You know that saying — you take the good with the bad? That’s life as an animal rescuer. There are beautiful days in rescue and there are days that break your heart. Recently I had a beautiful day when I had a former foster dog visit and he was so overjoyed to see me he rolled over and peed himself, but also gladly jumped in the car with his new family when it was time to go because he’s so happy there. But yesterday — yesterday almost broke me.
A large part of animal rescue isn’t the rehabbing or rehoming an animal, it’s the acquiring of the animal that is sometimes the hardest. I’m going to take you on a journey to understand how it often works.
Our rescue received calls from a few concerned people about a group of horses being used for beach rides. The concerns had been coming from media reporters, paid riders, other horse people and even neighbors of the barn area. Animal control was receiving calls but nothing appeared to have been done about it. So we were asked if we could go assess the situation. Especially since the horse community is fairly small and our founder knew the owner of the horses.
We knew it would be a sensitive conversation and we knew it might be a hard situation. We weren’t sure how many horses were unhealthy or “skin and bones” as the reports were saying. And we didn’t know if we’d be able to convince the owner to surrender them. You also never really know what the situation is — maybe it’s just one sick horse. Or maybe it’s an owner who is sick or can’t take care of the animals and the horses are unintentionally being neglected.
Regardless of what we’d find or what was the driving force, we knew we needed to try to help. So we loaded up the trailer and headed out. On the drive, we discussed our strategy. Our founder would talk to the owner, our horse trainer would assess the horses health and I would assess the condition of where they were being kept.
Our first stop was the barn where they are housed. What we found there was both heartbreaking and scary. The location wasn’t safe, in fact I only felt safe going in because I was armed. We had only a few minutes to scan the area before we were met by a questionable-looking man asking us why we were there.
Even in a few moments, what we saw was this:
· Way too many horses being housed in one area.
· Numerous horses that were incredibly underweight, one with an eye infection so bad the eye couldn’t be opened and others that were biting and kicking because of the unsafe cohabitation.
· Unclean pen area, with some horses clearly covered in mud and feces.
· No clear food source and water troughs that were unclean and had nowhere near enough water for the number of animals present.
· Other livestock confined and segregated in small spaces, again with no food or water.
· Unsafe living conditions IN THE BARN for numerous humans, none of whom seemed to be actively participating in the care of the animals.
Realizing that we were not welcome in the barn area, we hopped back in the truck and trailer and headed for the beach, where we knew more horses would be in action providing rides to tourists.
We got there a little ahead of the return of a tour group where we noticed the stalls had no food and empty water buckets. As the group came back, we could see the horses were clearly being overworked, underfed, and lacked energy. Upon further inspection, we saw their coats were dull, their tails and manes matted and falling out. You could clearly see ribs poking out on several, feet in desperate need of a farrier, and teeth issues. Even though the situation was worse than we had anticipated, we still wanted to talk with the owner so we had a conversation.
The owner tried to explain the situation — and some of it is probably true. It has been a rough winter, feed is expensive, there is a shortage of care providers and the economy has been hard. But if we’re being honest, if your business is based off using horses to provide tours, then you have to put their care first. Sure, vets are taking awhile to come out, but these horses hadn’t had care in a VERY LONG time. Hoof experts do cancel sometimes, but not for years at a time. Feed and supplements can be hard to come by, but there are alternatives. And even if your horse has been sick, you still need to provide ongoing care and maintenance.
I’ll give you one example — when we asked the owner about a horse that clearly has a body condition score of maybe a 1 or a 1.5 they said the horse had suffered from long-term parasite issues. Our concern with that answer was on several levels. One, you needed to get a vet out to properly diagnose. Two, you can treat parasites fairly easily. Three, the horse had open wounds that were infected from diarrhea burn which is preventable — clean your horse daily while they are experiencing diarrhea. Left untreated it becomes miserable, infected and potentially life threatening. And four, the horse is so malnourished that trying to rehabilitate might not be possible — but you’re still letting people take rides on the beach with her? There is no excuse for that. You’re putting her in jeopardy every day. And the people who are paying money to ride her are in jeopardy of her collapse while on her.
There are so many horses in this situation I could talk about, but what I will say is this. The owner couldn’t defend it no matter how hard they tried. And we shouldn’t have been the ones having that conversation with them. Animal control could have done more. The local authorities should have done more. We were lucky that owner was willing to release a couple of them to us to work on, but even then, they didn’t surrender them, they asked us to rehabilitate them and give them back.
We took the ones we were allowed to take, we offered to take as many as they would give us. We offered to take a malnourished and isolated cow as well, but they wouldn’t budge — because even though he was skinny, he is future freezer beef. We even took a turkey- yup we threw that boy into the back of the SUV because the condition he was living in was beyond what we could leave him in.
The worst part for me was that while we were taking two out, the one with the severe eye infection was begging me to take him. He was pushing into me and trying to get through the fence panels and into the trailer. He knew that getting into that trailer with us might be his only chance at survival or a better life. But the owner wouldn’t let him go.
That ride back to the rescue was somber. There were tears, there were swear words, there were long, deep breaths. There were broken hearts and broken spirits. But there were also plans being made to continue this fight. There were promises that the horses would be healed if we could do it. There were words of comfort that even though this one hurt, it’s still the right work to be doing. We call it the Lord’s work, and we don’t do so lightly. Because without Faith, we couldn’t do this work long-term — we’d be too broken.
When we got the ones we were able to take back to the rescue out of the trailer and into a stall with alfalfa, they didn’t stop eating for over an hour. We took off their blankets and we all were gutted. We knew it was bad, but we didn’t know it was THAT bad. Ribs clearly visible, sunken backs, jutting hips, hair loss, caked on feces to the tails and haunches, open wounds (I can’t even post those photos because they are so disgusting and heart wrenching), cracked hooves, bald patches, and broken spirits.
They were so lacking energy that they didn’t even put up a fight when we were cleaning open wounds. They had no fight left in them, but I think they also knew they were finally in good hands. I think they’d eat non-stop if we would let them, but at this point, getting the right amounts of nutrients to them without causing even more harm is the name of the game. It will be expensive, it will be time consuming, and it will be a long haul before they are back to health — if they ever get there. Often at this point, they are too far gone to save. But I promise you this, we will do everything we can to help those horses. And we will do everything we can to help the ones we couldn’t get out of there on THIS trip. Rest assured, we will be fighting to get the rest of them out.
I could go on about this rescue effort, but honestly, this will probably be a court case so I’m not opening too much up.
I could go on about this 10 hour rescue effort, but honestly, I’m still sick and hurt and a bit broken.
I could go on about this rescue effort, but honestly, it’s not even that different from others we’ve been on or others we will go on in the future.
But what I WILL always keep talking about is the work we do, and we WILL continue to rescue animals in need.
View the original article here: https://medium.com/@maryrenouf/sometimes-you-dont-see-the-good-just-the-bad-and-ugly-d67709195cab
Mary Renouf, Guest Author
NW Horse Report is currently investigating the circumstances and details behind this situation to bring you further reporting soon.