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Controversial Friends of Horses Rescue Moves to Franktown

Friends of Horses, a controversial nonprofit horse rescue that was the center of a September 2018 Westword cover story, has moved to Franktown, according to the organization's website.

"Friends of Horses Rescue Could Be in Need of Rescue Itself" focused on the struggle between the head of the organization, Bill Stiffler, and former employee Maria Lawson and former tenant Emily Klimas, who were trying to buy the land in Centennial on which the rescue was located. Stiffler, who founded the organization in 2001, had been leasing the land from a religious organization in California.

Allegations of animal neglect and verbal harassment of staff and tenants followed Stiffler during much of his tenure in Centennial, which is part of what led Lawson and Klimas to want to buy the property. Stiffler has not responded to a request for comment.

“Usually a horse in a rescue is already safe,” Jacqui Avis, a local horse rescue owner, told Westword in September. “When people adopt from Friends of Horses, it really is like saving a horse.”

Maria Lawson and Emily Klimas say Bill Stiffler is no friend of horses.EXPAND
Maria Lawson and Emily Klimas say Bill Stiffler is no friend of horses.
Anthony Camera

Lawson and Klimas were eventually able to purchase the land and have since started a new nonprofit, Mile High Rescue.

"Mile High Rescue (MHR) is dedicated to saving the lives of all animals in need. Currently MHR focuses on rescuing horses from auction, slaughter, neglect and abusive environments. We provide refuge, rehabilitation and training for all incoming rescues," the rescue's website notes.

Although Stiffler's website shows that he is once again running a rescue and offering horses for adoption from the property in Franktown, it's clear that his organization is not what it once was.

"During our transition, all programs including Orientations, Volunteering, Birthday Parties, Riding Lessons, Corporate Events, and Therapeutic Riding are discontinued until further notice," the website reads.

And as Stiffler tries to transition into his new property, Lawson and Klimas are sprucing up Mile High Rescue. Since the opening this past winter, volunteers have been helping to paint stables, barns and buildings.

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