Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Things That You Can Do - No Matter What!

After the last two posts, I got a lot of e-mails from frustrated readers asking what they could do - not just about these horses in particular, but to help horses in general.

Today I want to make a list of things that you can do EVEN IF you don't have horse training skills, or a place to keep a horse, or any extra money of your own.

We all know the problems we're dealing with:

1. Horses that no one wants to own and care for - thanks to poor quality breeding or poor care that has resulted in temporary or permanent poor condition and/or disability.

2. Fewer Americans who can afford to own horses due to the economic situation.

3. Pro-slaughter groups doing everything they can to bring back horse slaughter in the U.S. and/or prevent us from banning the transport of horses out of the country for slaughter.

4. Continued problems with those who neglect rather than get rid of horses they cannot afford. Hoarders and faux rescues who can't let go and will do anything to cover up their conditions. And a continued need to increase penalties for abuse/neglect and enforce those penalties.

So I want to respond to each of these with some things you can do - many without necessarily having horse training skills, a farm of your own, or money. These are things almost anyone can do.

Unwanted Horses

Number one is always - try to stop them from happening. When you have that neighbor talking about breeding their grade mare, talk them out of it. You can talk about things that go wrong during foaling and the cost of those things (I have a great story I use all the time about a friend's mare where the foal tore through everything on the mare and both had to be rushed to the emergency vet and it was thousands of dollars. They were fine but her credit card wasn't.) With most people, you will get further with an argument about economics than about responsible breeding. If you're a teen, you have a great opportunity to change your friends' thinking about this stuff before they grow up and can become BYB's. Arm yourself with the facts and spread the information.

And remember, know your audience. The ditzy friend who wants to have a baby at 15 to keep her boyfriend is more likely to be discouraged from that plan by e-mailed pictures of stretch marks than by common sense. :-) Likewise, many BYB's can be discouraged by arguments about horses being a PITA (running through fence, getting loose, causing damage you have to pay for, chewing down all the fences, etc.), vet bills being outrageous, or the heartbreak of losing a foal (which inevitably happens even with good care when you have a breeding operation). They aren't going to listen to your lecture on responsible breeding.

Now, what about horses who are already here? I am always asked WHERE it is safe to actually donate money. My advice is: Find out for yourself! Go out and see the place. Hooves trimmed? Quality hay present? Are the people you meet and talk to knowledgeable? Are pastures and paddocks obstacle-free and safe? Do your own site visit to see if it's a rescue you feel comfortable supporting. I would always ask to see before-and-after pictures showing improvement that is obvious even to a non-horseperson, before I supported any rescue.

One personal criteria I have is that I support rescues that have staff able to ride their horses, or that pay for professional training. I do not support "warehousing" - it doesn't help in the long run. Train them and get them going. Save a Forgotten Equine just paid for training on two older broodmares and now, voila, both have pending adoptions. Those mares would have sat in a field the next five years at many rescues.

Once you find a good rescue, what if you don't personally have extra dollars? Times are tough and many people are living on a shoestring. This doesn't have to stop you from helping horses. Consider doing some fundraising. Fundraising doesn't have to be a black-tie, elaborate event. Teens, ask your local feed mill or tack shop if you can hold a car wash for equine rescue in their parking lot. Or how about a block-wide garage sale? I've heard of elementary school teachers having their class adopt a rescue animal and do bake sales all year at school events to help fund the animal's care. I think that's awesome. You guys are creating the next generation of rescuers!

Here's a cool one - My friend's daughter just turned 13 and mom gave her QUITE the awesome blow-out party - but with a catch. The gifts weren't for her. Guests were asked to bring a donation for a horse rescue. They could choose to bring cash or supplies and were provided with a list of things the rescue needed. Well, the girls had a great party and the rescue wound up with several hundred dollars to show for it, new feed tubs, equine senior and more! What a GREAT idea and what a GREAT lesson for the girls.

Rescues also welcome donations of skills. Can you build a shed? Can you make a web site? Design a brochure? Complete a grant application? Take excellent horse photographs? Balance the books? (Most rescuers would kiss the feet of a good accountant who wanted to volunteer their time a few days a month) Look at the skills you use at work and ask yourself if you can offer them on a volunteer or discounted basis to rescues.

Broke Horseowners

They are everywhere and they are often people who never had a problem providing for their horses in the past. The situation out there is truly ugly and we're seeing people with lots of education and great resumes out of work thanks to companies like banks failing. So, if you have a friend who's in this boat with horses, what can you do to help?

First of all, if you can just help hands on by making a ton of hay appear, that's awesome. If you know your friend is a responsible person who's in temporary trouble, there's nothing wrong with lending a hand. You can always do it anonymously. Of course, a "responsible person who is in temporary trouble" means that they are not breeding more horses or acquiring more horses. It also means they are actively, vigorously looking for work and doing other things to improve their own situation, like renting out a room of their home or selling possessions they don't need. Don't put yourself into a situation with someone who is not trying to help themselves. Sometimes a better way to help is to offer assistance with tuning up, cleaning up and marketing their horses. The person who has been out of work for two months will probably come back and be able to keep their horses - the person who has been out of work for two years doesn't have such good odds and needs to think about selling/adopting out.

Sometimes you can help the horses indirectly. Can you help the person network to find a job? Do they have skills you could use in your own business? Can you help them with their resume or cover letter? Can you provide safe, low cost child care so that they can go back to work without worrying about their children? Look at the big picture, and see how you can help. Watching the neighbor's kids on the cheap or fixing her car so that she can get to work may free up the cash she needs to keep buying food for the horses. Again, you have to know the person. Some people are users - others are working hard to climb out of their temporary rut. Know which you're dealing with and choose to help based upon that knowledge. Don't feel bad if you're messed up and helped a user - I think we all have. (Those of us with soft hearts are perfect victims for the users - that's how CBER survives!)

Fighting the Pro-Slaughter Forces

The #1 thing we MUST do is create viable options to slaughter.

Every pro-slaughter person on earth uses the "they want to ban slaughter, but they don't have a plan for what to do with the horses!" argument. OK, first of all, yes, we do have plans. Have they all come to the implementation stage yet? No, but anybody who doesn't think that thousands of people are working hard to provide alternatives is nuts. It's just propaganda to say otherwise.

Viable option #1: Humane euthanasia. We all know it's pricy - so support rescues like NorCal that are offering it to those who can't afford it! If you have a rescue, YOU'RE NEXT! I'm working with others to get this going in the PNW this year. Let's get it going in every area. If you can't donate, at least spread the word. You can put a link in your e-mail signature.

Viable option #2: Retraining and placement. Again, many rescues are doing a great job with this and if you can't help hands-on, sending a few dollars or spreading the word to those who may is extremely valuable.

Viable option #3: Connect horses with people who do want to give them a home. Retrained or not, many of us have horses in our past that we would take back. Add your horses to the database at HorseReunions.com so that a rescuer who encounters that horse can quickly find him there and contact you. If you're a breeder, add your name to the Breeder's List. There are new resources springing up everywhere to allow you to step up and keep your old horses off that truck - the AQHA Greener Pastures program, for example. The pro-slaughter forces say that people WILL NOT take back their old horses and retire them. If you are anti-slaughter, it is up to you to prove them wrong.

Neglect and Abuse

As frustrating as the stories are, overall, enforcement is getting better. Here's your homework - today, if you don't already know, find out exactly how to report abuse/neglect if you discover it in your area. Find out who is in charge (if there is an animal control or just the sheriff). Find out what you have to do to file a report. Some places have it all online, with others you would have to go in to do a written report. Make sure you have a digital camera on yourself at all times. Most of us have one on our cell phones, for example. That way when you see something terrible, you can snap a pic and report. (Never trespass. Photograph from the road, the drainage ditch - public property, not private.) The system only works when people report, and three reports about a situation will make something happen a lot faster than one report.

Educate yourself about current pending legislation. Are things getting better for animals where you live? Ontario, Canada just made major changes for the better - including requiring veterinarians to report abuse or neglect, which I think is great. I know people argue that will discourage some abusers from getting vet care but I still believe the greater good is served by making sure these people get prosecuted as often as possible. The analogy I've used before is seat belt laws. I think seat belt laws are stupid and I hate wearing my seat belt. But I hate getting a ticket more, and enforcement is way up there, so I wear my seat belt every time I drive these days. Are there still some scofflaws? Sure, but most of us just give up and comply with the law. Likewise, most crappy animal owners will improve their care or stop owning animals when they are made to truly fear the consequences. It's really that simple.

I see situations all the time that didn't have to go bad - where if the horse had been sold or given away 6 months ago, there would be no huge train-wreck of rehabilitation costs facing us (or a dead horse). When there are stiffer penalties, that owner may be less willing to risk trying to own that animal for a few more months regardless of their inability to care for it. Guys, it's SO easy to write your legislators. If you are reading this, you have the Internet. They ALL have web sites and e-mail addresses. If you can't do other things to help animals right now, set aside an hour a week to write e-mails. This is a perfect volunteer task if you're in college (and good practice for your persuasive writing skills!)

And remember, you can spread news about animal issues, responsible breeding, good rescues that need help, etc. sitting at the computer. Use your Facebook. Use your Myspace. Use your personal web site. Put a banner for a rescue on your business web site or in your links. Put a flyer for a local rescue that you like in your business's window. Put links in your e-mail and message board signatures, even on non-horsey sites if they'll allow it. There are a million ways you can educate people and improve the lives of horses everywhere.

One final word about donations - check with your employer! You might be surprised at what they offer in terms of matching your donations. Many, many companies are doing this now or have other programs to help with your charity work. You could be missing out on all kinds of help from your employer, so don't hesitate to ask. If you own a business, what are you doing? Ask your CPA how supporting a charity can help you at tax time - you may be very pleasantly surprised at your ability to help horses without hurting yourself financially.

There are a million ways to help horses, and yet I still see people throw their hands in the air and say "but I don't have any money!" or "but I can't keep a horse here." None of that needs to stop you.

Do you have more creative ideas for how to help horses without money or the ability to hands-on rescue? What have you done? Post it to the comments!

And I told you I'd give you something happy today...do you remember Whisper, the emaciated filly who spent weeks in a sling and nearly died this winter during some of the worst weather we've ever seen in Washington? From SAFE: "Whisper was discovered in the backyard of a Snohomish city resident along with 3 other severely neglected horses. Apparently, her owner called Pilchuck Equine Hospital after Whisper went down and couldn't get up. They found Whisper on her back in a trough she had dug for herself, feet in the air." The filly wavered between life and death for weeks. She had to wear a padded hood to keep her from hurting herself as she tried to thrash her way to her feet. And then she turned the corner...

Here she is!
Cool, huh?
You can read more about Whisper or find out about adopting her here. She is in the Seattle area.