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Unwanted horses on the rise in the U.S. with no easy solution
“Let loose to die in the woods.” “Starved to death.” “Tied to a stranger’s trailer.”
All of these are write-in comments from horse owners responding to the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey about the neglect and abuse of horses that they have seen nationwide. The United States has about 100,000 unwanted horses every year, according to the Journal of Animal Science. That number has been climbing over the years for a number of reasons, including the economic downturn and the closure of the nation’s last horse processing facilities in 2007, said Dr. Leah Dorman, director of food programs at OFBF’s Center for Food and Animal Issues.
“It’s a real problem and one that’s not solved easily,” she said. Ohio ranks sixth nationwide in number of horses.
More than 90 percent of participants in the 2009 Unwanted Horse Survey believe the number of unwanted horses, as well as those neglected and abused is increasing. About 87 percent said that in the past year unwanted horses have become a “big problem” compared with only 22 percent three years ago.
Survey participants said the top contributors to the problem of unwanted horses were the downturn of the economy, closing of the nation’s processing facilities, change in breed demand/indiscriminate breeding and high cost of euthanasia.
The USDA has been ordered to stop inspecting horse processing plants, Dorman said.
The United States has 326 rescue or sanctuary facilities with a total capacity of 13,700 horses per year, Dorman said. Six out of 10 rescue facilities that were surveyed in 2009 said they are at near or full capacity, turning away 38 percent of horses brought to them. Rescue, retirement and adoption facilities have an average budget of $2,300 per horse, so the industry needs a minimum of $25.7 million just to care for the horses that are currently being turned away, according to the survey.
“Not only is there not enough capacity for horses in rescue or sanctuaries but funding is a huge issue,” Dorman said. “Equine shelters are different than dog and cat shelters because they don’t get any local dollars, while some small animal shelters do.”
When horses are euthanized, Ohio allows four methods of carcass disposal: rendering, burial at least four feet deep (including landfills), composting or incineration. The average cost of euthanasia and carcass disposal is $385 – much lower than the cost of donating a horse. Many facilities that take in horses require owners pay for veterinary examinations, transportation costs, several months boarding fees and adoption fees.
Ohio also has 10 horse auctions with one that sells to dealers who transport the horses to other countries for processing and human consumption, Dorman said. That auction has been picketed by activists who are trying to get legislators to outlaw the transportation of horses for slaughter.
“Although people want to complain about horse auctions, they’re really fulfilling a need, if they are properly managed. What if the auction wasn’t there? How many more horses would we have that are not wanted and not have an outlet for?” she said. “We need to get over the ‘ick’ factor and make humane horse processing part of the solution.”
Photo credit: Istockphoto.com