Increase in seized, surrendered horses puts strain on Whatcom Humane Society

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJanuary 6, 2014 

EVERSON - When Knight came to the Whatcom Humane Society in October 2013, he was a sad sight.

Extremely emaciated and with cracked, overgrown hooves, the horse was found tied to a concrete brick with little room to move and no access to food, water or shelter at a property in eastern Whatcom County, said Laura Clark, executive director of the humane society.

Since he came to the humane society's farm in Everson, Knight has gained 100 pounds - though he's still underweight - and is being adopted by a humane society volunteer, a happy ending that not all seized horses get.

The humane society received 31 horses in 2013; 13 of those horses were seized, nine were surrendered by their owners and nine were strays.

In that time, only seven horses were adopted out.

"We often talk about pet overpopulation with dogs and cats; this is pet overpopulation with horses," Clark said. "There are too many horses and not enough good homes for them."

The number of horses received in 2013 is the same as the previous two years put together. Clark is worried that the number of horses put in humane society care will only continue to go up as the winter goes on.

"2013 certainly could be described as the year of the horse. We'll see what 2014 brings," Clark said. "The reality for us is that we are finding when horses become inconvenient or too expensive for owners to have, they're calling us."

With increases in the costs of feed and boarding, and a bad market for selling horses, more people are finding themselves unable to manage the horses in their care, said Jesse Johnson, caregiver at the humane society farm, on 10 acres in Everson owned by a donor.

"People will get them and not realize how much money it takes to give them basic care," she said.

Most of the horses the humane society gets have issues, Clark said. At the very least they're usually underweight, and some have hoof problems, worms, lice and dental issues. Some are under-socialized and need training.

Caring for so many horses is spreading the humane society's resources thin, Clark said. In 2013, the humane society spent more than $5,600 on food, more than $3,800 on supplies, more than $5,300 on veterinary costs and $5,700 on boarding costs when the barn is full.

"There is nothing cheap about owning a horse," she said.

The flood of unwanted horses extends beyond Whatcom County. Clark said she's reached out to rescue groups throughout the region for housing, but they're being inundated by calls for help and are full.

Though people usually think of cats and dogs when they think of the humane society, Clark hopes that people will turn to the organization when they're looking for horses. With the number of horses in the organization's care, though, staff has had to discuss the possibility of euthanasia.

"It's never an easy decision, and it's never a decision we make lightly," she said. "The reality is there's just too many (horses) and not enough homes and not enough resources, and it's a very sad reality."

HOW TO HELP

For more information about the Whatcom Humane Society and how to volunteer, donate or adopt animals, go to whatcomhumane.org or email farm@whatcomhumane.org.

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