By Leonard Shapiro
Photo by Missy Janes
Sharon Ann Maloney, who worked tirelessly over her admirably selfless life to assure the care, feeding and frequent rescue of animals large and small, died at her Warrenton home Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, after a graciously determined battle with cancer of the bile duct. She was 73.
Ms. Maloney, known to her legion of friends and admirers affectionately as “Sam,” was a lifelong Fauquier County resident whose family owned the aptly named Dogpatch Farm on the Springs Road. Her late mother, Betty Maloney, was a co-founder and generous supporter of the Fauquier County SPCA which, for many years, was housed at the family farm.
Sharon Maloney was immersed in the shelter and continued that compassionate tradition after the SPCA moved to larger quarters in Casanova in 1989. She was president of the SPCA at the time of her death, and had served on the board for many years.
She was a hands-on volunteer, working many hours at the Casanova facility. She also helped raise funds and donated generously herself to make certain the SPCA could continue its work in rescuing abused animals, offering spaying and neutering services and operating a robust animal adoption program.
For many years at the Upperville Horse and Colt Show, where she, her mother and her younger brother, Kevin, once competed, she operated a popular beer stand, with all proceeds going to the SPCA.
Ms. Maloney grew up riding ponies on the farm, competing at local horse shows and showed her Craig’s Corner to a championship at the Devon Horse Show in 1968, winning against top professionals. She graduated from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda and Marymount Junior College in Arlington.
After college, she spent time at several California racetracks as a groom and exercise rider. She worked at the Del Mar track near San Diego for an apparently demanding trainer named Willard Proctor. One day, her brother Kevin recalled, after galloping one of his charges, the horse had a heart attack and died on the track. Mr. Proctor told the always fit and slim Ms. Maloney, “I told you that you were too heavy.”
She returned to Virginia in her 20s to start her own business breaking and training yearlings. She later bred, owned and trained racehorses such as Virginia Fats, Witch Wabbit and Kitty Katch. Her wry sense of humor was clearly evident when she named some fillies for Old West madams such as "Squirreltoothalice."
Ms. Maloney retired from the horse business in 2015, leaving only six also retired Thoroughbreds left to roam the 54-acre farm’s wide-open paddocks.
And then came the donkeys.
“I knew I was getting out of horses and didn’t want the farm to be empty,” she once said. “My mother collected donkeys (figurines) and had a donkey hood ornament. We even have a room called the donkey room in my house. But we didn’t have any donkeys at the farm.”
Over a span of three months that year, Ms. Maloney acquired 17 rescue donkeys, many the result of an animal cruelty case in Orange, Virginia.
“There was this farm where 70 horses were confiscated,” she said. “A friend asked if I’d go down there with her. There were two donkeys and four mini horses. I took the two donkeys and brought them here. Because donkeys can survive on little to nothing, these guys were watching fellow horses starve to death and they survived.”
Over the last five years, some of those original donkeys were adopted and replaced by other rescues, including four saved from a Texas kill pen. Using her own funds also supplemented by generous donations from the Warrenton community. One local Mexican restaurant collected trash bags filled with uneaten corn chips for Ms. Maloney, and she continued to care for dozens of donkeys still on the farm.
Sharon Ann Maloney was born on August 7, 1947, in Washington, D.C., the daughter of John Townsend and Betty Couzens Maloney. Her father was a highly-regarded Thoroughbred horse trainer in New York, as was his twin brother (her uncle), Jim Maloney, a Hall of Fame trainer himself. Her father predeceased her in 1955. Her grandfather, James Couzens, was a legendary mayor of Detroit and popular senator from Michigan, perhaps best known as Henry Ford’s original partner and financial guru.
In August for most of the last 40 years, she could be found at the iconic racetrack in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She usually eschewed sitting in the fancy clubhouse boxes where waiters served fancy food and drink and patrons were often dressed in their Sunday best.
Instead, she preferred watching the action from the backstretch or on a jumbo screen on the main floor not far from the paddock. She often wandered over to the backstretch rail and watched the races where trainers, grooms, exercise riders and hot-walkers congregated. She seemed to know them all.
She was particularly fond of Hall of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens, and often was up before dawn to watch his horses work and to help at his Saratoga barn. She also was great friends with Middleburg-based trainer Barbara Graham, frequently working with her horses based in barn one at the Middleburg training track.
Ms. Maloney enjoyed hunting for and collecting antiques. She had simple tastes and never sought the spotlight. She was fiercely independent, generous to a fault and kind and compassionate to one and all.
She was particularly passionate about politics, civil rights and countless social issues, occasionally participating in marches and demonstrations in the Nation’s Capital.
She was a colossal fan of Washington’s NFL football team and went to several Super Bowls to watch them play. One year, she raised more than a few eyes when she boarded a media bus going to the game wearing full team burgundy and gold regalia and a feathered head dress.
During election season, the front entrance to Dogpatch was adorned with the names of her favored candidates, signs always bathed in blue. Only a few days before her death, she was particularly proud to have voted in the 2020 presidential election.
Ms. Maloney is survived by her two brothers, John T. “Chip” Maloney Jr. and Kevin Maloney, both of Warrenton, nephews John Maloney and Derrick Maloney and their wives, Chanell and Beth, all of Warrenton and four great nephews and four great nieces.
A celebration of life will take place at 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, at the Warrenton Horse Show grounds. The event will be livestreamed on Facebook
. Entry will be limited. All will be required to wear a mask and remain by their vehicles.
Donations in her honor can be sent to the Fauquier County SPCA, PO Box 733, Warrenton, Va. 20188.