Rescue, in the animal world, means so many things.
Too often the very thing one claims to do actually works against the stated goal, that of real “rescue”.
For us at Heart of Phoenix, rescue means effectively saving as many adoptable horses as possible who can lead a full, pain-free and awesome life within the scope of our space and donor base. We do not want to operate another way.
Heart of Phoenix has sometimes been caught up human emotions and waited too long, true enough, but we do not wish to make this type of mistake. Note, we know to call this a mistake. It is such. I wish we’d never have waited too long. But we have. I am sorry for each time we’ve done so.
HOP has had so many cases come into us that had been denied a simple, humane end, where we could offer a release. And this has been a kindness we were thankful to give. Unfortunately, in the world of rescue supporters, this kind offer doesn’t receive the level of respect I wish it would. It should.
I spent years as a vegan in my life as a young person. I spent over 2 decades as a vegetarian, too. I care so much about kindness, there are too few ways to put it into words. But did you know, the most unkind things I’ve seen in the animal world in America have come through the hands of rescues, rescuers? What does this tell us about how misguided we are? That I, working in rescue, can feel this way?
How can we be working effectively if this is how rescue works so often?
HOP has seen so many things. Gruesome things. Things to make us, as a collective group of people, numb, really. I often wonder if anyone could have, literally, seen more in the equine world in America. We are in the poorest region in the United States. In the most overrun with drugs, as well. We are the largest equine rescue organization the state has ever seen work effectively. We were the first, in some ways, but being first didn’t mean anything until we were effective. We work almost exclusively with animal control. They know they can only seize when the situation has become desperate due to limited funding, limited holding space, limited time in the legal system. We turn away more horses than we can EVER ACCEPT even if we could accept 5 times more.
When you have hundreds of thousands of horses grossly neglected in the USA, piles top of many lame, very senior or untrained horses in need of homes without a place to go, and then you add thousands of Mustangs and ferals without homes and lump them into over 130,000 horses a year being slaughtered. . .how can idealism come into play? At this point, we need to be making effective choices based on a very real issue. Idealism has no place in rescue.
I think idealism is the most harmful thing possible in the rescue world.
What I see are mistakes made over and over to fix/repair/save horses that have extreme behavioral or physical issues highly unlikely to be repaired. Often, these endeavors result in a horse that can only hope for lifetime sanctuary (just so you know, that space doesn’t typically really exist), at best, even that really isn’t a kind answer. In the meantime, thousands of starving, sound horses die or suffer. Untrained horses with potential starve, die or are sent over the border to be on someone’s plate. Rescues turn away animal control pleas for help creating discouragement in the ACO circles, turn away desperate cases that just need food, basic vet care and training while clinging to the forever lame, painful creatures they have or the unsafe animals despite training. We fill up on the unadoptable while the adoptable cases that truly have a chance at a home are turned away. We spend all of our funding on one and turn away 10. Ten adoptable. Ten that could have found homes making room for ten more.
The animals suffer, as result. They live scared, angry, dangerously, painfully. . .and we wait for a miracle that will never come, even if it might, that price is frankly far too high. We assign human feelings, thoughts and desires to the animals we save with the most noble intentions, and we fail a lot, and it seems we are rarely sorry. We get angry when called out for it. We aren’t able to tell anyone what mistakes we’ve made. Sorry would mean we would stop and turn around and go another way. But that doesn’t happen.
We need to STOP!
There are so many horses dying gruesome deaths while we hold onto the horses with 3 feet in the grave. I cannot stand it! That is not and will never be rescue. It is self gratification and a bit cowardly. Harsh words? Sure. It is a harsh world in need of hearing them.
In a perfect world, a sanctuary would be waiting for them all. In a perfect world, a donor would be waiting to fund all the expensive, life long medications needed to manage pain where the pain would “simply” disappear when medicated (but this isn’t what takes place) and the horse has no issues from the medicine. No dangerous horses would exist from trauma or mishandling. Moreover, in this magical world, horses could tell us when enough was enough with words (because horses rarely, if ever, act like they feel, though people swear they know when it is time – sigh), and in the mythical sanctuary, the land would never run out and the donors would never stop giving. The folks running it would never get old, tired or die, either.
But that isn’t the real world. No Unicorns.
Land, Hands and Funding is extremely limited. So very, I sometimes feel almost too sad and hopeless even when I know we have made enough good choices to stay in a very good place within HOP.
What I actually know is if you can’t make hard choices, you’re not really going to save enough lives, folks. You really, if you’re in rescue, should work to save the most possible while helping work on the roots of these issues, too.
We’ve saved a LOT OF savable horses. We stand behind them. too. They were Bright, starving horses, and Horses who might have had issues but were horses we had sincere reason to believe had amazing futures full of potential with a home on the way.
They had a desire to be with people and learn. They had great chances for pain free lives where their recoveries didn’t outweigh their futures. They are, hundreds of them, experiencing amazing lives today because a rescue made hard calls when needed and had space for the savable, the adoptable.
If you save one after 8 weeks of painful treatment that renders him semi lame only to deny saving to 6 lives because of space and cost, did horses win? Did you actually do the right thing?
I guess those are questions for rescues to answer after reflecting on their goals.
But if you’re an onlooker, supporter, sharer and/or donor, I feel you may want to consider what type of rescue you believe in. Then support them, as they are, with all you have to offer.
If you believe in life at any and all cost, if you believe that drawing air into lungs means more than life quality and the number of lives saved, then a lot of rescues may suit you, but if you believe in the most lives saved for your gift and shares, if you believe the highest quality life possible matters most in a real home, if you believe there are conditions, pain and emotional trauma that goes beyond healing, look a bit closer when you give. I can assure you the latter set has been and will always be within HOP (www.wvhorserescue.org).
Horses make up a tiny fraction of animal giving in non profits. We MUST make the most of what we are given. I sincerely believe giving to Equine rescue must experience a huge turn if we are to save the most possible and change things. Education and work at the roots are the ways we change the landscape for equines (and animals in genreal) across not only Appalachia, but America.
You are so right. I contribute to another horse rescue in another state, but their philosophy is quality over quantity and they often purchase or accept horses that just need a kind and loving release from a life of abuse and pain. They’ve (and we who contribute) have also saved many and they’ve recovered and gone to wonderful homes.
For my own critters, my vets and I work closely together and when the animals quality of life suffers, I let them go. It’s never easy but it is the right thing.
So perfectly worded. Thank you. I pray these words, like seeds, find good “soil” and blossom into new philosophy. Carry on, be encouraged. Words carry great power for change and redirection.
Well said. I believe this to be true in all rescue. Horses….dogs….cats. etc….humane is looking at all the possible answers to each question….learning how to let go….wish there was a magic answer when it comes to the right time….
Thank you for posting this blog. We will be sharing it.
Thank you, Jennifer, and you’re welcome
Agree completely. It’s awful to see any animal’s life prolonged just because it can be when there is no real relief in sight. I had to put down my 27 year old part Arab with Cushing’s disease when I *finally* saw him have a gran mal seizure. He’d been having them, but where I was boarding him never did, just the post ictal stage of exhaustion. I realized then what hell he’d been living through and told me vet it was beyond time. What broke my heart was my inability to see what was going on before then. It’s not fair to animals to just keep their bodies going when they have no real hope of being pain free. When they are so broken that nothing we do really makes a difference. Excellent article. I’m a retired RN and have osteoporosis so no more horses for me as not fair to own one when I can no longer ride. I wish more people would read this article and LISTEN to what you are saying.