In 2004 this sensitive and kind horse, Dakota, was purchased for fifty cents per pound to prevent her and the foal she carried from being slaughtered. The farmer who owned her had wrung all the use he could from her, and even though she was malnourished and untrained, rather than surrender her for adoption he was determined to get the kill buyer price for her. A horse rescue organization stepped in, located an adopter, and arranged transportation for the horse.
At her new home, a veterinarian treated the mare’s health issues, but could do nothing for her deflated spirit. “Give her time”, he advised the adopters.
She was turned out to pasture to rest and heal with a small herd of other rescues, and a month later produced a fiery and energetic little foal. Gradually she gained confidence and trust in people.
It is hard to conceive that six weeks earlier this unborn foal would have met with a violent end in her mother’s womb – but without effective rescue groups that is exactly what would have happened to her, and tens of thousands of other horses as well.
Now the rescue groups are organizing into a larger safety net to help owners keep or place their horses, and hope to make sure that no horse faces brutal slaughter in the future.
It is odd that we have allowed it at all – at what point in American culture did we decide that horses were both companion animals and commodities? Would we stand for that with the other animals that share our lives? Would we take our pregnant dogs and cats somewhere to be shot in the head and their litters cut out – sometimes still alive – from their mothers’ bodies? And eaten? Of course not.
In the intervening years since Dakota was rescued horse slaughter has been in abeyance in this country – though kill buyers just ship the horses to Canada and Mexico. Pro-slaughter advocates point their fingers at that fact and claim that ultimately horses suffer more with the long transport to countries that may be less regulated.
Because the American public has a tendency to turn a blind eye to the problem of what to do with horses that people can’t or won’t take care of, an opening is left for slaughter advocates to claim that there are no other options.
With the political pressure to reinstate horse slaughter (please see Obama Administration Blocks the Reinstatement of Horse Slaughter) a constant threat, rescue organizations needed to come up with a plan, and they have come up with an elegantly simple solution. Collect fees from breeders, create a fund, and disperse the resources as needed.
A variation on this idea was suggested by Allen Warren of the Horse Harbor Foundation, A Kitsap Peninsula rescue group, when divorce forced Dakota’s owner to find a new home for her and other rescue horses. With his own facilities full of horses needing homes, founder Allen Warren came up with a unique idea tailored to the owner’s situation and within weeks Dakota and two other mares had found a wonderful home.
That kind of flexibility and creativity is basic to the program espoused by Warren and explained in an article he wrote for The Horse:
Horses displaced by the economy over the past few years have forced equine rescue operators such as myself to not only expand our sanctuary capacities but also to find new ways to save many more horses than we have in the past.
Sponsored foster homes and new programs such as in-place rescues to help owners keep and support their horses with feed banks and other financial assistance have vastly expanded our capacity to improve horse welfare. For instance, the Oregon hay bank program alone (which provides owners with enough hay to keep their horses healthy during times of crisis), created and operated by horse rescuers, has kept almost 800 horses in their homes since 2009, and similar efforts are under way in other states.
…The bottom line: America’s equine rescue resource is much greater than previously reported and is capable of doing vastly more if supported by both the commercial equine industry and private horse owners. The equine rescue community could be the answer to the “unwanted horse problem” if given the chance and provided the resources.
Warren details how only rescue organizations which pass the standards of theGlobal Federation of Animal Sanctuaries will have access to support from funds collected by adding a small fee to horse breed registries. “Since all breed registries and owner organizations are committed to the welfare of their horses, let them simply add $25 to every registration fee dedicated specifically to rehoming and long-term care of horses in need. The five largest registries alone add almost 300,000 horses annually; that’s $7,500,000 a year.”, he writes.
Dakota and companions settling into their new home: Warren and others like him must sleep well at night, knowing how much they do for horses, and for the people forced by circumstance to give them up.