Union Democrat staff

Some stories hit on a visceral level.

A vandal's wanton rampage through a hallowed and historic Sonora cemetery or the unconscionable neglect that left a Copperopolis couple's horses filthy, malnourished and sick, both in the headlines this week, are among them.

We don't step back and objectively appraise stories like these, slowly forming opinions.

Instead, our reactions are immediate, emotional and powerful: disbelief, revulsion, outrage. Our stomachs turn and blood rushes to our heads as we struggle - and fail - to make sense of what we just read.

A haunting question hangs over it all:

In a community like ours - historic, beautiful, charitable and caring - how can this happen?

But what happened last weekend are anomalies and aberrations. What

defines us are not the lawbreakers, but how we respond to what they did.

A week ago, passersby and neighbors who saw a man toppling

150-year-old markers at the Lytton Street graveyard, quickly called the

police and stuck around to describe the vandal, and then identify a


The Independent Order of Odd Fellows, which owns the 1856 cemetery,

admits the graveyard has for years been the victim of both vandals and

neglect, Only a week before the destructive rampage, The Union Democrat

ran a story on how the order's aging, dwindling membership was no

longer able to care for it.

Now the Odd Fellows are heading an effort to refurbish the cemetery

and have scheduled a Feb. 12 Cleanup Day. Our guess is that the turnout

- fueled, ironically, by outrage over the vandalism - will do our

community proud and help that hallowed ground.

Seldom equaled is the passion and compassion with which we defend

animals who can't help themselves. The Copperopolis case was no


Days before the 10 mired and malnourished horses were seized,

photos began circulating on the Internet and the phones of Calaveras

County officials began ringing off the hook. When the operation came

down, an army of helpers was on hand to bring the steeds to safety.

An Angels Camp veterinarian examined the horses, made initial

medical assessments and tranquilized the most skittish. Raquelle Van

Vleck of the Jamestown-area ReHorse Rescue Ranch took six horses, and

the Remington Ranch near Soulsbyville took four.

Volunteers spent four days just grooming the unkempt Copperopolis

horses. Full recovery at ReHorse - a nonprofit funded by community

donations - could take months.

Sadly, the horses aren't alone. ReHorse is nursing some 45 abused,

neglected horses back to health. Among them is Gabriel, whose owner was

charged with animal cruelty last summer, after the emaciated horse fell

beneath him as he rode along Highway 108.

Yes, there was outrage. But there were also results: Gabriel, cared

for at ReHorse with the help of numerous contributions, has gained back

300 pounds and his serious wounds are nearly healed.

Gideon, another emaciated horse owned by Gabriel's rider, has

gained 200 pounds since Tuolumne County Animal Control rescued him.

He's now ready for adoption by a responsible owner.

And those are the kind of stories that really define our community.