Pilot program rescues horses, finds new homes
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.”
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.