Findings and Excerpt from the following study
Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations
K. E. Holcomb, C. L. Stull and P. H. Kass
Unwanted horses are equines that are no longer useful to their owners due either to characteristics of the individual horse, such as illness, injury, age, misbehavior, and unmarketable qualities, or owner situations such as physical or financial inability to provide care for that animal, a need to decrease herd size, or a loss of interest in horse care and associated activities. Closure of the last US equine slaughter facilities in 2007 and the economic recession that began in 2008 are 2 factors believed to have precipitated the increasing number of unwanted, potentially neglected, and abused horses in the United States.
Receiving attention for their potential to care for unwanted horses are equine rescue and sanctuary facilities. Similar to dog and cat shelters, equine rescue facilities accept un- wanted equines and may provide temporary or permanent housing and care. Some organizations may offer adoption programs, provide rehabilitation or training services, or maintain horses in a permanent sanctuary.
Unlike the municipal dog and cat shelters funded by local governments, equine rescue facilities are independent, and many are registered with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as 501(c)(3) organizations with nonprofit status. If these organizations are to play a major role in solving the unwanted horse issue in the United States, much more needs to be known about their capacity, activities, and challenges..
Closure of US equine slaughter facilities in 2007 along with the concomitant economic recession have contributed to a sharp increase in the number of unwanted horses throughout the United States, with estimates totaling
100,000 horses per year.
Nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities have historically played an important role in safeguarding the welfare of horses in society, but funding and capacity are limiting factors to their potential expansion in continuing to care for the current population of unwanted and neglected horses in the United States.
The crash of the US economy in 2008, with loss of jobs and homes, has taken a toll on the ability of some owners to provide care for these horses. The cost to maintain a horse on the property of an owner is estimated to average $1,825 per year, not including routine farrier and veterinary care; the figure increases to $2,426 when those and other costs are included. Breeders, trainers, and owners seeking to sell horses have been struggling to find buyers. The total population is affected both by the increased lifespan of horses, resulting from major advances in health care and nutrition, with horses now commonly living to 30 years and beyond, as well as by breeding more horses than the market can absorb. The supply of horses exceeds demand in the industry and the number of anecdotal reports of horses found neglected or abandoned has risen in the public media. Export to Canada and Mexico for slaughter is currently an option for unwanted US horses, although it is not without controversy. In most states in the United States, abandoned or neglected horses are reportable to local animal control officers and may be seized and temporarily held by those agencies if facilities are available.
Equine rescue and sanctuary organizations through-out the United States can trace their history to Henry Bergh, who championed humane treatment for animals, founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) in 1866, and established farms where old horses could be retired. Current organizations are expected to play an integral role in absorbing and re-homing unwanted horses.
Although the majority (57%) of the horses were voluntarily relinquished or donated to the nonprofit facilities with a transfer of ownership, others were transitioned through seizure by law enforcement (12.9%) as well as under diverse circumstances including the following descriptions: “Horse in a ditch next to a busy highway tied with chain around neck with no food or water available,” and “the horse was 600 pounds under-weight and had a nylon halter embedded in her head that required 6 h of vet care to remove and bandage.” The most common factor for relinquishment of horses was financial hardship.
Municipal and community pet shelters throughout the US commonly follow policies that limit the time a dog or cat may reside at the shelter before it is offered for adoption or euthanized. The holding periods vary depending upon the type of shelter (e.g., private or public), type of animal, and other circumstances, but a 2006 survey of state regulations showed a range of 3 to 14 days (ASPCA, 2006). In contrast, the majority of horses (68.8%) still resided at the nonprofit facilities awaiting adoption or were permanent residents. Only 5% were euthanized for reasons of severe poor health, poor body condition, or unsuitable behavior. Most of the horses that were eventually adopted resided at the nonprofit facility for over 2 mo. Some facility respondents commented that they are not in a hurry to find new homes but take the time required to rehabilitate each horse according to its needs.
A small adoption rate is reflected by the overall median re-homing rate of approximately 0.7 per month for 2007 through 2009. This indicates that for every 4 horses that entered a nonprofit facility, only 3 horses were adopted or sold between 2006 and 2009, an unsustainable trend as the nonprofit facilities reach maximum capacity. Specific factors of physical appearance, age, and reason for relinquishment were predictive for adoption of dogs and cats at a California shelter. Alternatively, the adoptability of a horse may be related to factors not assessed here or may be affected by a complex combination of horse and prospective owner attributes.
Many of the relinquished horses received some training at the nonprofit facility along with other rehabilitation services such as dental and hoof care, parasite control measures, dietary programs, and vaccinations.
Adoption or purchase fees varied from $0 to over $1,000, and other costs involved with the transition of the horse to the new owners included veterinary and farrier services, membership into the organization, and feed costs. Thus, the adoption process and costs vary by horse or organization or both, may not be competitive within the local pleasure horse industry, and do not appear to recapture the cost to care for the horses while at the facility.
In conclusion, nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities appeared to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet increasing demand for accepting, caring, and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses in the United States. Most relinquishing owners were financially or physically unable to continue caring for the horses. The nonprofit organizations invested money and time rehabilitating horses to health and provided training to increase their marketability to potential adopters, but for every 4 horses that entered a nonprofit facility only 3 horses were adopted or sold. Without additional resources, the nonprofit equine organizations cannot predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more than 13,700 horses, only a fraction of the estimated
100,000 unwanted horses in the United States.
Here in Maine, MEWA (Maine Equine Welfare Alliance) is assisting horse owners with needed short-term feed, veterinary services, and farrier services. Our goal is to enable horse owners to keep their horses. Not only does this keep them together but it also lessens the increasing demands placed on already over-burdened Equine Rescues and Sanctuaries.
As a direct result of those who generously support our mission, we are able to help many needing assistance within the state of Maine. Please realize the need for assistance is great and we are coming into our busy season. If you have given, thank you very much. If you are considering a financial gift, thank you in advance and please know that your gift is greatly appreciated and needed.