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'I saw so much mistreatment': Wilkesboro horse rescuer's work inspires children's book about empathy

Melanie Sue Bowles established Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary, where she drew inspiration for her book Liberty Biscuit.

WILKESBORO, N.C. — Not far from the historic Wilkesboro racetrack now finding new glory, a horse rescue has become a "pit stop" for abused and neglected animals deserving of fresh beginnings and newfound freedom.

The picturesque, 50-acre safe haven called Proud Spirit Horse Sanctuary heals hooves and gives hope -- to both four-legged friends and their human companions. As such, it has become the perfect setting for a children's book about kindness.

"I think it's important for children to read stories about compassion and empathy and, at the same time, it needs to be exciting and inspiring..." said Proud Spirit founder and author Melanie Sue Bowles. 

Bowles' book Liberty Biscuit features a main character named Kip, who rescues a donkey from an abusive owner. She said the book's donkey is based on two donkeys who lived out their days in peace at Proud Spirit, where they had the freedom to roam and feel accepted into the herd -- a theme of inclusion incredibly personal to Bowles.

"There's a little side story in the book. The protagonist family is mixed race, and I have biracial grandchildren, and I want -- we all belong," she said.

Credit: Melanie Sue Bowles

For three decades, Bowles has made sure unwanted horses have somewhere to belong. The setting of her book came from her adventures and observations, as she pursued her dream of owning a horse.

"As I traveled around and saw this horse was for sale, that horse was for sale, I saw so much mistreatment, and it inspired me to want to start a sanctuary for horses in need, and it went from there," she said.

Bowles and her husband initially established Proud Spirit in Florida but eventually settled in North Carolina, where they found a beautiful piece of land for their animals. Horses and donkeys they have rescued from neglect and abuse cases over the years now roam as a free herd.

Bowles said all proceeds from her book support the sanctuary's ongoing efforts to help the animals live out their days. In her effort to support small businesses, Bowles encourages all who are interested in reading the book to buy it -- or order it -- from their local book store or request it at the library.

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