Feeding Skinny Old Horses.

CHRNHe’s old. Some kind women from the Colorado Horse Rescue Network saw him at the Calhan auction. Do you think he should be euthanized? There was almost nothing left to him. The weight tape says 890 pounds and he is about 15.1 HH. Does he look like he can survive? We can guess at how old he is–probably 20-25. At the same time, his face was bright. This is Captain.

There is a false assumption that old horses get skinny by virtue of being old. It just isn’t true. Old horses, whether they are loved or abandoned, simply change as they age. Their muscles may be smaller; he may move around less because of arthritis, but getting thin is not any more normal for a horse than it is for a human. How is your waist doing?

A horse’s teeth are usually the problem. Sometimes they have grown so unevenly that hooks on the edges can cause ulcers that make it painful to eat. Sometimes the teeth are worn down too far to chew or if they lose one or two, the rest become unstable. They may munch on hay but spit it out. Others may chew hay, swallow it and still lose weight because if the hay isn’t well masticated, it is harder for the horse to absorb the nutrients. Meaning a horse can appear to be eating fine and beginning to starve at the same time.

But it isn’t a crime to get old. 

Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue stepped up and welcomed Captain in from the auction and the January cold for a refeeding program. In the beginning he had six feedings a day, including a 2:00 a.m. serving. He’s eating a combination of beet pulp, alfalfa pellets, bermuda grass pellets and a bit of senior feed soaked into a glorious mush. It’s a little different from buying hay, but not necessarily more expensive. And when his head went into the bucket and the smacking began, he didn’t come up for a breath until it was gone.

After a week or two, Captain was getting stronger. He transitioned to eating five times a day, smaller portions, but his tummy still wasn’t empty for longer than about four hours–except for the 6-hour layover at night. Horses are designed to graze most of the day so the mush meals had to come more frequently as well. He had some catching up to do.

Captain3mosHandsome, isn’t he? Here’s Captain after 3 months of refeeding. He is eating four times a day now and he will get his teeth floated on May 6. They’re hoping he can start to chew hay just a bit better, maybe enjoy some spring greens. Still, his teeth are expiring and he will need soaked, or at least pelleted feed, for the rest of his life.

Captain is a very friendly sort who readily follows humans around, probably in search of more food and treats. It isn’t the worst way to pass an afternoon. He’s a grateful horse with a different sort of beauty at this age. He still deserves our respect.

He would like to remind us that elders need a bit of help as years pass. They aren’t that different from us.

Captain is available for adoption but he will need a special home. One that appreciates second chances and has little extra time and love because his heart is extra big and sweet. But then the rewards for helping a Grandfather like Captain are much greater too. These are golden days–he is safe now.

What is the value of another summer in a sweet pasture? It might be time to pay some kindness forward. (You aren’t getting any younger yourself.) Consider donating your local rescue in their work for horses. Click here Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue to help Captain and others just as deserving.

Please remember Captain when you see a thin horse. It’s quite possible that his owners just don’t know. Kindly remind them that older horses need their teeth checked a bit more often. That as years go by, supplementing hay and pasture with soaked pelleted feed may be necessary. Refeeding information is available from any vet or local  horse rescue.

Most of all–keep an open heart. Captain did.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

The Invitational Meeting Addressing Equine Neglect Investigations

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It was a meeting in the Sheriff’s department that we at Horse Advocates had been hoping for since before Sheriff Elder took office late last fall. It had already been postponed once and finally the day arrived. Three members of our board were there along with representation from two local horse rescues and a few local equestrian facilities. As you might imagine, law enforcement and prosecution were very well represented. There were around 25 of us, so I will spare you the list, but a strong turnout for the first meeting of this kind. I think we are all working on putting faces with names still. Sheriff Elder did drop by to greet us.

The meeting was moderated by Lieutenant J.D. Ross of the Community Impact Section at the Sheriff’s office and his opening remarks included a commitment to better, more open communication.

I’m just going to blurt out the bad news first. The biggest concern that Horse Advocate members asked us to present was the issue of the length of time and number of visits that some neglect cases take before the horses can get the help they need. The answer didn’t make us happy–there is no answer. Each individual case is different and sometimes that means letting the horses struggle longer to get past the level of misdemeanor to felony. The DA’s office has a 100% conviction rate once the case goes to trial, but horses have paid the price for that, every bit as much as investigating officers and the District Attorney’s office.  One instance in Pueblo was related: 10 years and 150 horses lost. I am sure it was meant to let us know it could be worse, but it didn’t cheer anyone in the room to hear it.

Horse Advocates had hoped to see the Sheriff’s office invite the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region to be a bigger part of the actual protocol of neglect investigations. We would like to see the highest level of training available for our first responders to neglect cases. Instead, a different solution–we were introduced to a new division, called Rural Enforcement and Outreach (REO). Right now there are three officers in this new division and they are being trained. It will be their job to be a larger presence in the eastern part of the county and as we understand it, they will deal with the neglect cases directly.

The question of why investigations don’t move faster should be helped by this division. We were told more officers and more money were required, so this is a partial answer. Horse Advocates will continue to push for a community group of professionals and volunteers to support the REO work in the county and we are forming a list of resources for these officers.

During a break in the middle of the meeting and then again just after the meeting, we had an opportunity to talk to several officers we had spoken with previously on the phone, and to a person, they were very forthright and communicative. In the past it has been very challenging to even find the number to call, but now we have cell numbers for each of the REO officers and a promise to be available.

Horse Advocates met with Sheriff Elder in January, when he assured us that horse welfare was a huge priority in his new administration. The very next day officers raided a local horse rescue and ordered two horses to be returned to the neglectors who had not kept the agreements of their adoption contract. This case is ongoing but it put a bad taste in our mouths for this new sheriff. Our local horse rescues are the heart and soul of our efforts for neglected or abused horses in El Paso County.

But yesterday at this meeting, we were able to stand eye to eye with law enforcement and speak like reasonable people. We didn’t always agree and there is a long road ahead. That’s the win–this road that did not exist when the previous sheriff was in office or before Horse Advocates had formed, is open to us now.  We have all come a very long way in a short time.

The sheriff’s office has promised to keep meeting with us and we plan to continue our push on all of our goals for the sake of the horses in our community, as well as the general safety of all of our residents. Animal abuse is the common precursor to other violence against children, elders and in domestic violence cases. When animal abusers are dealt with, our entire community is safer, and that is a goal that everyone agrees on.

In the end, Horse Advocates is right where we want to be. Please continue to contact us with your concerns and ideas. We need your help to remain a voice that speaks loud and clear: We are Horse Advocates of Colorado and we stand for horses.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

Horse Politics: Livestock or Pet.

fifi 1We live in a somewhat enlightened time. Brain science has proven what some of us have always known: that animals are intelligent, have emotions, and are capable of communicating with each other and us. That’s the good news and the bad news. It blurs the line between pet and livestock.

Definitions according to Wikipedia: “A pet (or companion animal) is an animal kept primarily for a person’s company or protection…” “Livestock are domesticated animals raised in an agricultural setting to produce commodities such as food, fiber and labor.” So, dogs are pets, horses are livestock, and now things are starting to get complicated.

Some of us believe that livestock are a financial asset, that there’s no such thing as cruelty to dumb animals, and showing kindness in the barn is a sign of weakness. Drowning a litter of kittens is effortless. You do what’s necessary to make a living.

Some of us think it is cruel to even ride a horse, that no one should wear fur or leather, and that a vegan diet is the only answer. Eating an egg is tantamount to drowning a litter of kittens. There is no reason to ever enslave another species.

Humans are an adversarial species and the question of animal rights inspires a lot of defensive and extreme posturing on both sides, but most of us land somewhere in the middle ground. We eat less meat and buy organic. We vote for free range chicken eggs. A huge majority of us are against horse slaughter. There are a million other lines that we draw, but in the end, it’s political. Legally speaking, it’s a question of personal property rights vs. animal rights.

But times are changing slowly. Lots of people admit what they used to be too shy to say publicly; that they love their dogs like kids and their family includes horses and llamas and maybe some chickens. No one wants to think of themselves a fanatic, but those killer whale tanks are pretty small. Elephants at the circus aren’t as entertaining once you think about how they live.

In recent years, there’s a growing voice in the middle ground that is both personal and political. Rescues are a reasonable voice, but not always understood. Horses come to rescue for a wide range of reasons, usually not the fault of the horse or his previous owners. At first introduction to rescue, you might think that the animals should be cost-free. After all, it isn’t like anyone wanted them in the first place, and the rescue should be happy if someone wants to take them off their hands. Right?

Not so fast. To begin, there might be an auction fee or transportation costs. Add the veterinary work performed, usually a few hundred dollars–if there are no special conditions. If the animal was neglected he might need a careful re-feeding program to gain weight back and if the horse is older, maybe a beet pulp/senior feed combination with more feedings per day. Lack of hoof care might take a couple of trims to correct, with 8 weeks in between, and that’s even more feed and care. Then he might need some training to tune up his ground manners or work under saddle, so that he is more adoptable and more likely to get a good home. Once he is ready…. the wait for the right adopter begins.

Now the cost seems reasonable, less than the rescue invested in the horse probably, but paying the adoption fee isn’t the only requirement. There is an application a few pages long and a required home visit. If that’s successfully completed, then a contract, promising the horse a good home and that he will never again be treated with neglect or cruelty. By signing the contract the adopter agrees that the horse is, in effect, co-owned. That the rescue may check up at any time and reclaim the horse if the contract is not upheld.

Yikes, who wants someone looking over their shoulder forever? By now you might be thinking a horse from Craigslist would be easier. Is it okay to just call a horse a rescue if you think you are giving them a better home than the one they had before?

Rescue isn’t for everyone; it isn’t about ego and there’s no room for ulterior motives. Rescuers hold ourselves to a higher standard of care, believing that all horses deserve it. The best reason to get a rescue horse, beyond that, is because it’s a vote for a world where animals do have rights. It’s a way to say that, in between the extremes of opinion, you reasonably believe horses are more than livestock.

Adopting from a legal 501(c)(3) horse rescue is also a political choice. As time passes, laws will continue to change but that process can be hurried along by a change of consciousness at a grassroots level right now. As long as a horse is considered livestock, a rescue horse is a vote to take responsibility for the well-being of an individual horse for his natural life. It’s a safe place for a horse in transition to be protected by like-minded humans, who see the humanity of a horse–his intrinsic value, past his financial worth.

Rescue is the one place in this world that HORSES COME FIRST. A rescue horse belongs with someone who wants to make a difference in the definition of ownership, quietly start a revolution, and change the world–one horse at a time.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.

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Between Patience and Procrastination: Waiting is an Action Verb.

ND mini CookieSometimes it feels like there is no comfortable place for us at Horse Advocates. It’s like cooking Thanksgiving dinner; some things are in the oven forever and some things are a last minute panic. But we don’t expect to be any more comfortable that the horses we work for.

Most cases move in slow motion. A first report gets filed and nothing happens quickly. Even in a case of clear abuse or neglect, if the horse is not in danger of eminent death, things proceed slowly. Obviously Horse Advocates is not happy with this standard, and we are trying to have a voice in redefining this process.

Then there are a few welfare checks. It isn’t hard for a neglectful owner to make enough superficial changes to satisfy the deputy and the case gets closed. Then in a month, another complaint rolls in. It’s these long-term offenders that are such a challenge. And in the process, the horses struggle quietly for way too long and tax dollars are wasted. Sometimes years pass, and for the older neglected horses, a rehab can take more time than they have left. These horses need our voice to be heard now.

Last month we saw the Brunzell/Dual Peppy court case get postponed for a few more months. When the reporter asked for a comment after, I was at a loss. I know he wants to hear something new—a good sound bite. But at a certain point, in the ongoing months between the initial discovery and the actual trial, there actually isn’t anything new. The obvious things have been said. It stops being news, which is by definition, new. Of course putting the trial back works against us. The passage of time softens most memories, even the kind of carnage involved in this case. Once the initial horror becomes familiar, it recedes in our minds. Those dead and nearly-forgotten horses continue to need our voice to be heard, now more than ever. It’s too late to save the skeletons under tarps, but it isn’t too late for justice.

At Horse Advocates, we try to be optimistic. If nothing else, mental health requires it. At the same time we remain painfully aware that El Paso county has had a bad track record when it comes to horse abuse.

Then in February, the Sheriff’s office, with the full support of the Deputy District Attorney, the same one who’s prosecuting the Brunzell case, ordered the return of two horses to a neglectful owner. The rescue they were adopted from had reclaimed them three months before, under conditions clearly stated in the adoption contract. This is a huge blow against all types of animal rescues who use a legal contract to stipulate conditions of care.

Time works against all horses. The longer they languish in neglect, the more damage is done, and the longer it takes to return them to health. There are psychological damages not even considered by the authorities. Their lives are short, and in this special case, where previously rescued horses needed rescue again, time is especially precious.

Horse Advocates is following this case with intense focus. We are deeply concerned for these at-risk horses. Beyond that, this case will set the tone for our new Sheriff’s actual commitment to horse welfare and his overall respect for animal rescue in general. We support the idea that local horse rescues, the El Paso County officials, and Horse Advocates could all be on the same side—the side of horses. For now, we watch and wait for this case to play out in our system. We are told everything takes time, but that time comes at a cost we never forget. For now, we have no choice.  We wait.

The Problem is with P words–like Patience and Procrastination. Horse Advocates is uncomfortable in either place, and so we choose Perseverance.

It’s frustrating sometimes, and boring other times. Keeping an open heart is hard in light of the suffering that horses sustain. When too much time passes, it’s hard to keep faith in a system that has failed in the past. It’s frustrating for any group who need to see a difference in a reasonable time. But if we give in to the dark side of advocacy, then aren’t we somewhat complicit in the horse’s neglect as well?

Horse Advocates won’t give up, and we hope you will continue to stand with us. The best hope we have is Perseverance; to band together committed to justice in each case, for each horse. No matter how long it takes.

Wait it out with us, will you? The horses need each of our voices.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

Why Animal Abuse Matters: The Big Picture.

abbMost of us have animals in our lives. We need nap-buddy and a wag at the end of the day. There is a perverse satisfaction that comes from being ignored by a cat. Some of us are lucky enough to get the emotional re-balancing comes from sharing breath with a horse while mucking out the barn. A lot of us want to pay that kindness forward by working against animal abuse.

Starting next year, the FBI will raise animal abuse to a Class-A felony, putting it on par with assault, rape and murder. (Read more here.) No, law enforcement isn’t going to be carrying dog treats and wearing kitten hoodies–it isn’t because they love horses. It’s because animal abuse holds a very serious and profoundly important place in the larger world of abuse. Statistics tell us that animal abuse is frequently the first step toward to greater violence to come, and tracking these crimes will be an aid in understanding more about offenders, as well as catching repeat offenders. This national change will hopefully encourage more enforcement at the local level across the country.

Horse Advocates board members met this week with the new El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder. Our county has struggled with a lack of leadership in the sheriff’s department in the recent past and Sheriff Elder has a big job ahead, as well as a management style that’s inclusive and well-suited to the task. He shares our concern about horse abuse in the county, but our conversation encompassed all forms of abuse from child welfare to domestic violence to elder abuse. Each of these areas has things in common and he would like to see a more unified approach used across the board to help the victims.

Since animal abuse is usually the starting point, our organization has a crucial role to play. Our success in advocating for horses will have a much greater impact than we can measure. We are committed to working for horse welfare, knowing that the ripple effect will improve human lives as well.

Let your voice be heard. Please join our ranks by liking us on Facebook and following our blog and website, Horse-Advocates.com   Thank you.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates.

Pick Your Abusers Well. And Colorado Horse Rescue Network’s Bright Idea.

CHRNThe Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region reports they got 4200 abuse calls last year–that’s 11 ½ a day. Some are about horses that are a bit ribby and some are horror stories of blood and fear, whole herds starved or victims of cruelty. How do we even approach this overwhelming problem with our limited resources?

To begin with, it’s a huge, complicated issue. I’m just going to chew on one corner of it here. Can we agree that not all “abusers” are created equal?

This is Captain. Members of the Colorado Horse Rescue Network got him at the Calhan auction last weekend, and Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue took on his re-feeding program. First, humor me and go watch a short video (here) of him eating mush. I want to nominate him for the Academy Award for Sound Effects. It’s the first day of the rest of his life, and long or short–he will be safe.

The Colorado Horse Rescue Network is a state-wide organization of 1500 horse people with a founding board of 13. They come from all different horse worlds with one common goal–horse rescue. They are very creative thinkers, but more on that later.

CHRN goes to horse auctions. Most of the horses are healthy and fairly sound, says Carrie Terroux-Barrett, CHRN board member and rancher. She says 90% of the horses at these auctions have behavioral problems. (I will almost stifle my rant about riders who should take a few lessons and get their horses help before it comes to this.) The Kill Buyers come to auctions, of course. Like every other occupation, there are some real monsters who prey on rescuers by doubling the price of the horse in question. This contemptible bottom-feeding behavior is a huge problem, but none were in Calhan that day and Captain caught a break.

He has a bit of charm even now, doesn’t he? It seemed he had been handled, even brushed recently. His feet were not badly neglected and he was not overly fearful.

I’m sure a few of you are ready to lynch his owner about now.

Carrie has a theory about Captain’s history. She thinks he was probably a ranch horse, trained and loved. But maybe his owner died and he passed hands. He looked good in the summer and worse in the winter, at first it was normal. Maybe his keepers lost employment or had a debilitating health crisis. Captain just got a bit thinner one day at a time and then one day he was nearly a skeleton and his owner didn’t know that old horses don’t need to be thin. Maybe they called a rescue to relinquish him, but there was no room that day and they lost courage for another call. So the owner got nervous about then. Would a vet even be able to help? Sometimes it starts to seem like euthanizing might be the only answer and owners just can’t face it. Could they get in legal trouble even after all that? Not all of us are good at asking for help, especially in complicated situations.

Is there such a thing as benign neglect? How much revenge do we need?

This is Carrie’s opinion: “Honestly it’s a double edged sword to hold them accountable. Being sold at the sale was far better than the fate that awaited him if they had left him where he was. No one knew about him, I’ve never seen him before, he would have died and no one would have noticed. They got rid of him before he died thankfully. You start nailing owners and they will just leave them to rot in a pasture instead.”

I agree with Carrie’s view of the big picture. When people ask how someone could starve a horse, I wonder how frequently mental health issues come into play. It’s no fun to have compassion for bad owners, but sometimes we should, right after we save the horses. Save your rage for someone who deserves it–like kill buyers who prey on rescuers as well as horses.

Because it is my flip-flopping superpower to see both sides, I understand the need to post hate towards owners like Captain’s. There, but for providence, go any of us. If I lost my life in a car wreck tomorrow, would my horses and dogs fall through the cracks? It’s such a gut-wrenching thought that I want to distance myself from it, push that fear as far from me as I can. And it’s only human nature to blame others we think are guilty of our deepest fear. To heal our potential wound by ripping into someone else, so we can be better-than, and maybe escape the same fate.

But no one knows the future. Rather than leaving a legacy of hate, how about paying compassion forward. It will take some discernment, but really, ask yourself who you are. Abuse is the enemy and joining in the behavior demeans our ideals.

And then CHRN had an idea. They instigated a buy-out program, paying $100 for any horse with a brand inspection, regardless of condition, age, or sex. No questions, no blame, and they pick-up. The idea was to intercept the horse before he got to auction and the kill buyer’s bidding war. I can’t imagine how much debate went on when this idea first came up in a meeting, but they agreed to risk a try. At 30 days in, they’ve taken 6 horses in, with negotiations going on another 3 or 4.

In this world of overwhelming nastiness, here is a bright light of an idea–a brilliant shortcut to a bucket of mash or re-training with a second chance. Hooray for CHRN pushing through the muck to a positive result for horses. They deserve a cheer, and a donation towards a better way to rescue. Find them at Colorado Horse Rescue Network. 

And smile when you remember the sloshing, blissful sound of Captain eating. We can turn this thing around.

–Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.

Sentencing in the Rachel Fleischaker Animal Abuse Case.

Between June 2013 and January 2014, El Paso County Sheriff’s deputies visited Rachel Fleischaker’s property at least 21 times to investigate 31 starving Arabians. This culminated in one charge of animal cruelty – failure to provide water. Fleischaker was found guilty on Oct. 15, with sentencing in January 2015. Another cruelty charge on one horse went to trial December 15 and that resulted in a plea agreement. Shannon Gerhart, Chief Deputy DA, was the prosecutor.

Today Judge Christopher Acker listened to attorneys and Ms. Fleischaker addressed the court, as well. She was contrite and took responsibility. The Judge was not swayed, Ms. Fleischaker was turned down on each of her attorney’s requests and her sentencing went as follows.

60 months of probation (5 years). This was a year longer than the prosecuting attorneys asked for. The court was clear that this time period gave them maximum supervision and Fleischaker was warned if she broke her probation, she would go immediately to jail for 4 years.

Probation includes: Fleischaker may have no ownership, possession or business interest in any large animals, including horses, donkeys, and cattle. Both the Sheriff’s office and the Humane Society will do random check-ups at their discretion. She is further ordered to Care and Treatment of Animals class and she must attend 12 counseling sessions. Both the Sheriff’s Dept. and the Humane Society will be coming by un-announced to enforce the probation. She is also ordered to pay court costs.

On the subject of jail time, Judge Acker spoke plainly, saying he did not believe Ms. Fleischaker really did take responsibility. The possible jail time was 60 days, but a plea bargain on the first count, which is sealed, did place some sentencing restrictions. In the end, Fleischaker did receive 10 days jail time and 50 days of in-home detention. She asked for a stay of the sentence long enough  to find someone to help, as she is her husband’s full time caretaker, but the judge ruled that she had time and knew this was a possibility and she is ordered to begin her incarceration in two days, Monday, January 26th at 7:30 a.m.

Horse Advocates of Colorado’s board would have liked to see more jail time, but considering the nature of the charges filed, we are very satisfied with this verdict. Rachel Fleischaker is being held accountable for the neglect shown her horses and as community concern grows on animal abuse issues, we expect even better trial results. This was a case that several members of our board have been involved with from the start and we hope in the future that the charges filed will represent a more full account of the situations at neglect locations and a more expedient protocol will be used in neglect cases like these. We will be meeting with Sheriff Elder to discuss this in the near future and we are very optimistic that our new sheriff will take some positive steps in this area.

Fleischaker’s horses have all been relinquished, along with their brand inspections. They are gaining weight and improving in health. There is a group of mares and fillies still in the county that are looking for homes. (find them here: http://www.equinenow.com/horse-ad-964552 )

This case did not go perfectly, but the results are still very positive. It has to be seen as a step forward and Horse Advocates of Colorado is grateful for all the support and commitment shown by the horse owners and lovers in El Paso County. There are good days ahead if we continue to all work together for the welfare of horses.

Please join our ranks by liking us on Facebook and following our blog and website, Horse-Advocates.com

Thank you all so much.

 

Horse Advocates of Colorado

Honor. Protect. Enforce.