Are You an Advocate for Horses?

RRHR's Keira and my friend, Amelia.

RRHR’s Keira and my friend, Amelia.

Neglected horses are everywhere in the news lately. By the time you make sense of the images, it’s too late to look away. You might be keeping an sad eye on some thin horses in your local area. Maybe you remember Ruby Ranch Horse Rescue’s Vinnie, who was here for evaluation and training for a few months, and Keira after him.

I took a vacation this summer, the first one in a decade. I sat in a court room with no windows for a week, with concerned citizens and fellow board members of Horse Advocates of Colorado, listening to testimony in an animal cruelty case. In a different neglect trial, I was a witness. I’ve always known the rescue side, but this year I came to understand some of the challenges for law enforcement and I’ve been both inspired and demoralized by our American court system.

This year I’ve been name-called and lost dear friends. I’ve seen the stress of fighting the good fight take its toll on good-hearted people, and I have seen callous people, with no concern for life, behave despicably with no acknowledgement or apology. It isn’t like I was remotely new to equine neglect and abuse; we win some and lose some, but this year has been an special education.

The first question people ask is how can someone let this happen to their horses? Simple, it usually all begins with a change in the usual routine. Colorado has had its fair share of floods and fires recently. Sometimes a horse owner has a health challenge or loses their job or has a death in the family. Sadly, at any given time, we are all vulnerable. There, but for the grace of God, go any of us.

The real question is what happens next? Some of us will move quickly to sell or re-home our horses, hoping to keep them safe. Or mitigate the costs by finding someone to part-lease him. But sometimes the issues keep coming and time gets away as we struggle to keep up. By then our horses are thin and perhaps failing. Now what? We’re too embarrassed to call the vet, if we even have the money. And afraid that someone will report us to the sheriff the rest of the time. As a last resort, would you take him to an auction? Let him die in the pasture and hope no one sees? How desperate will it get?

And yes, a percentage of humans just don’t care. They see animals as personal property–theirs to do use and dispose of as they like. For sake of pride, they spend thousands on attorneys and court fees, rather than do the right thing for animals in the first place.

But, you say, someone would be crazy to leave them to starve. Well, yes. Exactly. Mental illness usually plays a common part in animal neglect and abuse. Some humans are sick enough to choose blood and money; to be malicious without remorse.

The thing all these scenarios have in common is that no one asked for help. Humans don’t like being seen as weak or failing. Most horse people pride themselves on being independent and resourceful. And then, if asking for help wasn’t hard enough, it can be hard to accept the help offered. Humans are complicated.

Once we ask, things can start to move. Family and neighbors step up. There are community resources like hay banks that offer help. Even deputies will lend a hand. I have such respect for people who humble themselves in deference to their animal’s welfare. It shows character.

The second most common opinion heard from the public, usually extremely hostile, is that the court’s punishment is too light. People often suggest starving and torturing the animal abusers. Trust me, I understand the sentiment. It’s easy to have a hard-line of disdain for anyone with a thin horse, because it gives us a way to distance ourselves from our own vulnerability. After all, I have two hard keepers in my own barn. But threatening violence makes us guilty of the thing we are fighting against. Could we rant in the closet and then elevate the public conversation to a more helpful level?

There’s gray area; the difference between the crazy abusers and the disadvantaged owners is important to understand. Some deserve our compassion and help. And some deserve all the punishment that the law will allow. If you think the sentencing is too lenient, then it’s obvious–stop complaining and get involved.

Here’s one new light: The FBI Makes Horse Abuse a Felony in January, 2016. Not just a felony, but a Class-A Felony. That puts horse abuse on par with assault, homicide and arson. It’s been a long time coming, this acknowledgment that animal abuse is closely tied with violence against women, children, elders, and indeed, our whole society. Take heart–change happens.

Warning: The following opinion is just mine. It gets me in trouble but it’s a free country.

The other common statement that I hear is that someone just can’t be involved in helping because they love horses too much to look at the pictures; that hearing about it would just hurt them too much. Like somehow their love is just too pure to hear this kind of ugliness. Could you possibly think that those of us sitting in court are there because we love horses less than you do?

Do horses a favor; instead of loving them too much, love them just enough. Enough to offer help to a neighbor in need or enough to make the call to the authorities if necessary. Enough to be part of the solution. If you can’t take time off from work, then write letters to the media. Donate money, but if you don’t have a dime to spare, sign petitions, join groups, be informed. Love horses enough to bear witness. Love them enough to make positive change.

We formed Horse Advocates of Colorado, over a thousand members strong (join here), to give a voice to horses in our county.  It’s our first anniversary. We’re celebrating by going to an invitational horse welfare meeting at the sheriff’s office this morning. Don’t think for a minute that you can’t make a difference for horses.

And to everyone who has lifted their voice above the din of ranting and criticism–you are a hero to horses and to us. Thank you.

Anna Blake for Horse Advocates of Colorado.

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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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.

A Resolution for Horse Advocates.

frosty 050It’s New Year’s Eve morning, and temps were in the minus double-digits over night. The cold bite was sharpened by wind. Yesterday as I drove to pick up some alfalfa to help make the nights a bit shorter for the horses in my barn, I saw a horse and cow huddled together in a slight ditch in a pasture.

Both had their heads low and noses close. The pair may have had some shelter from the snow and wind from their shoulders down, abut the top half of their bodies were packed with snow. They were an odd couple but helping each other as they could.

Maybe they had a run-in shed somewhere in their pasture and were waiting for the wind to let up to get to it. Maybe they had water somewhere thawed for drinking. They were a decent weight, so I hoped this was just a moment out of time for them.

At the same time, Horse Advocates know that there are so many horses less fortunate. On bitter days, there is always the knowledge of suffering happening, probably close by. It hangs in the air–our compassion for them is something we always carry with us.

It’s hard for an individual to do much. Every hour of the day would not add up to enough. But we are lucky to know that any kind of work is made light by many hands. Together as a group it is possible to get more done, if each of us just gives a few moments of our time. It can be as easy as an email or a brief phone call. Join us and be part of the solution to the challenge of neglected and abused horses in Colorado.

Lets make a New Year’s Resolution to just do a little bit, like the horse and cow. It’s a promise that’s easy to keep and at the same time, each bit can add up to making a huge difference.

I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?   (Mary Oliver, 1935 -)

Horse Advocates of Colorado, we wish you a warm, safe New Year celebration with the ones you love.  Along with the strong affirmation that we can inspire each other, work together, and make 2015 a much better year for everyone, especially horses.

Now, let’s go out there and heat things up a bit!

Abuse -The Story is the Same. It’s time to do better.

Pippi, Mini-mule Rescue

Pippi, Mini-mule Rescue

Roberta was the first to leave a comment on the Horse Advocates of Colorado blog. Here it is:

“The laws need to be changed. I have reported my neighbors for neglect and abuse on their horses, more than I can count! They finally got a ticket for animal cruelty, but it stays the same and the sadness never ends! I’m done calling Jeffco, because its the same ol’ song and dance. I’m the bad person for harassing these people on welfare that have horses!!! REALLY!?!?!?!?”

Back in October, some of us met at a town hall meeting to talk with officials about the Black Forest Abuse case. There had been a huge public outcry, partly due to a famous horse, Dual Peppy, being recognized in this herd of abused and neglected horses.

At that meeting, people lined up at the microphone, one after another to ask questions. The first question asked was, “How can the public help?” The panel gave an enthusiastic response, affirming that they depend on–and are grateful for–the public coming forward with tips.

Then for the next two hours people recounted stories like Roberta’s comment above. People had filed reports but the animals continued to suffer. Months passed with more calls to authorities about the same horses, who were still suffering. Frequently the person reporting was threatened.

We are fast to say the laws must change, but knowledgeable people say we have a good animal cruelty law in Colorado.

The challenge seems to come in enforcement. Story after story all had the same conclusion. Calls were made repeatedly and the horses were still suffering, but it wasn’t seen as life threatening. If the animal wasn’t on the brink of death, suggestions were given to the owner but frequently no charges are filed. In one current case in Calhan, there were over 20 welfare checks made by sheriff’s deputies in a 7 month period with no real improvement. Perpetrators have no fear the law will be enforced.

Two things: First and foremost, these horses need care now. The longer they are left, the more damage is done, meaning the eventual rehab gets more costly and long-term. Chronic malnutrition can cause internal problems. If hooves get poor care, chronic lameness is a possibility. And no one even mentions the psychological problems that result from neglect and abuse–frequently the largest challenge of all. By being slow to help, we heap extra cruelty of our own on top of what the horses are enduring to begin with. Instead of coddling the perpetrator, our goal should be to hold focus on the victim and get help to horses sooner.

The second line of damage is to people who care enough to report. It isn’t just that they are not taken seriously or that they are not thanked. Too many times the push back, like a whistle-blower in the government or industry, is hurtful and insulting. So the best of us, people who are willing to speak up, get worn down–even worn out.

With a new story of abuse every week, it’s hard to not emotionally shut down. We are each haunted by brutal photos. Is the problem is just too huge to change? It would be easier to look away, just to have some peace. But there is no peace.

Horse Advocates of Colorado is not a horse rescue. Our goal is to be an advocate in the legal system–a voice for the victims, the horses who can not speak. To have an impact on the neglect protocol used by the sheriff’s department in assessing each case and to encourage the legal system to prosecute and convict offenders to the full extent of the law.

We are not trying to save one individual horse at a time. Our goal is to have an impact on the big legal picture, to influence the way these cases are approached as a whole. To work in unison with law enforcement and the court system to let this Animal Cruelty Law do its intended work.

We have two cases we are following in El Paso County Court right now. Rachel Fleischaker, Case #14M 3024, Division B, trial set for 8:30 am on Dec. 15th. And the pre-trial conference for Sherri Brunzell and the Black Forest horses (Dual Peppy) is scheduled for December 17th at 8:30am. Join us to bear witness in the system for these horses who need us.

If you agree with us, ‘like’ our Facebook page or follow our blog. Email us at horseadvocates@gmail.com to volunteer.

Thank you for your support.

 

Thanksgiving for Horses.

SANYO DIGITAL CAMERAThere is no national holiday for horses. No day that we admire them for their beauty and intelligence. No day that we look over our history and acknowledge that we built our country on their backs. Or that they have inspired us each time we see them running free or working in partnership with their rider.

Thanksgiving is as good a day as any. While we are giving thanks for all of the blessings and abundance in our lives, give horses a nod, too. We owe them so much.

At the same time, there are horses close by, right now, that are neglected. Cold and thin and hungry horses, with owners who look away. They are part of our extended herd. As we give our own horses a special treats today, send their less fortunate neighbors a good thought. Let them know we are working for them—that we will work like a horse.

Let’s hope that by next Thanksgiving, there are some changes in how we are able to help them, and by improving the processes with law enforcement and the courts, we will begin to make a difference in the consciousness about horse welfare. Let’s hope next year, there are some horses grateful for us. It will mean we have done a good job.

All of us at Horse Advocates thank you for your voice and your support of our start-up group. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and rest up. We have court dates in December!