Last night at the 201st Annual Meeting of The Society in Dedham for Apprehending Horse Thieves, I ended my term as president. It was a rather uneventful year, which is a good thing because it means that no horses were stolen on my watch. What follows is my farewell address, given to the 180 men and 5 women in attendance:
Whenever I mention to people that I am a member of this esteemed organization, the first words out of their mouths are almost always “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” So I explain to them that about a hundred years ago the society shifted its focus from the apprehension of horse thieves to the consumption of a roast beef dinner and enjoyment of a clever entertainment at its annual meeting, although in the hundred years previous to that horse pilferers were pursued vigorously , not just in Dedham but in Norfolk County and beyond, besides which, the important fact is that this organization which is a remnant from our pre-law enforcement past has remained in existence for over two centuries and isn’t that an incredible achievement to which they respond. “Yeah, but are there even any horses in Dedham?” And thus my quest began.
I know there used to be horses in Dedham; I’ve seen them myself. The last time I remember seeing a horse that wasn’t part of a parade was at the Animal Rescue League on Pine Street. I know that the original purpose of that facility when it was founded was to rescue worn out and abused horses and give them a peaceful last few days here on earth. When the end was near, the horse would quietly walk into an inviting stall filled with hay, which was actually electrified and called “The Blessed House of Release.” In the 1980’s the Equine Rescue and Rehabilitation program was reestablished at Pine Ridge and that’s where I saw a horse happily cantering just a few years ago. But alas, due to construction at the site, all the horses have been moved to their Brewster facility.
The other time I recall seeing horses in town was right in my own neighborhood of Tower Street, between Paul Park and the Capen School. At at the end of my street there lived two horses, Big John and Jodie. Jodie was a Shetland pony, and Big John was a …big horse. I’d often see them being ridden and every so often being chased by their owners down my street. But that was over 30 years ago.
Then I thought of The Dedham Country and Polo Club on Westfield Street. I know that it was founded in 1910 and that polo was once played along the banks of the Charles at Samuel Warren’s estate called Karlstein. A quick look at their website however showed me that the main interests at the club these days are weddings and golf, and the only place you’ll see a horse is on their logo.
While I was on the internet I googled “horses in Dedham” and hit pay dirt. I should have started here to begin with. I found an ad for a horse for sale in Dedham! A five year old dark bay mare clean limbed and straight moving, great jumper, and only £1600! When I refined my search to Dedham, Massachusetts, USA…nothing.
I thought I should ask former president and friend Frank Walley. Like me, Frank is the great grandson of a blacksmith. The family business is now insurance, and when I talked to Frank he told me that while he has insured many a Mustang and Bronco over the years, they were not of the Equine variety.
So now I’m starting to get frustrated. I can’t believe that there is not a single solitary horse to be found in the hometown of the woman who grew up to star on TV as the wife of a man who owned a talking horse! I’m talking (of course, of course) of Connie Hines (DHS 1948) who played Carol Post on the old Mr. Ed show back in the sixties.
I have to admit that I was aware all along where I could easily find an answer to the question “Are there even any horses in Dedham?” We all know that in order to keep a horse, donkey mule, pony, llama, bovine, goat, sheep, alpaca or other large animal, here to known as “large animals,” one must provide an acre of land for the first animal, 2/3 of an acre for each subsequent animal, furnish an MMP (Manure Management Plan and), locate the facility for housing the animal 100 feet from any wetland or well, public or private, and obtain a permit from the town’s Board of Health. One phone call to town hall could end this quest, and with trepidation I made that call. And was told that at present there are no permits on file for permission to stable a horse in town. Lots of chickens, no horses.
But I have not given up. During my quest I came upon a story from a few years ago about a couple who had been harboring a paint mare named Fancy in a garage on Congress Place off of Bussey Street. The neighbors were upset because the horse was there without a permit and they did not want a “large animal” living in their quiet suburban neighborhood. Eventually Fancy found a temporary home in Westwood, but the story gives me hope. If there could be one illegal horse hidden in town, there could be two, a dozen, even hundreds hiding out in garages, garden sheds and in-law apartments. We just can’t be sure. So the next time someone asks me “Are there even any horses in Dedham, I will reply, there just might be, and if there are, they can rest assured knowing that I and the rest of the members of SIDFAHT are ever vigilant.