Pi­lot pro­gram res­cues horses, finds new homes

Richmond Times-Dispatch - - WEATHER -

ED­MOND, Okla. — When Ken Friend learned a job trans­fer meant mov­ing his fam­ily to Cal­i­for­nia from the small farm they’d been liv­ing on in ru­ral Ok­la­homa, he knew he’d have to find new homes for his an­i­mals.

In ad­di­tion to the four dogs Friend had adopted over the 14 years he and his wife lived in Te­cum­seh, they also had four horses who en­joyed free rein on 80 acres of Ok­la­homa pas­ture. Friend man­aged to find homes for two of his dogs and gave away one of his rid­ing horses, but he strug­gled to find a home for his long­time pal, a 28-year-old ap­pen­dix quar­ter horse named Indigo.

“That horse was my buddy,” Friend said. “I rode him for years, and I just couldn’t see giv­ing him to any­body.”

Af­ter months of search­ing with no luck, Friend turned to a new equine res­cue fa­cil­ity op­er­ated by the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for the Pre­ven­tion of Cru­elty to An­i­mals. The non­profit agency says the pi­lot pro­gram is the first of its kind in the U.S. that will ac­cept any horse, no mat­ter its con­di­tion.

Ex­perts say the prob­lem fac­ing equine own­ers like Friend is a grow­ing one across the coun­try, some­times lead­ing to horses starv­ing to death. Just in re­cent months, pros­e­cu­tors filed crim­i­nal charges in cases in­volv­ing cru­elty to horses in Colorado, Illi­nois and Ver­mont. In one case in Penn­syl­va­nia, starv­ing horses with no food were found eat­ing tree roots and fence posts.

Sev­eral years ago, Ok­la­homa ended a 50-year ban on the slaugh­ter of horses, with ad­vo­cates for the change cit­ing the grow­ing sit­u­a­tion of horses be­ing aban­doned in their old age.

The prob­lem can be­come more acute in states with vo­latile economies, like Alaska, New Mex­ico, North Dakota,

Wy­oming or Ok­la­homa, which rely heav­ily on the en­ergy in­dus­try. Some horse own­ers might lose a job or fam­ily in­come, or even grow too old to prop­erly care for a horse, said Dr. Dan Burba, head of the Ok­la­homa State Uni­ver­sity’s Vet­eri­nary Clin­i­cal Sciences Depart­ment.

Lo­cated on gen­tly rolling hills on the out­skirts of the Ok­la­homa City sub­urb of Ed­mond, the pi­lot fa­cil­ity in Ok­la­homa al­ready has taken in more than 50 an­i­mals, mostly horses but also some don­keys, said Thomas Per­sechino, ASPCA’s di­rec­tor of equine wel­fare.

Among the an­i­mals avail­able to be adopted are two don­keys, Al­bert and Yan­kee, minia­tures like Tom­a­hawk and Jack Frost, and about a dozen horses.

Friend’s horse, Indigo, one of the first to be taken into the fa­cil­ity, has been placed with an Ed­mond fam­ily and re­named Amos.

“They send me pic­tures. He’s put on a lit­tle bit of weight, he’s look­ing happy and things are go­ing great,” Friend said from his new home in Cal­i­for­nia. “They stay in touch with me, which I ap­pre­ci­ate, so I know he’s well taken care of.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ka­t­rina Friend works with a horse at Nexus Equine in Ed­mond, Okla., which res­cues horses and finds new homes for them, pro­vid­ing care and train­ing be­fore they are adopted out.

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