Rescues Consider Cost of Equine Welfare Cases

In February the Humane Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (HSPCA) in Columbia, S.C., seized 45 horses. Four months and thousands of dollars later, the criminal cases against the animals' owners, Hazelene, James and Terry Trexler, are nowhere near resolution, but the cost of supporting the herd continues to mount.

"We have spent, $45,000 to date feeding and vetting the horses," said Kelly Graham, marketing director for the HSPCA. "But the Trexlers still own the horses, so we can't adopt them out or sell them to recover some of our expenses until the case is resolved."

In many states owners of animals seized in pending cruelty cases are not legally bound to surrender their animals or finance their upkeep while criminal cases are pending.

As the cost of horse keeping soars, and crowded court dockets protract cruelty and neglect cases, animal welfare organizations are questioning the wisdom of assuming financial responsibility for horses whose care costs could be extensive and beyond their financial means.

some of the horses seized from the Trexler property

Some of the horses seized from the Trexlers' property.

"At some point rescue board members may wake up one morning and say, 'This is too costly,' " said Michael Privett, DVM, veterinarian for the Trexler herd. "They may choose not to become involved in these cases at all."

In Georgia, where state law requires the Department of Agriculture to impound animals in cruelty and neglect cases, but makes no provision to fund their care, the Georgia Equine Rescue League (GERL) fills the gap by raising funds to finance everything from feed to veterinary fees for impounded horses.

The group has provided more than $200,000 to maintain and rehabilitate seized horses in the past several years. But if donations fall along with the general economy, GERL Vice President Pat Dean said the organization might be forced to limit its support.

"Our concern is for the horses, and we have not yet refused to help in these cases," Dean said, "but we've had a couple of frustrating years. We've love to see some kind of legislation to help animal welfare organizations."

That help is on the way in South Carolina, where State Sen. Joel Lourie is about to introduce S.B. 1260. Inspired by the high horse care costs connected with the Trexler case, the so-called "Cost of Care Bill" requires that owners of animals seized in abuse cases either pay for the animals' upkeep until their cases are closed, or they must surrender their animals to an authorized humane organization immediately upon seizure.

For HSCPA, Graham said the bill's passage can't come too soon.

"This legislation provides a safety net for us," she said. "If it had been in place when the Trexler case started, we would already have ownership of the 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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