Twelve years ago, when New Milford's Frank Weller was filming a documentary on a group rescuing Premarin horses from processing farms in Canada, he witnessed a sight he said he'll never forget.

Premarin foals are a product of the $2.5 billion pregnant mares'-urine industry, where mares are put into stalls and impregnated so breeders can collect their urine for use in Premarin, an estrogen-therapy drug manufactured by Pfizer, Weller said.

"I was fascinated by the fact that so many horses were being thrown away," Weller, an actor and filmmaker, said. "They were born to die basically."

In 2002, Weller created Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary, a New Milford nonprofit organization that saves Premarin horses from slaughter by helping them get adopted. Weller has since rescued more than 400 horses.

Patty Wahlers, founder of Washington-based The Humane Organization Representing Suffering Equines, spent years rescuing Premarin horses.

Wahlers once cared for 15 Premarin foals at her Washington farm.

During their 11-month pregnancies, mares are either confined in stalls all winter or all summer, with catheters attached to collect the urine, Wahlers said.

"The first year was hard because there was so much agony for the horses and rescuers," Weller said. "These horses would run through the tents very fast and there were just so many of them."

Weller found a better way to rescue the horses by going straight to the farmers. The Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary now pays farmers up front the market price for a pound of meat, which could be from $1.50 to $1.95.

By paying the farmers, the foals can stay at the farm with their mothers until Weller can find a suitable home.

"We have had a lot of doors shut in our faces," Weller said. "It's was a win for the farmers, because they don't have to round them up. It's a win for horses and it's a win for rescuers."

When Erin Shaughnessy, of New Milford, was 7 years old, her parents adopted two Premarin horses from Equine Angels Rescue Sanctuary. She has since trained them to be rideable.

"We started by fostering two horses and they were just babies, and then we got so much more involved," Shaughnessy said. "Clancy and Valentine were very sweet and just had such good spirits, and we fell in love."

After Clancy died, they adopted another horse from Weller to keep on their New Milford farm.

Premarin mares had a reputation for being unbalanced because of their upbringing, Weller said. He hopes by rescuing the animals and finding loving homes they can live normal lives.

"We look at them more than just livestock -- they have spirit," Weller said. "They have gone to war with us. They have gone to sport and discovered so much with us."

For an expanded story, visit www.newmilfordspectrum.com.

smagnoli@newstimes.com; 203-731-3350; @SkylerDNT