Nobody Wants Me, It’s True

I have to ask. I really want to know the different arguments on this one.

What do you think of euthanasia for a reasonably healthy animal?

I can’t help but notice all the listings to SAVE HORSES NOW, HORSES GOING TO SLAUGHTER TOMORROW are all followed by HORSE IS SAVED, NEEDS A HOME, HORSE IS SAVED, NEEDS TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS IN VET WORK, etc. And, as I’ve been looking for some help in re-homing the dog that was abandoned at my farm, I’ve seen numerous web sites that declare “Life is precious – save every life!” and basically decry euthanasia in all its forms.

In 2008 Fugly Horse of the Day published this piece on NorCal’s effort to set up a low-cost euthanasia clinic for owners who could not afford to put down horses with medical issues. A quick Google search only brought up NorCal as an option for low-cost euthanasia. Which means that throughout the country, people who don’t feel like they have $400 or so for euthanasia and disposal are sending their horses to auction instead. Or – they feel like they’re giving the horse a chance.

My question is, what if the horse doesn’t have medical issues? Is it wrong to put the horse down? Is it worse to put a horse down or “give it a chance” at auction when you’re absolutely out of options? We all know about the auction side of the argument.

Let’s say that you are a breeder who has lost their farm. A common enough scenario. You have thirty broodmares to rehome. 20 yearlings. 20 weanlings. A teasing stallion, maybe a few retirees. So now seventy-odd horses need to be distributed amongst the population of horse-owners.

Now let’s say ten breeders in the same ZIP code lose their farm. A common enough scenario, in 2010. Hundreds and hundreds of horses need to be distributed.

Meanwhile, you are seeing ads like this: “Rescued last year, adopted out, now owner can’t afford to keep, going to auction, needs to be saved.” OR “Surrendered back to rescue, has EPM/Strangles/Bowed Tendon [insert disease or lameness here], needs funds for vet.”

You have to ask, at some point, when we’ve reached our saturation point with unwanted horses. Unwanted is becoming the new word, but it may not be the most accurate word. We all want all these horses, we just can’t have them. I want every single TB that is in every single kill pen and I want them in my yard and I want to kiss them and hug them and give them cookies. But – there aren’t enough pastures out there for all the pasture pets, let alone fat wallets for all the chronic veterinary cases. Are there?

So – is it wrong to put down a pasture pet, who technically has no distressing health problems? Should there be euthanasia clinics for horses that are economically unfeasible to keep alive? The average age of horses has crept up from 22 towards 30, according to some pharma companies. And – this should be an interesting question – should the slots at crowded rescues be reserved for younger, sound horses who have a shot at a being riding horses? As horses, their ability to perform or reproduce is their currency to a happy, safe life. Without those two options, they’re dependent on charity – and charity is the first thing to go when people are forced to cut corners.




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25 responses to “Nobody Wants Me, It’s True

  1. Blob

    Oy, you’re opening up a very wiggly can of worms. Here’s my take, somewhat jumbled, and probably not the most popular opinion:

    This topic hits me a bit personally because a horse I worked with and loved, love, LOVED to death was recently put down simply because his owner couldn’t sell him and wanted to buy a new, younger horse. She couldn’t sell him because she had ridden him lame and had made him volatile. He was trainable, sound, talented, and wonderful when I worked with him. I wasn’t in a position to take him but the fact that I found out after the fact, left me feeling sick. I’ll probably never stop feeling guilty/regretting that I couldn’t save him. Having said that, sadly he was better off put to sleep than living the life he had lived.

    I’ve not against putting an animal down for health issues that were unmanageable financially especially if there are going to be chronic. But it also sort of depends on a case by case and how severe those problems really are.

    Moving on to healthy horses:
    I got several horses from auction, so I’m definitely for giving a healthy horse a shot of a good home at an auction rather than being put down. But what if he ends up in an abusive home?

    As for slaughter…I have mixed feelings about that too. It’s such an ugly word and I know slaughterhouse conditions are terrible. But a euthanized horse is dead and his body usually goes to waste. A slaughtered horse is dead but his body is used for something, sure dog food, but still. In an ideal world, there would be a middle ground.

    As for younger horses in rescue. I hate to say it, but I do think more spots should be kept for younger, healthier horses. They have a better shot of finding a new home. The 19 year old, only suitable as a companion horse, often spends his whole life at a rescue. The young, sound one finds a home. Plus, if you think about it it’s always more tragic when a child dies, as opposed to an elderly person. Horses are sort of the same.

    Do I wish I could save them all? OF COURSE. But I can’t, no one can. And sometimes, it seems like you have to be practical.

    Sorry, that was very wordy…

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      (I’m so happy you picked up the word Oy in your time in NYC)

      recently put down simply because his owner couldn’t sell him and wanted to buy a new, younger horse. She couldn’t sell him because she had ridden him lame and had made him volatile.

      You can’t win with someone like that. It’s one more sad story in a long line of unreasonable, thoughtless, tragic horse owner stories. They’re everywhere and they break hearts wherever they go. There’s always at least one in every boarding stable (or six). And other people are so often expected to pick up the pieces after someone has spoiled a good horse. Some of the adoption listings blow my mind. The unrideable horse needs injections, supplements, leg wraps, special shoes, special diet, turn out alone and the previous owner must have visiting rights! Oh, please, where do I sign up? Honestly.

      I got several horses from auction, so I’m definitely for giving a healthy horse a shot of a good home at an auction rather than being put down. But what if he ends up in an abusive home?

      If the reserve is high enough, and the horse will warrant going for the reserve, it should be fine. Of course, there’s no telling what might happen down the road. But that’s true of every horse, all the time. I love Ocala Breeders’ Sale’s reserve of $1000. I’ve heard rumbles that it should be lowered, but I can’t disagree more. A thousand dollars keeps the non-horsemen (we have a big yard, let’s get a horse!) out of the auditorium. Not to mention being far too expensive for slaughter. Then again, you can’t say anything about where the old broodmares who don’t get their reserves end up. Some end up like Bon Appeal, fat and happy. Some don’t. Again, that’s true anywhere. Because some horses just aren’t wanted. For any price.

      I hate to say it, but I do think more spots should be kept for younger, healthier horses.

      You know what? We all hate to say it. I’ll say it too, though, and thanks for saying it with me.

      • blob

        $1,000 keeping the non-horseman out of the arena is a very interesting and important concept.
        The BLM (Bureau of Land Management)adopts out mustangs starting at $125. However, adopters must submit an application and meet facility requirements. They must reapply in a years time to actually get the title for the horse (or burro). But sale authority horses (ones that have been to 3 adoption events without finding a home) can be taken by anyone without any application or checking of a facility. The horses can’t be given to slaughter directly. But anyone can come and take a truck load of sale authority horses and sell them to a slaughterhouse.

        Yet, I wonder if they would be able adopt many mustangs out with $1000 price tag– taking on an un-gentled horse is no easy feat.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I won’t make many fans – but why would anyone want an ungentled mustang for one hundred bucks and home visits when they can get a riding horse free off Craigslist? Oh, people do it – people who have never had a horse, much less tamed a wild one off the range.

        The mustang fiasco I can’t even touch. It’s too insane. Certainly pricing them up wouldn’t help them.

  2. Nicholas

    Great to pose these questions. Plan to add thoughtful commentary in detail this weekend. Will quickly say, No, I don’t think euthanasia for a reasonably healthy animal is wrong, particularly if the carcass is put to a productive use.

    I would happily support a shelter which operated on utilitarian lines. The goal is to “save” as many as possible, right? If some small percentage take up a disproportionate share of the resources, or are disproportionately unlikely to ever be adopted, it does a disservice to the rest of the population to retain the resource intense animals.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Very much looking forward to more from you, as I know that this is a subject that could go on and on..

      I am also inclined to think that a shelter could save more if less resources were spent on the high-maintenance cases. The problem is that it’s so hard to step back and be dispassionate when a horse is looking you in the eye.

  3. Sandy Creek

    I have had seven horses given to me in the last year alone, nothing is wrong with them, they aren’t old or ill or lame, the owners just didn’t want them anymore. I have found new owners for all but two of them, a yearling and two year old.
    when the time comes to put down my two old broodmares (29 and 24) I will, I will NOT however send them to the auction, I have had them all their life, I could not imagine dumping them like that.
    I am blessed by having many horse owning friends, so I hope if the time came I could not take care of mine, the host of friends would help me out.
    I am against slaughter of the commercial kind, but not against the kind that some of the large cat rescues perform, at least the animal could be used to feed them instead of being buried, but I would still not chose that for my old mares.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I could have taken on half a dozen myself, Sandy, so I know exactly what you mean – and I’m sure everyone reading this blog has been tempted by one or more free horses over the past few years!

      We had talked at one point about culling the broodmare herd in the future – we are not on a large piece of land – and had decided that if we ran out of room and had a retired broodmare, it would be best to put her down, unless a friend we knew and trusted was jumping up and down to get her.

      It’s not slaughter that bothers me, it’s the fashion in which commercial slaughter takes place – which I think is the way most of us feel. The big cat resue is an interesting notion, since in many places in Florida the water table is so high that burial on property is actually illegal, or at the very least is considered an environmental hazard – not that anyone takes any notice of that.

      • I am totally in favor of euthanizing old or unsound horses, rather than taking a chance on them finding good homes. It breaks my heart to see 18+ yo horses for sale on Craigslist. My second horse was a half-starved ancient TWH broodmare. I fed her back up, got about a year of trail riding on her, then kept her in style for another year before her chronic heart failure got too bad. Then I euthed her, because it’s the only right thing to do. Honestly, once I bought her, I felt obligated to keep her or euth her – I can’t possibly send an ancient one down the road.

        I think people are willfully blind about buyers and auctions. They are so scared of death they can’t fathom putting a horse down, and they’re so hopeful that their horse will be the one to go to a 4H home… but it’s a bad bet for the horse.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I do think it is a fear of death that is at the route of many of these decisions – thank you so much for pointing it out! The Western (and especially American) fear of death is well-documented. And it applies to our pets as well.

        Once I was asking around for advice on a broodmare I didn’t want to breed and several people suggested putting her down. My initial reaction was horror until someone very eloquently pointed out that horses do not live for tomorrow – they are not waiting for someone’s graduation, or to see spring daffodils. They live, they eat, they sniff the wind for danger, and they do as we ask. They live in the moment. If you put them down, you aren’t ending a lifetime of hopes and dreams. It was quite a thought and it’s stuck with me.

  4. blob

    Sure, mustangs are difficult and it’s taking on a lot. But it’s something I would happily do if I had the time and space for it.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Here’s the ultimate bad decision: the only mustang I’ve ever ridden was NOT adopted – it was bred, privately, by a man with multiple stallions and dozens of mares. He bred mustangs. It boggles the mind.

  5. I’ve never been so happy to see a round bale, in my life.
    Yup, now he has a round bale, right beside his panel. 48 hours without food he went. Except for the rich grass I cut for him at the 24hour mark, sobbing away like an idiot. I was scared of colic. He was sold at auction under the Innkeeper’s Act, his breeder defaulted on his board. He was saved from slaughter. Now he stands in a garage, 24/7.
    It would break my heart either way. He’s perfectly useless now, but he was actually a lovely horse, 2 months and three weeks ago. All muscle tone has disappeared. Feet haven’t been touched, never mucked, except to prevent growing out of the stall. 15 total minutes walking in the last 2 months and three weeks. Generously estimated.
    Depends on where they end up.
    Sure feels that way right now to me. I can’t imagine what’s going through the horse’s head. “Still here, crib, crib, crib. STill here. Hungry. Crib, crib.”
    He pinned his ears, neighed and kicked his panel a bit, when I saw him at the 24hour mark. “PLEASE!”

    Heaven help horses, with humans like that around.
    Bottoming out the prices has allowed a lot of people to own and neglect horses.
    Cheap = worthless, yes?
    In my sadder moments I wish he had gone to slaughter. His suffering, at least, would be over now. Many would disagree with that, I’m sure, and I know I couldn’t do it, myself. I’d euth, as in pay the $$. As I did with Tad.

    The mustangs are part of the romance of the old west, guys. That fervour will never go away, now.

    great post, sorry for the long ramble.
    oh, great comments, too.

    How many truly savvy animal people are out there? I wish there was a club or something…
    for the normal ones, you know??
    never mind.
    long week.

    OH, on the young versus old thing.. I’d leave room for the soundest and sanest, no matter their age.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      That’s just it, isn’t it. You can rescue and save and it might not mean a thing. Oh that poor horse. He’s the embodiment of both of our governments’ failures to draft and enforce meaningful laws that protect animals and ensure that cruelty in all its forms are prevented. This discussion shouldn’t be happening. Paragallo shouldn’t be getting out of jail. But it just keeps going on and on.

      Moving deeper into the debate,
      I think safe and regulated slaughter could have its place. After all, euthanasia creates an unsafe body, due to the chemicals used. You’d know your horse went peacefully. But even then, is the meat safe even for dog food? I’m no chemist but if ivermectin will kill collies (I’ve been told) then will twenty years’ worth of ivermectin paste affect a collie eating horse meat? Just throwing it out there, if anyone has heard one or the other please share.
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

      • carrotplease

        Well, typically they don’t use the meat for dog food and haven’t for some time. That said, ivermectin is used in pretty much all food animals **and** in dogs (collies have an unusual sensitivity or allergy apparently) for control of parasites. The amount used in horses isn’t so different from the amount used in cattle, it’s simply that “withdrawl times” haven’t really been studied in horses, hence the “not for use in food animals” on the label of horse dewormers. I doubt that there would be enough of the chemical remaining in a horse even a short time after being de-wormed to actually have enough in the meat to cause an issue.

        (for cattle, the recommendation is to not treat with ivermectin for 35 days pre-slaughter. Other wormers can be given as few as 2 days prior to slaughter without causing a problem as far as residue in the meat)

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        That’s good to know. I suppose. I mean, I wouldn’t be opposed to horse meat going to a good use – would you? If it was slaughtered humanely and was safe for consumption.

      • carrotplease

        I wouldn’t be opposed either – I just have come to the conclusion that I don’t think it CAN be done humanely in North America. There’s no demand for it here, which means it’s an export business – so the only way to make it profitable is to do it in a few scattered locations in large plants – and it’s the low-end sale circuit, long distance overpacked shipping, and factory style facilities that make it so awful. But I think there’s no way to do it right and still make a profit (lots of small local facilities, with facilities designed specifically for the purpose, slow processing speed and well trained employees – would be very hard to make a profit. I don’t see any way for it to be done humanely here, honestly).

  6. Sara Tardanico

    This is one I’ve struggled with for some time as I am supporting a retiree who really with never be sound, and is in his 20’s. Other than soundness issues, he doesn’t have a lot of other health issues. But I am skating on a very thin dime.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Well Sara, I know how you feel. And I really think that saying, “I can’t afford to do this anymore,” should be acceptable, and that no one has any right or should feel any need to judge that decision. It’s hard enough for you without people looking over your shoulder.

      I wonder how vets feel about this? I’d love to get a vet who has to deal with this sort of thing to weigh in.

      • Nikita

        Interesting discussion…and I have to say I really feel that keeping a horse until it dies is the noble thing to do if you can do it. But I come to horse ownership from an animal rescue perspective, which is about the individual horse as a creature. I’ve had several horses — my last two died of cancer and colic at ages 21 and 25, and at the time they functioned as light-use mounts. Their situations proved to me that most horses can be productive under appropriate use. And they’re pretty adaptable — but people generally are locked into usage patterns that don’t address the changes in their horses and it’s not all that easy to find an appropriate home when you would ideally do so.

        However, that said, we’re all free individuals, and I wouldn’t tell anyone else what they should do with their animal. I simply don’t think economic incentives should exist for disregarding the welfare of an animal, as slaughter currently functions.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        That’s a good way of putting it – that slaughter and per pound pricing are economic incentives for disregarding animal welfare.

        When you say that you approach from an animal rescue standpoint, with each individual animal coming first, I am wondering if that is the typical approach to horse (or any animal) rescue? Let’s say that you have one 21-year-old pasture pet who can’t go out with anyone else, but if you put him down, you could put three more rescues in the field who appear ready to be rehabbed and ridden again. I am seeing two thoughts here, one from someone saying that the one horse should be allowed to live out his years, and one who would opt to save the other three at the (humane) expense of the one. I’m inclined to go with the latter. I’m not an active rescuer but if someone said, we need space for three rideable babies who may otherwise go to slaughter, then I’m considering it, you know?

        Loving this conversation, very thought-provoking and you are all filled with great points.

  7. carrotplease

    I hate that sometimes we have to make decisions like this. I don’t feel euthanasia for a perfectly healthy, trainable, ridable horse is OK – but if a horse has all those things then he shouldn’t be impossible or toooo difficult to sell. The reality is the real world is NEVER so clear cut or black and white.

    What about the *mostly* sound horse who is fine until you try to canter and then he bucks? And who has a cribbing problem? Or the horse who injures himself, is fixable, but also has a MAJOR cribbing problem that seems to be preventing him from finding a new home in the first place (and fixing him will cost thousands of dollars)? Or the horse who is physically healthy and young, but will flip over every time someone tries to get on him?

    We’ve been EXTREMELY lucky in that we’ve been able to find a couple pasture pet type homes for horses in the grey area. But that doesn’t always come along – and when you’re dealing with a nonprofit and running off donations, using the money to do the most good does come into play.

    I do think there are lots of rescues/people that have to think more about euthanizing – I’ve seen rescues spending thousands of dollars they don’t have (they have to emergency fundraise) to get surgery for horses who, when they recover, will still only be of limited soundness. Hard for me to justify that when the same amount of money could move ten or twelve others into good homes.

    The problem of slaughter and “too many horses” is huge, and sort of incomprehensible. The idea of saving them at all costs is nice in theory, till you step back and look at that bigger picture. Right now I see 6-7 horses we will be able to find homes for that we wouldn’t have been able to afford had we not euthanized a horse last fall with chronic lameness and a poor prognosis. I also, in following the statistics, know that every week thousands of horses cross the borders for slaughter. I don’t think a lot of people really truly understand what that number of horses actually looks like (and that’s WITH thousands more being “saved” every week from various sources).

    It’s hard when you look them in the eyes and know they’re young and savable with enough time and money but you just don’t have it. I will not ever forget the first horse I held for euth in these kinds of circumstances. I gave him some sugar cubes and thanked him because he was saving other horses even if he didn’t know it (not only by conserving resources but by serving as an important research/learning case for our veterinarian). If we had done anything else, the costs of just getting him pasture sound would have run into five figures probably. And then – who wants a horse that can’t really be ridden who will live for another 25 years? It sounds so blunt and unfeeling when put like that… and sometimes I hate that we have to think that way. But months and months later I can’t forget looking at his little teeth – his small three year old baby teeth with some new ones coming in, after it was all over, and wanting to cry.

    I wish there was an easy solution, or a real black and white answer. I know there are too many horses going to horrible, horrible ends. I know there are too many rescues with no room and very little funding. I know there are too many poor homes where people have “saved” horses but don’t know how to adequately care for them. I know the dealers who prey on bleeding hearts are laughing all the way to the bank and still sending the same numbers of horses across the border. I want a magic wand to fix it.

    In the meantime, we have to make decisions that hurt. Decisions that ensure funds and money are put to where they can do the MOST good. We’re forced to weigh the value of animals’ lives – something that feels wrong inside but has become sadly necessary.

  8. debbie k

    Well, I want everyone to know, I am having a will drawn up, and if something were to happen to me, and the if the person I choose to care for my horses cannot, they are to be euthanized… I see way too much of the suffering of these amazing animals, and would never want mine to go through it again, as they are all rescues, I think it is fine to put a reserve on your horse at auction, well over meat price so it ensures the KB wont get them, then if they dont sell, you have given them a chance, I feel it is better to love them enough to give them a humane end, than to let them starve, and go with out basic vet and farrier care, because you cannot afford to do so…. I have brought back several emaciated horses, and if you see some of what I have seen, you know they suffered terribly, just me 2 cents!

    • Pravina

      In an ideal world, everyone who buys a horse would feel commited to its care and well-being for the duration of its life. In the event of expensive illness or old age, humane euthanasia would be the only option.

      Unfortunately we live in an age where people are hardly commited to any sort of responsibilty in any form- much less to their animals. So, slaughter is there when the horse is unwanted for whatever reason- warranted or not.

      But I’ve seen what happens in the kill auctions and it’s turned my stomach and made me physically sick. I just cannot support slaughter as it stands now.

      Having said that- I agree with a non-anthropomorphic approach, a non-sentimentalist mindset. I don’t feel slaughter in itself is wrong if done- and here’s my keyword- HUMANELY. It’s the fashion, the terrible way they suffer up until they die— that’s what I just can’t support.

      I went to college in a tiny town in upstate NY where every other Friday there were kill auctions. Pregnant horses, mares with foals, horses with broken legs being forced to hobble around, downed horses being punched and kicked to rise. No water even when temperatures were scorching. Then the buyers would load up all the sick, lame, pregnant, healthy hoses into double decker trailers (pre-ban) where they began an awful hell ride. The lucky ones probably died on the truck.

      At the time I also managed a small TB layup facility while in school and ended up filling my empty stalls with a lovely assortment of healthy young OTTBS, exhausted Amish horses, and an emaciated weanling dun QH filly- all purchased for $25 – $600. I did also buy a few horses which my kind vet euthanised for free. I wish every unwanted, lame, infirmed horse had that luxury. A good death, kind, humane, fast, and pain free. Until slaughter figures that out reliably, I’m staunchly against the cruelty of it, as it stands now. Just my .02C

      BTW-Ivermectin has made some collies sick because of a genetic mutation/defect some of them (many of them) have. It’s not because of the toxicity of the drug…. 🙂

  9. Oh, big can of worms but one that definitely needs to be opened. I think NorCal does a really good job with their euthanasia clinics, both evaluating the horses coming in and making those hard decisions.

    I would also love to adopt all of them, and sometimes cry at the pictures on those sites, in particular because of the cruelty humans can inflict on other creatures.

    It’s not feasible, and it won’t solve the overall issues.

    The conversation should also include breeding practices (as I know Fugly has brought up on her blog) and the “I need a new horse because this one won’t ..” whatever owner issue you and the other folks here have mentioned.

    We have one horse we won’t breed–no matter how lovely she is–and one who isn’t perfect, but has provided rewards I would never have gotten had I traded him in on an “easier” model. However, I’m not showing or competing, which might drive me to a different decision. Then again, if I were showing, I would have picked a different horse to begin with, so I may be a bad case study here.

    As far as horse slaughter, unless the demand goes away (as happened with ivory), it will continue. Humane (for all–cow, pig, etc.) is much better than the way it is happening now for sure. Bad karma has to linger, don’t you think?

    Keep opening those cans, Natalie.

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