DE SOTO, Wis. (AP) — It was the first time Bob Again had set hoof on the ASAP ranch, and yet it was a homecoming of sorts for the statuesque Standardbred, whose path took a devastating detour just weeks ago.

Bob Again was 10 years old when he joined the American Standardbred Adoption Program in 2009, donated by owner Dirk Simpson after a four-year, 27-race career that culminated in 2003.

ASAP was founded in 1993 by Sue Wellman, a special education teacher who lives on a 50-acre farm in De Soto, in an effort to match former race horses with healthy, happy retirement homes. Racehorse owners from across the country donate their horses to the program in exchange for a tax credit, and from there the horses are placed in foster homes in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio and Illinois. The program is sustained entirely through donations and adoption fees, and staffed by community volunteers.

Since 2014, ASAP has placed more than 1,000 equines from across the country with carefully screened owners, for an adoption fee of around $400. Adopters must provide references and sign a contract stipulating the adopted horse can never be sold, given away or transferred, other than back to ASAP.

But with Bob Again, that contract was broken.

On Oct. 6, Wellman was stunned to receive a call from Amanda Keyes, a woman in Massachusetts who is one of thousands of equine lovers who spend hours scouring through the Bastrop Louisiana Ship Pen Facebook page, determined to save the some 100,000 horses headed to slaughter each year. Bob Again was in a kill lot in Bastrop, days from being transported to Mexico for butchering, when Keyes spotted him online Oct. 5.

"(Wellman) was completely shocked after thinking she had placed him in a forever home," said Keyes, who is a volunteer with SOSS Save Our Standardbreds from Slaughter, a watchdog group that records the freeze brand numbers on horses posted by Bastrop and tracks them back to their original owners through the United States Trotting Association Database. "So far this year we have saved a little over 400 horses from the kill pen. There are times where we have grateful owners that take back these horses after thinking that they placed them in a great retirement home."

Wellman was under the assumption Bob Again was still living in Missouri with the woman who adopted him in 2010. She had last heard from the owner, whose name ASAP's attorney at Hale Skemp Law Office has advised against releasing while they pursue replevin action, in 2014, when she was considering returning the horse but quickly changed her mind.

"Where he's been since 2014, I have no idea," Wellman told the La Crosse Tribune . Wellman said ASAP had never been in this situation before and postulates the owner sold Bob Again, unaware he was destined for slaughter.

Bastrop sells horses to Canada and Mexico for kill before the meat is shipped to countries including Japan and France, and charges $950 to reclaim a horse — an amount that exceeds the proceeds from slaughter, making for a lucrative business.

"Moneymaker, isn't it?" Wellman said. "They like to get their hands on as many Standardbreds as they can."

Wellman immediately started soliciting donations to pay for Bob Again's release from Bastrop, collecting nearly $1,000 within a month, and then raised another $800 for his quarantine in Shreveport, Louisiana, where Grayson and Melody Daniels have been taking in rescues for the past 18 months. The couple house up to 10 horses at a time, and Bob Again was their fourth kill lot rescue.

"Sometimes the horses are stolen, neglected, or sometimes people don't want them anymore ... and they end up in that situation," Grayson said. "In Mexico, (the slaughter) is a pretty brutal process."

The Danielses had Bob Again, who was underweight from stress but "very gentle," screened by a vet and monitored for communicable diseases for four weeks. Once cleared, Grayson personally drove him to De Soto, pulling up to ASAP one evening to a crowd of neighbors, volunteers and an antsy Wellman.

"There's a lot of satisfaction once you get there ... someone's always anxious to see them," Grayson said. "The (horse) is coming from a bad environment, and you don't know what to expect. (Bob Again) came out excited, a little anxious, but excited to be there. He got in his stall and he just looked like he belonged."

Wellman he was relieved to have saved Bob Again, especially because the horse was only a few days away from death.

"I thought I was going to be extremely emotional when he got out of the trailer, but having all the people who care about him here ... it was more joyful," said Wellman, who never met Bob Again before he was placed in his initial foster home in Madison.

Wellman said she is hesitant to place Bob Again up for adoption and would only consider a local family. For now, the "friendly, curious and energetic" horse is content to frolic among the other 22 horses on her property, dining on premium senior food until he reaches a healthy weight.

While Keyes will likely never meet Bob Again, she is contented to have played a role in his rescue.

"I am part of an amazing team that puts in endless hours to save these horses," Keyes said. "It's truly an amazing feeling ... we wouldn't be able to do it without our wonderful supporters that help week after week to help save these sweet, tired horses."

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Information from: La Crosse Tribune, http://www.lacrossetribune.com