Quality of Life and Euthanasia in Horse Rescue

We have shared our feelings and practices many times over the years. We work hard to be transparent, so that donors and supporters who invest in our work for the horses of Appalachia (and beyond) can be sure they are giving to an organization that is best in alignment with their own belief systems.

If prolonging medical conditions that have limited or no chance of a high quality of life outcome, waiting until a medical condition has taken away all quality of life from a horse or warehousing of unsafe horses that are terrified of human contact or dangerous for human contact after training efforts to address the behaviors are things you feel are good practices, Heart of Phoenix policies would not be in alignment with your values.

The truth is, many people and organizations across the World have a hard time making the call to peacefully allow an animal to pass. Many wait too long. We try hard to not wait. We firmly believe in being a day too soon than a minute late. You may not feel that way, and this is something where a person or organization may feel strongly.

Sometimes, we hear, “You euthanize a lot of horses.” We euthanize the number of horses that are best served by that mercy. And that is a fact. It sometimes is hard. But frankly, we are glad to be able to be there, make the calls that some find too difficult. We do what needs done. We wish more would.

We try very hard to make a call to euthanize before an animal has grossly deteriorated. In our work, by the time a horse comes to us, too often, it has suffered a lot already. Allowing them to get to the point they are scared, unable to move well and struggling is unkind. When it can be avoided, it should be, we believe. We also know that animals, especially prey animals like horses do not show pain very well.

We also always say “YES” to accepting ALL owner surrendered horses that likely need euthanasia when owners cannot, for many reasons, offer that for their horse(s). It is an important offering to our region, and we are proud to be able to stand in the gap and make sure these horses have a humane end.

The AAEP, which governs best practices for equines in the USA says that,

A horse should not have to endure the following:

Continuous or unmanageable pain from a condition that is chronic and incurable.

A medical condition or surgical procedure that has a poor prognosis for a good quality of life.

Continuous analgesic medication and/or box stall confinement for the relief of pain for the rest of its life.

An unmanageable medical or behavioral condition that renders it a hazard to itself or its handlers.

Scientists consider high level animal welfare to have 3 components: the animal functions well, feels well and has the capacity to perform behaviors that are natural. This is accepted as part of the AVMA and AAEP, both which guide animal veterniary practice in the United States. The position of these overseeing bodies is that euthanasia does not harm the animal, rather it ends potential for or current suffering, be it mental or physical. We often remind ourselves, when decisions are hard, that animals are not living with a hope for tomorrow, and they have no future plans. They lives in the now, the today. Let us make sure if today is full of mercy.

The AVMA says, when “welfare is defined solely in terms of an animal’s subjective experience, euthanasia may be warranted even if the animal is not showing signs of suffering at the present time and if there is some commitment to avoid harm. Euthanasia may be considered to be the right course to spare the animal from what is to come

Because we know that to be fair to equines, you cannot look at outward signs of pain because their instinct to hide pain and continue on no matter what is very high. Horses do not “tell us” when it is time. In fact, their very biology does the opposite and hides when it is long past time.

There are uncurable conditions and diseases a horse can have that will one day, sometimes very suddenly, bring a lot of fear and pain. Usually, by the time a horse comes to us, these are already causing trauama, but if not, we do not wait until a horse gets down and can’t get up to make a call. We do not wait until a horse cannot breathe or move or see without pain. We do not stick a horse in a stall, paddock or field knowing he can’t be safely vetted or see a farrier without being dangerous to the people around him or if we know he is always terrorized by that contact over and over.

We absolutely do the go 100 extra miles for a horse medically and with training IF the outcome is a happy, safe horse who is relatively pain free and able to live and act like a horse, and we always will. You can count on that. Where there is a good chance for a quality life, we are going to give it the absolute best shot for each and every horse.

The ASPCA reached out to do an interview with me some years ago, as the founder and director of Heart of Phoenix, to speak on equine euthanasia and what we view as best practices. You can read that interview here.

To read more on the American Academy of Equine Practitioner’s Euthanasia guidelines, click here

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