Open Spaces

HARPS Rescues All Creatures Great and Small


story and photography by jason bitton

On July 16, shortly after the severe storms swept across Northeastern Illinois, the Hooved Animal Rescue & Protection Society (HARPS, in Barrington Hills, Ill.), received a call from a panicked family in nearby Mettawa as their small farm was quickly flooding by the overflowing Des Plaines River and their animals were at risk of drowning.

They were unable to find any solution until a friend called HARPS, begging for help. Donna Ewing, HARPS founder, advised them to move all the animals to higher ground in their garage, and said they would arrive as soon as possible.

Ivanov (a family member at the farm) looked out the window and saw water coming toward her driveway. A couple hours later, she looked outside again. "It covered everything," Ivanov said.

Upon arriving at the farm site, Donna Ewing, HARPS staff, and volunteers found a devastating scene—two barns, an outbuilding, and several vehicles were submerged in floodwater.

"We waded through muck and chest high water toward the house and barn," Ewing said. "We found goats, rabbits, chickens, and a miniature horse desperately in need of help or they would likely have drowned in the next wave."

Drawing on decades of expertise in animal rescue, Ewing and her faithful, fearless volunteers went to work, donning wet gear and waders, and using ropes, boats, and a lot of coaxing to swim and ferry the animals to dry land. The goats, chickens, rabbits, and a duck were loaded into a small boat.

The miniature horse, named Olive, faced the greatest challenge of having to swim through water that was well over her head. The HARPS team created a device to lift the horse from under its belly while keeping its head above water. The animals’ heads needed to be held up not only to prevent drowning, but to keep them from drinking the water, likely riddled with oils and other contaminants.

Guided by Ewing and HARPS staff, the tiny, brave-hearted horse paddled her way to safety. As terrified as the animals were at the sudden destruction of their home, they put their trust in HARPS’ rescuers making it through four-foot deep water. “The goats stood frozen with fear as we ferried them to the ambulance” Jean Adams, a HARPS board member said. “They were good enough to stand up in the boat the family had. The other animals we carried in cages."

In total, the organization rescued the miniature horse, two goats, two chickens, a duck, and five rabbits. They took the animals to the HARPS rescue farm in Barrington Hills and modified several horse stalls to hold them.

One of the rescued rabbits gave birth to 10 babies while recovering at the farm. “We mainly rescue hooved animals,” Ewing said. “But in an emergency, we’ll take everything. There was no way we could turn our backs on one of God’s little creatures in peril."

Jason Bitton is the executive director of HARPS, a Barrington based nonprofit that has over 50 years experience rescuing horses and other hooved animals, as well as helping to pass anti-cruelty legislation in Illinois. Learn more about HARPS at

Barrington Hills Farm is 700 acres of pristine, undeveloped land located at Haegers Bend and Spring Creek Roads in the northwestern most corner of Barrington Hills. The rarity of Barrington Hills lies in its open space, fresh air, clean water, and abundant wildlife. The land is precious and delicate and in constant need of stewardship to keep it that way. – Dawn M. Davis, President of Barrington Hills Farm.

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Paul McFadden has lived in unincorporated Algonquin for nearly 50 years. The Barrington Hills area and especially what was then the MacArthur Farm and now is Barrington Hills Farm offer abundant opportunities for McFadden and his camera to commune with nature. He may be reached at