Horse Abandonment Becoming A Bigger Problem

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The old quarter horse's ribs are visible through his brick-colored coat, yet his ears are up as he trots behind Andrea Daugherty, as she leads him to pasture.

He is not her horse.

The horse was either lost or abandoned. She is caring for the horse until the owner claims him, or he is sold at public auction.

In this community, where the feelings of owners for their horses range from appreciation for the work they do to love of a family pet, abandonment seems more likely.

"We have not received any calls on the horse," Ed Hermes, public information office for the Arizona Department of Agriculture (ADA) said.

"The abandonment trend is becoming more prevalent, than less," Hermes said.

The ADA attributes this to increased costs of hay and reduced amounts of foliage, due to ongoing drought.

Coupling those costs with the May closure of the last U.S. operating horse slaughterhouse (in Illinois) means there are a greater number of older horses and fewer purchasers.

"The people of Illinois will no longer tolerate the brutal practice of slaughtering horses for foreign dinner plates, and no amount of legal wrangling will change that," said Diane Webber, director of The HSUS' Central States regional office.

Unless Senate bill 311 earns enough yeah votes to pass the U.S. House of Representatives, horses can still be sold in the U.S., and trucked to slaughter facilities in Canada and Mexico.

A press release by the Humane Society of the United States reads, "We will continue to press for passage of a full and complete ban on the slaughter of American horses, here or in other countries, for human consumption."

Horse meat is a taboo food in the U.S., possibly due to our Western romance with the animal. In Japan, the Netherlands and France, horse meat is a delicacy.

Once processed by a slaughterhouse, outside the United States, the meat can rejoin the food chain as one of the raw materials of pet food, or is sold to zoos.

"We do purchase animals, such as horses and mules, as animal feed for our lions, tigers, cougars and mountain lions," Susan Johnson, a spokesperson for Out of Africa Wildlife Park, in Camp Verde said.

Out of Africa has a number of pet horses that are not part of the attraction.

"The Harrisons (owners of Out of Africa) are extremely kindhearted and a horse (such as the one Daugherty is caring for) would be taken in and given tender care," Johnson said.

"Responsible pet owners do not dump their pets," local veterinarian, Drew Justice, said.

Abandonment versus slaughter

Aging horses can suffer from a multitude of ailments -- arthritis causes limping, "founder," while treatable, often makes euthanasia the most humane option.

Local veterinarian, Drew Justice, charges $100 to euthanize a horse.

How the remains are disposed is the owner's responsibility.

Cremation costs about $1,200. The mass grave for horses at Buckhead Mesa Landfill charges by the pound -- $20 is the approximate cost.

Rescue groups exist, but they have less money than heart. The Arizona Equine Rescue Organization in Phoenix is the nearest to Payson.

"Our physical capacity for horses is currently 16 stalls, but our care capacity and financial capacity allows for 10 horses," reads their Web site at http://www.azequinerescue.org/.

Equine Rescue is nursing "Captain," a sorrel gelding found in the desert in June, back to health from injuries and arthritis.

"We are blessed in the Rim County that we have extremely compassionate, responsible horse owners," Justice said.

Unless the owner comes forward with proof of ownership and that the horse strayed, the horse Daugherty is caring for will sold at auction by the ADA, at 4 p.m., Sept. 6, at the Payson Rodeo Arena.

The minimum bid is set to cover the $25 impound fee and approximately $4 per day feed bill.

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