Advice for rescuers
I have bought horses from kill pens, and I have to agree that this is not the best way to rescue them (“From Sickness to Health,” EQUUS 473). However, I do not regret for an instant saving these horses from this fate. Once I purchased a herd of yearlings that had been sold directly to a kill buyer. I ended up putting one down, but the rest turned into nice horses.
Another time I purchased a lame horse who should have been humanely euthanatized by his owners rather than sent to auction. He was a dear, sweet horse. I kept him three years until his incurable issues started to approach a crisis, and then I put him down. My veterinarian said if he had been shipped to slaughter he probably would have fallen and been trampled to death before he arrived at the facility. I know some people who rescue horses from kill pens just to put them down immediately to give them a cleaner death.
If you’re tempted to try to rescue a slaughter-bound horse, I’d like you to understand a few important points:
1. These horses are often very sick and might not make it. Strict quarantine procedures must be in effect when you bring one home. That means change your clothes and wash them in bleach, wear gloves and pay attention to your boots. A bleach footbath for your boots is not overkill. You do not want your current horse to get what is spread in these places.
2. You might need a trainer who deals with feral horses. Get a referral for someone with appropriate experience. You don’t want your horse further traumatized by a rough trainer.
3. The published descriptions of the horses may lie. “Halter broke” might mean the horse once saw a halter in the distance. Be prepared.
4. The horses get injured in the pens. Your horse might be fine when you pay for him but can be kicked or injured before you pick him up.
5. You can do everything right and still end up having to put the horse down. This is OK. The idea is to give the horse a dignified and trauma-free end to his life, whether that life is long or short.
6. Even if everything goes well, you might end up with a horse who is of no use to you. Plan for this. If it works out, then consider yourself lucky.
All of that said, if you want to save a horse, I would recommend going to an approved rescue, where the horses have already been quarantined and their level of training is known. When you adopt one of these, the pros then have room to go out and rescue another one. And don’t forget Craigslist and other sale sites. So many free or cheap horses can be purchased before the kill buyers get them. Name withheld upon request