Brandy needed urgent medical care, Rim Rock was abandoned and Priya had been abused. These three, now at Arizona Equine Rescue Organization Inc., represent the fate of many horses in Arizona these days.
“As the budgets get cut, as the economy goes down, horses suffer,” said Soleil Dolce, the group’s vice president.
Now those who can’t afford to keep their horses and public officials dealing with abandoned animals can find Arizona Equine Rescue on a state-sanctioned list of rescue organizations.
The Equine Rescue Registry, run by the Arizona Department of Agriculture, was approved by the Legislature in 2009 after lobbying from the Arizona Horse Council and the equine rescue community to set up a public list of reputable organizations.
Dolce’s group was the first to apply.
“For [the state], having a rescue registry where there is some sort of review to make sure the rescues are operating in a respectable fashion is critical,” she said. “Then, when they refer, they can refer more confidently.”
Chip Wilson, vice president of the Arizona Horse Council, said the registry will help owners differentiate “true rescues” from “fly-by-night” organizations that bill themselves as shelters. The latter, he said, will turn around and sell horses left in their care – some even to slaughterhouses.
Applicants for the registry must be nonprofit organizations and provide a veterinarian’s affirmation that they meet health and safety standards.
Dolce said horse rescues are in high demand right now, as many owners can’t pay the $3,000 to $6,000 a year required to care for a horse. Her organization planned to house up to eight rescued horses here, but it has twice that number today.
“The more the foreclosures go up, the more our phone calls go up,” she said.
Here horses receive medical treatment, rehabilitation and shelter until they are placed with new owners.
But Arizona Equine Rescue’s first goal, Dolce said, is helping struggling owners find ways to keep their horses because selling is nearly impossible in an already saturated market. The facility will absorb the cost for one-time medical treatments or food expenses to assist owners, she said.
“As much as possible for us, we try to assist people with keeping their horse where it makes sense,” she said.
John Hunt, associate director of animal services for the Department of Agriculture, said the registry will help reduce instances of horses being turned loose by owners when they become too much of a burden.
“We wanted the public to know that equine rescue is available,” he said.
Roughly one-third of the 1,700 stray livestock calls received by the department every year on average are for horses. In 2008, that number rose to more than 2,000, with horses being the main reason for the spike, Hunt said.
By law the department has seven days to locate an owner for any stray livestock. If one can’t be found, the department may auction off the animals. Hunt said the registry provides quality places to keep stray animals while livestock officers search for an owner or new home.
Hunt said he doesn’t know how many organizations will join the registry, but he noted that 20 to 30 groups lobbied for it.
Dolce said it doesn’t matter how many rescues join as long as the state and public have resources to help with the cost of caring for neglected animals.
“The registry only has to have a couple of rescues to make it a success,” she said.
Requirements for organizations to qualify for the registry:
• Be a nonprofit
• Meet standards for physical condition of facility
• Meet standards for equine care and treatment
• Provide veterinarian’s recommendation
• Pay $75 registration fee
• Renew annually