California Plan Models Equine Rescues after Animal Shelters

Faculty members at the University of California, Davis, are working on a plan to reduce the number of unwanted horses by modeling equine rescues after small animal shelters. Under a plan developed by the International Animal Welfare Training Institute (IAWTI), a division of the university's School of Veterinary Medicine, a network of "horse-assessment" stations would separate horses brought to rescuers into adoptable and non-adoptable categories, and provide humane euthanasia for those deemed too old or too infirm for adoption or rehabilitation.

The plan requires that participating rescues be licensed, certified, and subject to routine inspections.

"We believe this approach will provide a means for people to take their healthy animals--which they can't keep--to a place where they may be adopted out (sold) as a person would obtain a dog or cat from a shelter," said John Madigan, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM, director of the IAWTI and the University's Large Animal Hospital.

According to Madigan, network rescues would have strong organizational structures, staff veterinarians onsite, and cooperative agreements with local animal control authorities.

Those components have long been in place at The Grace Foundation of Northern California, which provides critical care for abused and neglected horses. Now, the Foundation is working with Madigan and the IAWTI to develop and assess best practices for horse rescues.

"It's very expensive (to do what we do), but we're getting dozens of calls a day from people who can't keep their horses," said Grace Foundation CEO Beth DeCaprio. "As an industry we have to find out exactly what works and what need to be changed."

Even so, duplicating the Grace Foundation model could be challenging for less well-connected rescues, said Tawnee Preisner, co-founder of the NorCal Equine Rescue in Oroville, Calif.

NorCal routinely separates horses into adoptable and non-adoptable categories and sponsors free euthanasia services on a monthly basis. Clinic costs are underwritten by contributions.

"We have a lot of people who want to do what we do, but it takes resources and it takes money," Preisner said. "It doesn't just happen."

Meanwhile, Jenn Williams, PhD, founder of the Texas-based Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society, worries that rescues might resist a system developed and regulated without their input.

"Who would enforce certification and licensing? I'd like to see horse rescues, horse industry representatives, and academics all work on this," Williams said.

The IAWTI will meet Feb. 18 to refine the plan.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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