony was found wandering near the railroad tracks along the river.
They had reported their find to authorities, beginning a battle in which the Department of Agriculture threatened to sell it at auction - possibly for dog food - before lawmakers stepped in.
The case not only drew attention in the Legislature. Hordes of reporters descended on this tiny southeastern Washington community, and Blaze’s dilemma became national news.
The Whitesells were the only bidders for Blaze at the sheriff’s auction Wednesday at the Benton County Courthouse in Prosser.
They offered $525. The Department of Agriculture promptly declared the Whitesells had spent $525 caring for the pony while it was technically owned by the state, so they didn’t have to pay anything.
“They even helped us make out the bill,” Mrs. Whitesell said.
After retrieving the pony from the railroad tracks, the Whitesells tried in vain to locate its owner. In the meantime, the two Whitesell boys, Benjamin, 9, and Israel, 12, fed and watered the animal, which they named Blaze, after a pony in a book.
Mrs. Whitesell finally called the Department of Agriculture to find out how they could keep the pony.
Officials said they couldn’t. An obscure law designed to prevent cattle rustling said most abandoned livestock is to be claimed by the state and sold to the highest bidder.
When Mrs. Whitesell’s state senator, Republican Irv Newhouse, was unable to change the Agriculture Department’s mind, the news media were called in.
Gov. Mike Lowry’s office was deluged with telephone calls. In the Legislature, Blaze’s fate became a cause celebre.
Lawmakers amended the law so the Agriculture director can arrange abandoned livestock sales at his discretion. That paved the way for Wednesday’s sale.
“It really changed my view of government, to see how people kicked in and helped,” Mrs. Whitesell said. “There really are people out there who help you.”
Despite all the fuss, Blaze’s original owner hasn’t surfaced.
But if he does, Mrs. Whitesell said, “We have a bill of sale.”