Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bad News and Good News

                                                by Laura Crum

            After Terri’s sad post yesterday, and the very sad news last week, my own bad news seems pretty minor. But I’m hoping that telling this story may help someone else. So here goes.
 I posted a while ago about the little horse near the school playground. See my post on this problem here. Some of you asked for updates. I do have an update, but I’m afraid it isn’t good.
            The last I had heard, the SPCA had been called by a “do-gooder” who felt the horse was too thin. When I came back to the school, five days later (our program only meets twice a week), the horse was gone. I asked our teacher what had happened; she didn’t know. So I asked the school secretary and the yard duty supervisor. The yard duty supervisor said that he had seen someone taking photos of the horse and the shed last week. The horse was gone when he came to school this week. He didn’t know more than that. Uh-oh, I thought.
            At a guess the photo-taking person was SPCA. And then the horse disappeared.
            I asked the school secretary. She said she didn’t know much, but one of the neighbors—not the neighbor with the horse—had said that they had seen a horse trailer pull into the property on the weekend. They did not see the horse leave in the trailer. But now the horse is certainly gone. No one at the school knew more than that.
            My heart just sank. It is possible the horse went to a rescue or was re-homed—but it’s  pretty unlikely, given the circumstances. Maybe he was euthanised. I don’t like to think about the other alternative, which is the most likely, unfortunately.
            I don’t like to think about it, but I’m going to spell it out here, in case it helps some other little horse somewhere. Here is what I said in my previous post:

“I have been around in the horse business for a long time. I know the conventional wisdom is to call and report a horse that is too thin. I also know that this course is as likely to do harm as it is good. Having watched this horse lead a reasonably contented life for the past eight years, I certainly would NOT have reported it to the local SPCA.
            There are a number of reasons why I feel this way. First off, I have known of a good many cases like this where the owner, who never was all that invested in the horse, simply gets rid of it after the complaint. Trust me, these horses almost NEVER end up going to a better place. At best they get euthanised. At worst they end up on a truck. It’s possible that once in awhile the owner takes it as a wake-up call and buys better feed for the horse. And its possible that one in awhile the horse is re-homed to a better home. Its possible—but I haven’t seen it that often. Especially with an older horse.”

            Now, I don’t know for sure what actually happened, and the only way I could find out would be to knock on the door of complete strangers who have already made their decision (whatever it was) and probably (and justifiably) feel pretty hostile towards anyone from the school right now. But from long experience in the horse world, I can tell you what probably happened.
            To begin with, I can’t know if these people were truly fond of this horse, but I never saw anyone with him, ever—in eight years. Still, I was only there on weekday mornings. If the people worked, they wouldn’t have been home then. Perhaps they lavished attention on him in the evenings and on weekends. In any case, the horse always looked reasonably content in his small falling-down pasture and the school kids regularly fed him apples. He wasn’t suffering. Yes, this fall he was a touch too thin. NOT starving.  You could see a shadow of ribs if you stared hard. His ribs did not stand out, his hip bones did not stick up, his fuzzy winter coat had some shine to it. He was a LONG way from distress. I know he was being fed, because I saw him eating hay in his shed. As I pointed out in my previous post, he would undoubtedly have gained weight when the grass came on strong in the spring.
 Now my guess is that the people who owned the horse weren’t very invested in him (judging by the run-down pasture…etc). Still, the horse was leading a decent life. I know. I watched him for eight years. The do-gooder who reported him to the SPCA initiated a predictable chain of events. It probably went something like this. The SPCA hassled the owners-- who weren’t wanting to be hassled, and the owners most likely called around until they found someone who was willing to take the horse off their hands. And I’m sorry to say it, but that person most likely hauled the horse to a livestock auction for the small amount of money to be made.
            From the auction the horse was very likely shipped to slaughter. It makes me very sad.
            I wish I could have done something about this, and I was gearing up to try going to the door of the house and asking if I could help (as some readers suggested). But the horse was gone by the time I got back to school. And I will admit that I was struggling with the question of what I should do or say.
            You see the last two times I interfered in such a situation, I was told that the person could not afford to feed the horse any more, and would I take said horse. And both times I took the horse. However, I can no longer take any more horses. My corrals are full and I am maxed out with seven horses that I am committed to caring for for the rest of their lives. I had decided that I could offer to buy some senior food for the horse—but even this was problematic. I could buy a dozen sacks, sure. But I couldn’t afford to support that horse for the rest of his life…and the feed needed as a horse gets older can be very expensive. (Believe me, I know.) Wasn’t I just prolonging the inevitable? Still, if the horse put on a little weight now, and then the green grass kicked in, he might have another pleasant year.
            Anyway, I never had the chance to offer anything. Things happened faster than I was prepared for. But to be realistic, if the people had already made their choice, there might not have been anything I could do about it if I had gotten there earlier.
            And here’s my message. Stop and think before you interfere by calling “the authorities.” If a horse is truly starving that may be the best course of action. But be aware that when you report a horse like the little horse near our school, you may be sending that horse to slaughter—as a direct result of your “do-gooder” action. It might be best to try to determine if the horse has a decent quality of life FIRST, before you decide to drag in officialdom.
            As a case in point, last fall we euthanised two of our own older rescue horses mostly because we felt they were too thin. These horses were on free choice hay and a good pasture and we supplemented with lots of equine senior feed. The horses had been hard keepers all their lives and we had kept them in decent shape for many years by pouring LOTS of expensive food to them. But there came a day when even this wasn’t working any more, and we felt that they were too thin going into winter. They were 31 and 25 years, respectively. If you had driven by this pasture and seen that these two looked ribby, sure you could have called the SPCA. And what good would it have done?
            Such a well meaning do gooder would have no idea that we were pouring tons of money into expensive feed for these horses (and yes, regular worming) and agonizing over what was the best and most ethical thing to do. We monitored the horses carefully, checking to see that they both still seemed to be enjoying life and feeding them all they would clean up. We shed tears when we decided that euthanasia was the right option. We did our best to do right by those horses. We darn sure didn’t need some do-gooder deciding that we were “abusing” them.
            Again, I, too, would report a horse under certain circumstances. But I would try to find out the circumstances first. People who won’t buy feed when horses are starving need to be reported. But its best to be sure that the situation that the horses are in is WORSE than what may happen to them once you report them. We all need to be clear on that.
            OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. As I said in the original post, its very hard to know what’s best to do in a situation like this. But “reporting” the horse very often leads to the outcome I just described. I think many “do-gooders” mistakenly suppose that reporting a thin horse will lead to the horse having a better life. Sometimes this may happen, but very often it doesn’t work like that. And it’s important to understand this going in.

            On to the good news, which is actually pretty minor in comparison. For those of you who are reading my mystery series featuring equine veterinarian Gail McCarthy (on Kindle), the last four books have been reduced in price—just in time for Xmas. These books have all been previously priced at $10.99, which is pretty expensive for a Kindle edition, in my opinion. Starting today they are $2.99 each. The books (in order) are Moonblind, Chasing Cans, Going Gone, and Barnstorming. Click on the titles to find the $2.99 Kindle editions.

            There has been some problem linking the editions (which should soon be fixed), so if you simply type in the titles you may not be able to find these editions. But the links above will take you there; you can also find them if you look for them under Laura Crum in “Kindle store.” 

            These four books are very special to me, and those who read this blog will recognize some familiar equine characters. I hope this lower price makes it possible for folks who are enjoying the series to complete it by reading the last four books.

            Season’s greetings from my family to yours!


Martine said...

Very sad. I guess you will never know what happened this guy, but maybe try to stay positive and hold on to the little bit of hope that he's gone somewhere better.

City Limits Ranch said...

Sad to hear about the horse in the field. Somehow I missed the prior post or would have offered some suggestions. A horse that is a bit thin but that has apparent access to sufficient food and can walk around without pain, leave it alone. Sometimes one can offer to provide some pellets or hay as a supplement, with owners permission. The kids could have fed the horse a small meal of pellets every day using pennies from their piggy banks. There are no homes for all these old horses so unless clearly suffering the horse is better off in a field than locked in a stall, and certainly better off than in a trailer on the way to an unknown fate.

By the way, SPCA and County Animal Control are different entities. Our local SPCA (non profit animal welfare agency) used to have the county contract to provide animal control services. However a few years ago, the county decided to run their own shelter and do their own humane law enforcement. The County Animal Shelter is on 7th Avenue. Now the SPCA does not send agents into the field. The SPCA has no law enforcement authority. The County Animal Control aka Santa Cruz County Animal Shelter is the one to call if humane issues arise. And they usually do a very good job counseling people and trying to help the animals.

Promise said...

I'm very sorry about the horse. I agree, there's a fine line and it's hard to know when is the right time to interfere.

I'm SO excited about the books being reduced...going to get them now!

Val said...

That is very sad. I hope that your message changes a few perspectives and saves a few horses in the future.

Laura Crum said...

City Limits--I haven't had as positive an experience with either animal control or the SPCA as you seem to have had. I would not call either agency except as a last resort. If you read the first post, you'll see that they were called in by someone who only saw the horse once, and did not realize that the horse had been leading a reasonably contented life for many years.

Martine, Val and Promise--I am just hoping that maybe they made the call that it was time to euthanise.

Thank you, Promise! Hope you enjoy them.

Promise said...

I'm just about done with Roped...I love my job, but it's getting in the way of my reading :)

Also, it looks like the books after Slickrock are $2.99 right now, too

Laura Crum said...

Promise--At the moment the whole series is $2.99 each, with the exception of the first two, Cutter and Hoofprints, which are still on special for 99 cents. I will let all readers know ASAP if this changes, or is likely to change.

Fort Western Stores said...

Sad story indeed. I hope you're right and they made the right decision by this horse.

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Weaseldancr said...

I'm going to say I disagree. I recently had something very similar happen. 2 horses next door to the school, this year one is very obviously skeletal. If I didn't do something, either confront the owner or call the local law enforcement, what I am teaching my kids? I tell them and all their friends that it is not okay to see a horse that skinny, yet I don't do anything when they can see the horse from their classroom everyday?

I had spoken with these owners many times over the years, from their dogs attacking cars going to the school to how are their horses doing. So yes I did call the local law and the owners response has been to build a taller wooden fence. But the local law enforcement is checking up on the horses now and the one is getting the care he needs. In this instance the horse was less than 10 years but had never had his teeth done. So yes I think there are times that you do need to say something even if you don't like what happens.

Laura Crum said...

Weaseldancer--I don't think we really disagree. If this horse had been anywhere near "skeletal", and his owners had already been contacted and been unresponsive, I would have called animal control, too. I don't intend to stand by and watch any horse starve. In this case, as I pointed out in the post, the horse was NOT starving. I had observed him over a period of many years and he was having a decent, if not ideal, life. I do think that either I, or a group of us from the school, should have offered some assistance in the form of extra feed first, as City Limits and others have suggested. The person who reported the horse had only seen it once, and had no idea what its overall quality of life had been. Very often the response to having Animal Control interfere is increased hostility on the part of the owner, and, as in the case I described, very often the horse just "disappears." But I would never stand by and watch a horse slowly starve.

Dom said...

You already know my feelings on this, but reading the post got my blood up again.

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Laura Crum said...

Dom--Yeah, I feel pretty bitter, too. And I still don't know what I could/should have done differently to prevent a sad outcome. Marched right up to these strangers' house as soon as I heard about the horse being reported to Animal Control and offer to help? Maybe that's it, but it sure feels intrusive--especially since the horse was NOT starving or in distress.