Twenty-four years of statistics compiled by the Standardbred Retirement Foundation show that 76 percent of horses adopted for the first time need another adoption, and 49 percent need more than two homes in their lifetime.
“These numbers are a little higher than expected, but not surprising,” stated Judith Bokman, wife of racehorse veterinarian Dr. Stephen Bokman, a SRF founder. “Unlike dogs, horses are now living into their thirties. People have lifestyle changes, get divorced, their kids move on to other hobbies, some have financial issues, there are so many reasons a person can no longer provide good care for a horse. Very few organizations take on a horse for life where only the animal's natural passing, or required humane euthanasia by a veterinarian, ends the responsibility of the organization to the horse.”
The SRF keeps track of every horse in their program for the life of the animal. They require semi-annual reports on the condition and the care of the horse from the adopter's veterinarian. Horses adopted are never released from the safety net of the organization. Should an adopter no longer be able to provide good care, the horse must be returned to the SRF. The design of the program made the compilation of the statistics possible.
Paula Campbell, SRF's co-founder, refers to adoption without follow-up as Hospice.
One Home is Not Enough
“These numbers show that just finding a home is not the solution. When 76 percent need help beyond their first adopted home and no one is there to provide it, not much is different from the common practice of horse disposal. Starvation, abuse, neglect and slaughter are just postponed a little longer.”
Years ago a large, national dog food company launched a program for shelter dogs. The idea seemed very promising: Place them with elderly citizens for mutual companionship. But because there was no follow-up, many dogs starved, some were left tied to trees when their owners forgot that they had a pet, others were neglected because their owners were unable to provide the care, and so the program was ended. Writing a precaution into the design of the program may have been difficult for dogs, but for horses there are ways to do so.
The value of on-going monitoring was demonstrated just days after the report was released when a mare in trouble was removed from a farm in Trot Run, PA due to gross neglect.
The Standardbred Retirement Foundation found a home for Sweet And Speedy Too, then a 3-year-old filly, in 1990. In 1993 the family had the need to return her and a new home was secured within a month. Three years later, once again, after safely enjoying life with an adopter in Pennsylvania she was displaced, but she continued to be protected under the SRF safety net and another well screened home was located.
The now 26-year-old mare that found a loving home with Selena Rodriguez in Trot Run, PA, had been doing well based on the receipt of semi-annual veterinary follow-up forms required by SRF, which indicated that the horse was in great shape and well cared for, enjoying companionship as a trail riding mount.
However, the most recent veterinary follow-up form was past due. SRF’s staff persisted in trying to get the adopter, Rodriguez, to comply. When efforts failed and conversation raised a red flag, a truck and trailer was sent to re-claim the mare who was found with a Henneke body score of 2.
Sweet And Speedy had three homes over the years and was well cared for throughout until finally someone lost interest. “Lack of care for any horse, even in as brief a time as a few weeks to a month, results in a very quick downward spiral. If you don’t feed a horse they don’t live,” says Paula Campbell.
Attorney Jeff Porcaro is enforcing SRF’s contract with this adopter to recover expenses for the rehabilitative care as a gift to the SRF. Once rehabilitated, this mare may need to retire to pasture along with the 108 others SRF is caring for, for life. Her age makes her somewhat unattractive to adopters but efforts will be made to find her another home. SRF cares for them for life, as long as support provides the means to do so.