Friday, October 24, 2008

Who gets the last lifeboat?

I just thought of that when I read this comment from the last post, and I think it makes a good topic for a new post on its own:

"This is going to sound really callous...but if it's going to be tight, maybe we should save the good ones first. I know the fuglies, and the old crippled mares really tug at our hearts, but what about the nice horses that are circling the drain. Horses that could possibly have a good future."

This is a good discussion topic. What do you save first?

You all know I disapprove of sinking thousands of dollars of donor money into a rescue horse with a huge problem (like a leg missing, good grief...). This is completely separate from having an emotional connection with your own horse that causes you (not donors!) to spend a huge amount of money to save it (like Barbaro). I think that's just fine. I think rescue has different rules, because you're not playing with your own money.

However, the question of old-vs-young-with-a-future is a tough one for me. When you save an old horse, you are often saving a horse who (in my opinion) deserves saving. I feel like horses "earn" a retirement through their work just as people do. I take the term "pensioner" very seriously - I think a hard-working horse absolutely deserves that paid-for retirement, like a long term employee of a company. And, from a purely dollars-and-cents standpoint, if that 25 year old doesn't adopt out, I may only have to feed it for a few years until health issues/natural causes mean it's time to say goodbye. It's not like getting stuck with a 3 year old that nobody wants, who could still be around when I'm 60.

On the other hand - as was observed - that 3 year old might be a terrific animal that adopts out quickly and goes on to be a successful show horse in no danger of ever winding up in rescue again. I've talked here about Connor, the large pony that a friend of mine saved from slaughter. Connor, thanks to his rescuer and the couple of us who rode and trained him, elevated himself in life to an A circuit barn where he still resides today. You couldn't ask for a nicer rescue result, and there are a lot of those "Cinderella" stories out there.

I guess what it comes down to for me is that you need a balance. If there are rescuers who love to save the oldies and rescuers who love to save young stock, that's the ideal. I worry a LOT about rescuers who save young stock without the ability/resources to ride and train them. I wish those folks would stick to the oldies that don't need those things.

You also need the ability to say "when" if you're going to deal with the old ones. I hate hearing about rescuers who won't put a horse to sleep until it's down and can't get up. Quality of life counts for me. A little stiff and lame, sure, but hobbling and barely able to walk? Put it to sleep, make room for another life to be saved.

But the young ones can make for hard choices, too! I have several friends who adopted rescue horses that were young and pretty and...bat shit crazy. They are all good horsepeople and they have given these horses more than a chance. They've paid for training, tried every calming supplement in the book, desensitized the horses to everything and the end result is still a horse that is intermittently explosive and dangerous as hell. Now what do you do?

Rescue is full of these tough choices. I do think that it helps to have a good eye if you're going to rescue the young ones. Picking out that diamond in the rough at the auction is effective rescuing, and there's nothing wrong with doing that. You are not a "bad rescuer" if you choose to save the pretty mover with potential. They all need saving, and that diamond, once shined up, adopts out faster and allows you to save another horse. Turnover is essential in rescue. We all have only so much space and so much money. The rescue that takes in highly desirable horses with great potential (I would point to TB Friends as an example - he gets a lot of great big, pretty Thoroughbreds with h/j or dressage potential) can turn them over fast and help more. That's why he can place a couple hundred a year. Sorry, but the typical mustang rescuer isn't placing a couple hundred a year. If you consider the number of lives saved as a measure of how successful a rescue is, then rescuing marketable type horses is definitely a consideration.

So what do YOU think? What do we save first? Can we even make those rules, or is it always going to come down to what tugs at our heartstrings in that moment at the auction? But is it irresponsible to only make decisions based upon that emotional response? Do the old ones deserve rescue more, or the young ones who have their whole lives ahead of them - but how do you provide for the ones that turn out to be unadoptable? Do you have the guts to euth if they don't get placed within a reasonable amount of time (and will the Internet rip you a new one for doing so? answer: yes).

I don't really have a hard and fast opinion on this topic, myself. I know that I like to save oldsters, but in practice I've saved about 50% of each because I know the oldsters tend to be lifers and I can only have so many lifers. I'm interested to hear what you all think.