Monday, November 24, 2008

But they're skinny because I'm a rescuer!

How often do we hear this defense from some woman (I'm not being sexist, it always IS a woman) with a yard full of emaciated horses? Dean Solomon used it with great success when Animal Control paid her calls in the past, and even trained animal control officers fell for it. She claimed skinny horses had just come from the auction, and was only exposed when her former allies confirmed that she'd had them for months, sometimes years.

So this is a good topic to address. Let's talk about how to evaluate that claim for accuracy. Today I have in my in-box a collection of pictures taken on the property of a so-called rescuer in Crescent City, California. Her neighbors have been doing their best to get something done to no avail. She uses the "rescue" excuse and animal control walks away whistling and twiddling their thumbs.

Now, does a rescue sometimes have a horse that looks like this? Absolutely! Early this year, SAFE had a whole bunch thanks to the Jean Elledge seizure. So how do you evaluate?

Question #1: How long has the animal been in the care of the rescue? Barring physical conditions that prevent weight gain (rare), I will tell you that it does not normally take more than 3-4 months to return an emaciated horse to normal weight. It just doesn't. Here's what you do: You get them dewormed (possibly a power pack depending on your vet's recommendation). You do the teeth as soon as the vet says they are strong enough. You feed hay pellet mush until you can do that - they don't need any teeth for that and they can eat it with a mouthful of hooks and ulcers. Also, I have never seen a horse have "refeeding" problems when fed with orchard grass pellet mush...not once. You can stuff 'em full of it like they're at the all you can eat buffet, very safely. So it's a great way to go. If it's an OTTB or rescue from a show barn/competition barn situation, I'd treat for ulcers immediately. Cimetidine is cheap and won't hurt them a bit if they don't have the problem. Probiotics always help them get the most out of their feed and again, they're cheap. I would say the cost of doing these basics for a starved horse you are refeeding is approximately $250 for the month without the tooth floating and the floating is going to run you between $85 - $400 depending on where you live. Again, rescue is not the cheapest hobby...but if you do the things I just detailed, 95% of horses who come in with a BCS of 2 or 3 are going to look normal in three months. Thinner than that may take a little longer but I've seen amazing things. I know I've posted this before but I wanted to again...the dates are accurate and the horse is late 20's. He has maintained that weight ever since.

Question #2: What is the rescue doing to address the condition? I already detailed what I do, above. When SAFE had the Elledge horses, they were all blanketed to keep them warm - a warm horse regains weight more easily. The skinny bay in front of the house in the picture above has clearly been out in the rain - you can see it in his coat. He is standing in mud and I have more pictures that show there is no shelter from the elements in that pen. You all know what I think about the fence job. Nothing about that picture says "rescue being rehabbed." It screams "save me from the hoarder!" If that horse has had his teeth floated since she acquired him, I'll eat the vet bill...

Question #3: Does the rescue have safe and clean facilities suitable for a horse to rehab at? Your typical rescue horse has a lower resistance to illnesses and things like skin conditions, so keeping them clean, dry and out of the mud is very important. And like any horse, they should have shelter and safe fence that they are unlikely to hurt themselves on. This ain't it...
(You know, I get e-mail sometimes that says I am picking on poor people. No. I am picking on LAZY people. I am not rich but if I bought/leased a property with that mess out there, I'd get off my damn butt and rip out that wire and buy some hot tape and t-post caps. It is cash cheap and labor intensive, but it is labor that a small 5'3 woman can easily do by herself. The only two options are not: shitty fence OR vinyl 3-board. We were just subdividing a pasture yesterday at a place where I lease pasture for some of my materials cost was a whopping $130. There is NO EXCUSE to put out a horse on fence like that shown in these pictures.)

Question #4: How do the horses look overall? Sure, if there are one or two skinny ones, they may be new. Are they out with a herd? A good rescue does not throw the BCS 2 horse out with the herd. They keep him separate or with another horse in his same condition until he is normal weight and able to defend himself and get his fair share of the feed. This horse has been in the care of the so-called rescue for years. He's not new.

Question #5: Has the vet been called if the horse fails to show improvement within a few weeks? Like I said, normally they start to pick up pretty fast. This is true whether they are six months old or thirty years old. It doesn't actually matter. An otherwise healthy horse will noticeably begin to regain weight within the first 2-3 weeks, if not even faster. When they don't, even though you are pumping them full of mush, something is wrong. A friend of mine rescued an old Secretariat daughter a few months ago. She did everything right with this mare. I don't think a drop of rain ever touched her and the hot mush was ever present. The mare gained back a little weight but not as much as she should have. Further veterinary evaluation disclosed congestive heart failure. You can't fix that, and when the mare lost her appetite completely, they put her to sleep. Sometimes in rescue, you will encounter a horse with a bad heart or a horse with something like cancer - a real reason why they are as skinny as they are - but you can't find that out without the vet and too many of these horses simply sit and suffer 'til they die.

The "it's skinny because it's a rescue" excuse works on a LOT of people. It works GREAT on law enforcement if they're not horsepeople. It's up to us, the horsepeople, to educate about when a rescue horse would be skinny, what it takes to change that, what care should be expected and what time frame is normal for improvement. Now, the problem with the situation shown today is that apparently Suzy Hoarder is friends with the one animal control officer in the area and he is allegedly protecting her. Who knows if that's true but the neighbors have already gone over his head to the Del Norte County Sheriff to a Detective Dave Barber who we hope is doing something about it, but I would also recommend contacting the local media to ensure that this matter is not swept under the rug. Richard Wiens is the editor of The Triplicate, the local paper - so I recommend you ask him where we're at with exposing the situation at Amy Boatman's place. Here's his e-mail! Ask him why they're busy doing stories about Amy buying a fucking zebra while horses at starving back at her house. C'mon, enough with the sunshine-and-butterflies journalism...

P.S. If you are the same Amy Boatman spending your time writing X rated fanfiction on the Internet, LOG OFF AND FEED YOUR DAMN HORSES AND FIX YOUR SHITTY FENCE.