From The Tennessean
December 22, 2009
Neglected Tennessee Horses Finding Greener Pastures
Rescue groups see economy's toll on animal welfare
By Anne Paine
The last of more than 80 recuperating horses have been coaxed onto trailers to leave the Tennessee State Fairgrounds in Nashville after the Humane Society's dramatic rescue just before Thanksgiving. Some have departed for permanent homes. Many are still awaiting adoption. Those that haven't found long-term residences are in foster "homes," or they're stabled with Horse Haven of Tennessee in Knoxville, Volunteer Equine Advocates of Gallatin, or Almost Home Animal Rescue of Rutherford County, the groups handling their placement. They are part of what is believed to be an increasing number of horses that are no longer wanted by their owners and can be neglected, starved or abused, according to a survey by the Unwanted Horse Coalition. There are no firm numbers for how many horses are abandoned each year in the U.S. beyond a general figure that tens of thousands of horses are sent for slaughter outside the country each year. The reasons horses are left unwanted, however, are many.
"The downturn in the economy is one," said Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council in Washington, D.C. "The closing of the slaughter plants is another. The drought in the southwest is another. It's like a perfect storm, unfortunately."
The three plants where horses had been processed for meat in this country, as is done in Canada, Mexico and Europe, have been closed for the last few years, and fights have been ongoing in Congress and state legislatures, including Tennessee, about whether the practice should be allowed. Hickey's group, like many, has members for the measure and opposed to it, and doesn't take a stance. Irresponsible owners abandon horses at auctions when they're not sold, the group's survey says. They are dumped off in forests and on roadsides. Horse rescue groups, including those in Tennessee, are overwhelmed.
A horse costs an estimated $1,800-$2,400 a year to care for, advocates say. If the animal grows ill, those costs can soar. Euthanasia, one option when a horse can no longer be kept in a humane way, can run $500, in addition to the costs for disposing of the large body.
"It's not like a dog or a cat," Hickey said.
That was apparent in the rescue of the animals from a Cannon County farm, about an hour southeast of Nashville. The Humane Society of the United States has estimated the rescue cost about $250,000, and one worker compared the Cannon County triage operation for 82 horses and three mules to taking over "a thousand puppy-mill dogs." The price tag doesn't include what local groups — including the Volunteer Equine Advocates and Horse Haven — are now paying, taking many of the animals into their care to try to find them homes.
"We actually have four mares that are pregnant," said Janie Clifton, the volunteer chairman of the Gallatin group and a Sumner County Sheriff's Department dispatcher.
The nonprofit, which received 17 horses from the fairgrounds, has had seven foals born since July and has about 30 adults awaiting adoption. In July, VEA of Gallatin took 23 horses from a rescue in Warren County and 15 the next month from one in Giles County, Clifton said.
"We've actually been getting some of those adopted that we already had when people contacted us about the ones at the fairgrounds," Clifton said. "It's been a plus for us."
Several of the Cannon County horses have been placed temporarily with Kathie McCauley, treasurer for the all-volunteer Gallatin group. They're in her barn, where she boards horses, or roaming her pasture. Times aren't easy for horses or the group.
"We always struggle financially," Clifton said. "The last two years, hardly anybody has had the money to donate. They're taking care of their own problems."