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Pitbulls ravage an old champ

Tue., Feb. 27, 2007

Even in his glory days, Drink The Wind could strain the heart.

He usually loped out of the gates dead last at Spokane’s Playfair Race Course, trailing the pack of thoroughbreds.

“But just around the last turn, he would start and he wouldn’t quit,” said Leigh Ann Lightfoot, who along with her husband, Bob, raised Drink from a colt. “He was just like one of our kids.”

But an attack by a neighbor’s two pit bulls Sunday brought down this 22-race champion, taking with it one Spokane Valley neighborhood’s connection to its more rural past.

The dogs broke out of their fenced yard near the intersection of Conklin Road and Valleyway and ran down the block into the old pasture – once a bustling breeding ground for race horses – and grabbed on to the 33-year-old horse’s neck and snout, hanging from the stunned animal until he fell, said Lightfoot’s daughter Cheryle Murphy.

“I screamed as loud as I could,” Murphy said. “It must have only been three minutes before they ran off. It happened so fast.”

A younger horse might have fended off the two pit bulls with a kick. But Drink was bow-legged and sway-backed, and arthritis had gotten the better of him in the last year, Lightfoot said.

The dogs left gaping wounds and shredded the horse’s neck. So Drink The Wind was put down by the same veterinarian who – fresh from vet school 30 years ago – cared for the animal most of its life.

The dogs’ owner, Mike Schelin Jr., was cited by Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service for having unleashed and dangerous dogs. The tickets added up to about $300, and the dogs were scheduled to be put down this morning.

“I’m really sorry it happened,” Schelin said. “I feel bad about it, but dogs will be dogs, I guess.”

Lightfoot paid $365 to the vet and $175 to the rendering plant following the attack, but the injustice isn’t in the money spent, she said. Dangerous dogs are only as dangerous as their owners will let them be, she said, and that’s something the law should address.

“What if it had been a child?” Lightfoot asked as her granddaughter, 3-year-old Amiya, sat on the living room floor and sorted through fading official pictures of Drink The Wind’s victories at Playfair and Yakima Meadows.

“There need to be laws that prevent these kind of things from happening,” Murphy said while she helped the girl. “The laws aren’t good enough.”

Neighbors said they feel like a member of their community is gone.

Sometimes on her daily walk, Shirley Torgrimson would bring her dog Gracie up to Drink’s fence, and often the two would play in the pasture. The wood fence, coated with aging white paint, surrounds the few acres that act as a refuge for the several homes that surround it. Neighbors would reach over the fence to offer Drink carrots, and if they could behave, dogs would sometimes frolic with the whinnying horse.

“He’s just been a fixture here,” said Torgrimson, who joins up with other neighbors to watch over their few blocks and share common news. “It’s just kind of sad to see something like this. The violence, I think, is what gets to everybody.”

Drink The Wind – named after a phrase Lightfoot heard on a television special about Arabian horses – was one of a family of race horses at the small Spokane Valley ranch. Back when Playfair was open and thriving, several such ranches were scattered around the Valley. Most are gone now that the track is closed, Lightfoot said, but Drink’s legacy lives on in the tiny barn-turned-farmhouse where Bob and Leigh Ann live.

The horse’s winnings made the Lightfoots’ ranch possible, she said. “Drink made the payments on this place.”


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