When Lester and Diane Aradi retired, the plan was always to move to the country.
After 36 years in law enforcement — 10 as a police chief in Florida — Lester was ready to hang up his city spurs and head to the great wide open.
It took the couple three years to find their slice of heaven in Georgia's Blue Ridge Mountains. And those green acres had a funny way of getting crowded in a hurry.
You see, Lester and Diane always had a thing for horses.
Working with the Georgia Equine Rescue League, they started welcoming neglected, old, ailing horses to the sanctuary they dubbed Horse Creek Stables. There was Haggis (at right), their first rescue, once a star at the race track who retired into brutal neglect. And Samson, whose old knees are so weak he needs a special diet to keep his weight down.
And it turned out, once they opened their doors to animals in need, their hearts swung open even wider.
“It's a labor of love," Lester told MNN. "It all happened like a domino effect. Having that one potato chip that gave us a desire to have a second one and it continued."
There was a three-legged dog named Tricycle who came their way through another partnership, this time with Adopt a Golden Atlanta. Tricycle lost a leg in an accident — thus the name — and would quickly become a welcoming face for all the animals who arrived at the farm.
He even inspired Lester to write a children’s book called, "Tricycle and Friends," which recounts the dog's true-life adventures at Horse Creek Stable.
"I'm certainly no writer," Lester says with a laugh. "I go by the old saying, 'hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard.' I don't have talent, but I know how to work hard."
More dogs would follow — two had been hit by cars and lost limbs. And there was a huge-hearted English mastiff named Major who had been severely abused in his former life. Major has since passed, but not before knowing the big love of a true family.
"We have had eight or nine animals we have had to put down on this farm," Lester explains. "But they are buried here so their spirits live on with the other animals.
"We take the real old ones, the ones nobody else wants, the ones in danger, the ones who only have a year left to live. That's the way it is."
One of their recent arrivals has a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, a brain abnormality that causes tremors and loss of balance.
A breeder had taken her to the vet, suggesting she be put down.
Instead, through Adopt a Golden Atlanta, she made her way to the Aradi farm. The dog, naturally, was named Hope. And at Horse Creek Stable, she springs eternal.
The Aradis never close their doors to animals in need. All are welcome.
So the alpacas came too. There was Barney and Bourbon. And llamas too. As well as a therapy miniature donkey named Buckaroo.
The Aradis regularly take him to visit people in assisted-care facilities, or children will tumble out of school buses to crowd around Buckaroo at the farm.
All of it is free. Unless of course, you would like to spend the night on the farm. The Aradi transformed an old carriage house on the property into a guest suite.
"Every dime after expenses will go towards the care of the animals," Lester says. "The better the business is doing, the more animals we can take on."
As for the quiet life of a retired police chief? It turns out, you may be able to take this cop out of the city, but you can’t take the compassion out of his heart.
And the siren of others in distress is one he plans to answer for the rest of his life.
"We just told God that when we retired and had a little bit of land, then we would take on larger animals that nobody wanted," Lester says. "We never thought we'd be where we are today."
Inset photo of Haggis: Horse Creek Stable Bed and Breakfast