Illinois Offering Horse Rescue Licensing Option

When Colleen O'Keefe, DVM, approached Illinois legislators about licensing horse rescue and shelter facilities around the state, the lawmakers were surprised.

"Usually, industries don’t want to be regulated," said O'Keefe, Division manager for food safety and animal protection for the Illinois Department of Agriculture. "But this initiative came from the rescue operators themselves."

In fact, some Illinois horse rescue operators have long sought a way to recognize professionally managed rescues. Starting in May 2007, those organizations that pass muster under new Illinois Department of Agriculture requirements can be licensed as approved equine humane shelter sites.

"Some rescues just don’t work, and some are just not reputable," said Barbara Geittmann, director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, one of two licensed equine shelters in Illinois. "I get calls everyday from well-meaning people who say they've rescued a horse, but just can’t keep it. I have no trouble setting standards to make sure rescues provide appropriate care."

Illinois' horse rescue licensing initiative amends the state's Animal Welfare Act by adding a separate set of regulations for horse rescues and shelters. Evaluation criteria mirrors American Association of Equine Practitioners guidelines for equine rescue and retirement, and covers everything from the amount of available pasture to barn condition and the presence of isolation facilities. Sites approved by Illinois Department of Agriculture inspectors pay an annual $25 license fee.

"Currently, inspectors re-evaluate licensed shelters once a year," O'Keefe said, "but we'd like to get out to each licensed shelter two or three times a year."

So far, two horse shelters have been licensed, said O'Keefe. But an outreach effort is underway. Linda Hewerdine, founder and director of the Society for Hooved Animal Rescue and Emergency (SHARE) in Champaign received a letter last week inviting her to pursue licensure.

"I think it’s a good idea," she said.

Whether the idea will spread to other states is uncertain. O'Keefe said, she's not had calls from other states eager to copy Illinois example.

Donna Ewing, founder and president of the Illinois licensed Hooved Animal Rescue and Protection Society (HARPS) thinks they should.

"There have to be checks and balances for rescues," Ewing said. "With this licensing, Illinois has become a model state for helping horses."

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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