What would you do?

What would you do if you saw this horse, day after day, as you drove to and from your daily activities? Would you shake your head and drive on by? Curse his owners under your breath? Throw him some food?

We get contacted by citizens concerned about horses like this all the time. They want us to do something to save the horse. After all, we’re a horse rescue, so get in there and rescue!

When Joe Travis contacted us about this horse, all we could do was give him the same advice we give everyone else: Call law enforcement in the horse’s jurisdiction. Joe also reported the horse to his local humane society chapter.

Authorities are required to investigate animal abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, whether the horse receives help depends on whether the agency has the resources, training or desire to do anything about it. If an agency does not hold animal abuse and neglect as a priority, the responding officer will accept whatever story the owner offers as truth and move on without taking action and without follow-up.

In the case of the photo above, the owner said the horse had been ill for a while and that they were planning to take him to be euthanized soon. A law enforcement agency that prioritizes animal rights and provides adequate training will follow up and verify the horse has been humanely euthanized. If not, authorities may require the owner to surrender the horse to a rescue. Then, and only then, can the rescue legally step in and render aid.

If Joe continues to see this poor soul wasting away by the day, all he can do is continue to call law enforcement, the rescue or the animal rights group. The rescue may plead with the owner to surrender the horse and allow them to see to its care. They may also decide to involve the local media.

What you can’t do

Unfortunately, without the owner’s cooperation, there’s very little a rescue can do to save horses that appear to be abused or neglected – no matter how badly we want to, or how badly someone needs to intervene. While we’d love to hook up our trailer and load up every emaciated horse we find (and there are plenty), we’d be spending a lot of time behind bars if we did. Here are some other actions we’d love to take, but don’t:

  • Don’t enter someone else’s property to remove or feed the horse. Taking illegal action – however warranted – can get you shot or arrested.
  • It’s not a good idea to take it upon yourself to start feeding the horse.
    • First of all, if the horse is thin because it’s sick or elderly, feeding it could cause serious problems like colic or founder. Horses have extremely delicate digestive systems, so a horse that’s been starved can have a severe reaction to suddenly being fed, and a horse that’s on a controlled diet could die on the wrong types of feed.
    • Not to mention, if the owner is neglecting the horse and police show up to find it eating, they may mistakenly believe it’s receiving appropriate care.
    • I can’t tell you how many times we see an obviously starved horse, and police report back, “Well, it had access to hay, so there’s nothing we can do.”

What you can do

We encourage you to do exactly what Joe Travis did:

  • Care enough to do something.
  • Without breaking the law or endangering yourself, take pictures of the horse in its environment, including access (or lack of access) to food and water.
    • Take photos of any other horses living with the thin horse, so investigators can determine whether all horses are starved, or just the one that caught your attention.
    • Make note of the date, time and exact location of the horse, as well as any entry points or landmarks.
  • Provide your evidence and statement to law enforcement and tell them you want to be updated on new developments.
  • Reach out to a trusted rescue or animal rights group for guidance and assistance.
  • Continue to monitor the horse to ensure its condition improves. If it doesn’t, contact law enforcement and the rescue again.
  • If the horse continues to suffer and you’re unable to get law enforcement to act, call the local media. Reporters love to be the voice for helpless victims.

The most important thing you can do for a horse or any animal that’s suffering at the hands of a human is to care enough to do something. You may learn that the owners are doing everything they can to help a sick or dying horse. Maybe they just rescued the horse from someone who was abusing or neglecting it, and it’s just beginning its road to recovery. Or you may learn that you’re the horse’s last hope, and that your intervention is the lifeline it needs at exactly the right moment.

What’s a few minutes out of your day when the chance of saving a life is at least 50/50?

Kudos to Joe Travis for using his valuable personal time to help a truly helpless creature. We are these animals’ only voice – and sometimes, their only hope.

If you live in a jurisdiction that could better prioritize its commitment to animal rights cases, let them know the Humane Society offers training for law enforcement and prosecutors responding to animal abuse, neglect and exploitation.