The request comes following the second straight year of dramatic increases in the number of equines — which includes horses, donkeys and mules — the department has taken in because of abuse or neglect, said Catherine English, division manager for Animal Welfare.
Between the 2008-2009 fiscal year and the 2009-2010 fiscal year, the number of equines taken in increased from 67 to 120, English said. That figure grew during the past fiscal year as well to 141.
right An undernourished horse Sept. 15 at the Oklahoma City Animal Shelter
Those increases are largely thanks to the weak economy, the expensive price of hay thanks to drought and wildfire and more inexperienced people purchasing horses, English said. “There’s actually an overpopulation of horses out there,” she said. “Horses are being turned in more and more to shelters who have livestock facilities. We’ve seen an increase over the last three years, which is pretty dramatic. The rescue groups have seen an influx
of intake over the same period because people are giving up their horses or, in most of our cases, we’re picking up horses on cruelty cases.”
The ASPCA program — known as the Hay Bale-Out — divides around $250,000 among 10 organizations, each of which must submit an application for the grant, English said.
“If they are trying to take care of them, but they’re just not able to give them enough food or quality food, and the animals are dropping weight, if that’s the only thing wrong and officers can identify that as the only problem, they can take advantage of the Hay Bale-Out program,” she said.
The hay would go through the city’s pet food bank, which provides food on a short-term basis to pet owners who are in financial crisis so that the owners do not give up their pets because they can’t afford to feed them, English said. Many of those who do use the program often end up donating food back to the bank once they get back on their feet.
“We don’t know if we’ll even get a grant. There will be a lot of competition for it nationwide,” English said.
“But Texas and Oklahoma are the focus of ASPCA right now because of drought and wildfires and because a lot of hay has gone (up) in smoke.”
In addition to the high price of hay, the recession has also made finding the money to take care of a horse more difficult for many people.They’re just not aware of how much work these animals take.
“There’s no question the economy has impacted horse ownership. Horses are expensive to take care of, and most people are not financially prepared to take care of them, especially if they don’t maintain them on a regular basis,” English said. “What some owners do is, this is one of the things they mark off their list when they start getting strapped financially, and they wind up not taking care of the animal appropriately.”
The Hay Bale-Out program is not for large-scale equine operations, English said, but rather for people who may own a donkey or a couple of horses.
In most equine cases that Oklahoma City Animal Welfare investigates, they find that the owners don’t realize how expensive and how much work it takes to own and care for a horse before they buy them, and they get in over their heads.“They get these animals and they don’t know what they’re doing, and they’re not trying to intentionally be mean to the animal,” English said. “They’re just not aware of how much work these animals take.”
However, Animal Welfare officers have also seen many incidents in which horses essentially have been abandoned, becoming severely emaciated with hooves curling up and barely able to walk.
“When an animal goes downhill and is in bad shape, it’s a deliberate act of cruelty. We take that very seriously. We have zero tolerance for cruelty,” English said. “Some people, though, just get into a little trouble and they mean well and their horses are barely showing a problem. Those are the ones we want to get to and intervene before they go downhill.”
The Animal Welfare Division is also in discussions with equine rescue groups and horse-enthusiasts experienced in horse care to start a mentorship program for inexperienced owners, English said.
It will be weeks before the city knows whether it will receive the ASPCA grant, she said.
Photos by Mark Hancock