Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Matter of Perspective?

 A Matter of Perspective

Recently I stumbled across this article that approaches the very difficult topic of the owner surrendered pet.  Working in horse rescue, we are constantly plied with requests to accept horses who currently reside with an owner who, at some point in time, made a conscious choice to acquire that animal.  Contemplating this very insightful article has left me vacillating wildly on my perception of the surrendered horse and it's owner.

The reasons people give for wanting to give up their horse are as varied as anything you could imagine:  lameness, money, relationship problems, horse is ill, owner is ill, lost interest, horse needs training, rider needs training, etc.  In my rescuer mind, for a long time all of these situations boiled down to one fundamental issue- "I don't want this horse anymore and I want someone else to make it go away, but without me having to feel bad about it."  Please don't judge me too harshly, years of caring for aged horses that someone "loved but sadly could no longer afford" only to drive by said farm a few months later and see newly acquired young and sound horses has made me a touch sour.  It has left me with a pervasive feeling that accepting an owner surrendered horse only serves to reward human irresponsibility, but not only that- it allows the irresponsible human to walk away thinking that they are just fabulous because they gave their horse to a rescue.

Having read the above article, I had a little sit down with myself to reflect on that perception.  What if the owner had not come to this decision lightly?  What if they have tried within their resources to remedy the situation?  What if, due to the extremely subtle nuances that are human communications, they were simply not able to convey how much they DID try in a way that was heard and accepted?  What if they are not capable; emotionally, financially, or even intellectually, to make a better choice?  I have to openly admit that when I speak to people about giving up a horse, 99% of the time the source of their problem and the attached solution is clear as day to me.  They need to invest in either training, retirement, or euthanasia.   But what if the owner is not capable of seeing those choices, or those choices (for whatever reason) are not reasonable to the owner? 

So how does one rectify this internal conflict?   It's a tough call.  Lets interview the sides:

The side of me I'll refer to as JADED sees the surrendering of a horse as nothing more than a pawning off of your problem to someone else.  JADED believes that I should not have to retire the old horse you loved for years and rode until it was lame, because that is your obligation.  JADED believes that if you were dumb enough to buy a horse sight unseen on the internet because "the truck was coming" or it had really pretty spots, then you should have to sleep in the bed you made and deal with your horse... even when that means expensive vet bills, lessons, or training.  And JADED definitely thinks that if you buy a horse on the internet sight unseen and expect it to arrive as a perfectly mannered child safe bomb proof horse as it was described by the seller in Kansapennsiltucky... well, you deserve to get kicked in the head quite honestly.   JADED believes that if your  horse took you to the top of your sport, you should retire it with dignity and not abandon your partner, because you owe that horse and it earned it's retirement with you; not me.  JADED also believes that when we break down our horses in our use of them, we repay them their service and sacrifice with ensuring their lifelong safety.  JADED knows this is all about sacrifice, because JADED has to shoulder the care of three retired and un-rideable horses, who will likely live for many more years. That's why JADED shops at WalMart for new clothes.

But then I also have the side I will call COMPASSION.   COMPASSION understands that sometimes, people get sick or lose control of their own fate, let alone the fate of their animals.  COMPASSION understands that sometimes, despite giving it your all, the nice guy just doesn't win.  COMPASSION understands that some situations can be so wholly overwhelming as to leave someone incapacitated.  COMPASSION understands that I would do anything for my animals, and that includes find them a better home if I became their problem.  COMPASSION understands that just because a horse is one person's trash it doesn't mean it won't be another person's treasure.  COMPASSION understands that some people make poor choices, and that they will never hold themselves accountable for those choices, and that only the horse will suffer from those choices because the humans don't look back.  COMPASSION understands that I can plan and think I have it all figured out.... but life could throw me a curve ball at any time.  COMPASSION knows some of these owners never wanted to be in this circumstance.

So, as a rescuer, how does one weigh saving a horse vs. enabling irresponsible behavior?  If we hear "Oh, I gave my horse to a rescue", are we hearing a congratulatory proclamation of self-righteousness; or are we hearing a sorrowful confession of a deep loss?  

How do you chose to hear those words?   

Christine Hajek, President and Founder
Gentle Giants

Disclaimer:  This post was meant to inspire thoughtful philosophical debate.  It is not indicative of anyone elses thoughts or opinions within Gentle Giants.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Modern Veterinary Ethics... Good, or Bad?

Yes, the Save a Draft Blog is back on the air! I am Jenny Kurtz, and I am the Maryland Hay Bank Coordinator. The Maryland Hay Bank is a program within Gentle Giants Draft Horse Rescue that provides grants of hay to horse owners in Maryland experiencing temporary financial hardships due to job loss or medical issues. 

Today’s blog entry is not specific to Gentle Giants or saving draft horses or even hay.  It is related to horse care.  

With the stories in the news the past few weeks on the vet care provided to Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another I began to wonder if vets take the Hippocratic Oath. After doing some research with google the short answer is No. I was wondering because after reading the NY Times article on 7/12/12 discussing the treatments provided to I’ll Have Another I began to wonder if the injections of joint fluid and powerful pain killers were in the horse’s best interest or in the owner’s and trainer’s best financial interests.  The NY Times article provides some damning information (twenty-four horses die every week on US racetracks and that the US racing industry is the leader in catastrophic horse breakdowns) and concluded that the overuse and misuse of powerful pain killers allows owners and trainers to race unsound horses.

An article on on 7/12/12 expressed an opposite view that all of the care provided to I’ll Have Another was routine and not out of the norm for the racing industry. Maybe that is the problem given the number of thoroughbreds dying on US racetracks.

So with these conflicting views I began to wonder if vets take the Hippocratic Oath of “first do no harm” or something similar. My google search revealed multiple sources that discuss how human doctors take an oath to cure illness first and relieve suffering second while animal doctors’ primary (and sometimes only) obligation is to relieve suffering.  But historically vets relieved suffering not for the animal’s sake but so that the owner could maximize financial gain off the animal’s labor and/or body parts.

Within the past 50 years many veterinarians have shifted their focus to include preventing and curing illnesses but also relieving suffering for the animal’s sake. Since 1969 the American Veterinary Medical Association has adopted the following oath:
                Being admitted to the profession of veterinary medicine,
I solemnly swear to use my scientific knowledge and skills for the benefit of society through the protection of animal health, the relief of animal suffering, the conservation of livestock resources, the promotion of public health, and the advancement of medical knowledge.
I will practice my profession conscientiously, with dignity, and in keeping with the principles of veterinary medical ethics.
I accept as a lifelong obligation the continual improvement of my professional knowledge and competence."
So, were the vets treating I’ll Have Another’s injuries doing so to protect the horse’s health and well being and to relieve his suffering? Or were the vets devising treatments more to protect I’ll Have Another’s owner’s financial well being? Can we even separate the animal’s well being from the owner’s?

My view is it’s complicated. Yes, within the US horse racing industry as whole there are veterinarians who view the owner’s financial well being as paramount and the horse’s well being as secondary and they provide treatment accordingly.  With the number of racetrack deaths there can be no other conclusion that injured horses are being treated just so they can race when they are not fit to do so. Veterinarians are enabling owners and trainers to race unfit horses.

But when looking at the I’ll Have Another situation specifically it can be harder to decide. The horse was scratched from the Belmont when they could have pumped him full of pain killers just get him through for one more race (and it was a big race). Still I am bothered by a 3 year old with osteoarthritis. That does not seem right to me even though the (a magazine dedicated to equine health issues) states the treatment was normal and routine for a racehorse. Like I said, this is complicated when you only look at one horse.

What do you think? Should the US horse racing industry be better regulated to prevent owners from racing unfit horses? Should vets who support owners in racing unfit horses be sanctioned? Should the veterinarian oath be rewritten and/or more strictly enforced?   Can we even enforce an oath to protect the animal’s well being as the first priority when the animal is classified as property?

While this blog was about horse racing and equine vets the same questions can be asked about small animal vets. When a vet docks ears or a tail to achieve the breed standard or declaws a cat is that for animal’s well being or for the owner’s well being?

Friday, March 2, 2012

Land of the Free.... to abuse horses?

This case was not a borderline abuse case.  Animal Control had been present and seeking the cooperation of this breeder for 6 MONTHS.  Because of the sheer overwhelming number of horses, she was given every chance to get her shit together.  The situation progressed from informal check-ins, to a 30 day contract with Animal Control that outlines specifications of care to be met.  15 days into that contract, inspections revealed basic provisions had not been acquired in sufficient quantity, specifically adequate amounts of suitable hay and access to clean water.  Water tubs were filled with filth and slime, holding only inches of algae colored water for herds of 30+ horses.  Yet the hose and hydrant were right there.  I personally lifted the handle....  it worked.  How hard is it to cooperate with filling a bucket? 

7 horses were emaciated to the point of being destroyed on scene.  36 more were deemed critical.  And all 133 present were removed in April 2011. 
Does Ms. Parkinson, who allowed her horses to deteriorate to the above condition, deserve to have her hand patted and be given half of her horses back, continuing to be responsible for their lives?  She walked out her door EVERY SINGLE DAY and saw the horses pictured above.  And she did nothing.  She and her supporters justify this picture as excusable "because these horses were old."  No excuse in the world can justify that body condition.  I don't care if they are old, have cancer, debilitating disease, no teeth, or they have been possessed by the devil or whatever other absurd excuse she wants to offer...   you either provide them with proper care, or you euthanize them.  PERIOD. 

Our Noel is old, too.  She's 36+, and she has NO MOLARS.  She looks like this:
That is what an old horse should look like.  Despite having no molars and some liver and kidney damage from her advanced age, we are able to maintain her condition quite easily.  And if we could not, she would be euthanized.  It doesn't matter how much we love her.  It would be our final kindness.

And I don't want to hear the whole "Oh well she's a draft and they stay fat and {{insert multiple lame excuses for your failure to be a decent human being here}}...." because Noel arrived QUITE neglected.  And she's not an easy keeper.  And look how fast some complicated care like AGE APPROPRIATE FOOD brought her around!
I only add this because, as hard as it is to fathom, there is actually a community of horse enthusiasts who SUPPORT Ms. Parkinson, and despite all photographic and video evidence to the contrary believe she did nothing wrong.  In fact, in their minds she is an innocent and wonderful woman who was framed by all the big bad rescues out there who wanted to "steal" her precious horses...   

I can't roll my eyes hard enough.

But I digress. 

10 of Ms. Parkinson's 133 neglected horses arrived into our care for the duration of her trial.  While here they were vetted, had dietary plans individually created, had intestinal parasite infestations treated, had their dental needs addressed, and had their hoof neglect corrected.  They also were gentled, halter broke, learned to tie, stand for the farrier and vet, and learned to blanket and trailer load.  Our cost?  Just over $38,000 in less than 10 months.  You- our donors- paid that bill with your kindness and generosity. 
So imagine our heart-wrenching dismay when Queen Annes County States Attorney Lance Richardson decided to sign a laughably lenient plea deal of 10 misdemeanor neglect charges, complete with the return of 63 horses.  It's an outrage.

So why do jurisdictions seem to do this, again and again?  That's a complex problem, and its the heart of why I wanted to write this thread.  Gentle Giants isn't the only rescue that is dealing with the heart break of investing time, money, energy, and painfully limited resources to help rehab neglected horses only to have them returned to the perpetrator.  And its not just happening in Maryland.  It's a rampant problem.

Our friends at Hope for Horses recently had this horse deemed "fine" with its owners by Animal Control.   How is that FINE under any circumstance??? 
I don't care what the age, breed, health issue, or any other EXCUSE is...  that is not "FINE".

So why does it happen?  Well, follow the money.  As much as no one likes to admit it, the world runs on money, not good intentions. 

Basically, Queen Annes County had to look at how long this trial would last.  Trials like this can drag on for years and years of appeals.  Who pays to feed these horses during this time?  A burden of one or two, or even three horses isn't that much of a long term strain on a rescue, but what about when you are dealing with a herd of 133?   133 neglected horses overwhelmed the entirety of the resources available by the MD horse rescue community so severely that HSUS had to come in and offer support.  But how long could the support go on?  What would Queen Annes County do when rescues started saying "Hey Queen Annes County, we can't bear this financial burden anymore.  We have to give your horses back".  The tax payers of Queen Annes County don't want to pay for caring for Ms. Parkinsons horses.  And she can't pay for them, or they would have never been in this condition to begin with!

So who pays?  The horses pay.

She pays.
     He Pays.
She Pays.

But I don't see Ms. Parkinson paying.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Which thing in this picture is different?

(so don't get all sensitive)

I included this heading because this is a tough topic to talk about without someone feeling like these types of conversations"attack" beginner riders.  No one should ever "attack" a beginner rider, because we all were one at some point, and we should all remember that.  However, in my years of horse rescue and trying to pair good adoptive matches, I've found again and again that beginners are the hardest type of horse person to help out, and it frequently doesn't matter how nicely you try.  And despite owning horses for over 30 years, I'm still not quite sure why that is.

What confuses me the most about some riders is the apparent inability to recognize when one thing does not look like the other things they are seeing.

I'm the first to admit I'm not a very good rider and lord knows I'm not a confident rider.  I've been riding near my whole life and I still place myself as a lower level intermediate rider.  I take lessons every week.  I will need lessons until the day I die, and even then I'm sure I'll still suck.  I am watching and learning from everyone around me, ALWAYS.  Sometimes that watching is because I see someone doing something that for me is hard, but for them looks effortless.  That's something I want to learn, so I study them and ask questions. Sometimes I learn because I see someone do something I don't ever want to do, so I make a note of that, too. I've always done this and I don't think I will ever stop doing this.  I'm not sure I could if I tried.

So, that being said, why does it seem like so many beginners fail to look around and recognize when one thing in the picture is different? 

If your saddle looks like this sitting on your horse:           

But all your friends saddles look like this sitting on their horses...     Don't you wonder why?  Wouldn't you ask once you noticed that more than a couple saddles didn't fit like yours? 

And, if you go riding in a group and everyone else looks like these folks on their horses:

But you look like this... 

or this......
Don't you wonder why?  And wouldn't you want to try to fix it?  The same thing if you take a short canter with your trail buddies, and they are sitting deep and secure in their saddles looking nice and relaxed, while you fly all about your mount slamming up and down and narrowly escaping death with every stride... ---------------------->

Wouldn't you begin to notice that one thing here is not like the other?  And wouldn't, naturally, you want to find out WHY?

This isn't about giving anyone advice.  It's about why some people fail to look around and NOTICE.  If my horse looks like a hairy Yak, and yours gleams like a shiny new penny...  I'm going to ask you WHY, or at least HOW yours looks different than mine.

So, for discussion... is the issue that beginners don't know what they should be noticing, or is it that they simply truly do not recognize the one thing that is different?  And how do we get that to change?

I'm assuming part of this phenomenon is how one person sees this:
When the reality is this:
And, just for fun, some guys think they look like this:

 And we're all wincing because we see this:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Come See Us at the Maryland Horse World Expo!!

  • Need a fun and inexpensive place to go on the weekend in this cold, yucky winter weather?
  • Have some spare money from the Holidays burning a hole in your pocket you'd like to spend on awesome horsey goodies?
  • Want to see some really cool clinics about horses, ranging from breeds to training to stable management to horsecare?

Want to come and meet some of our beautiful drafts?

Then you need to clear your schedule for this weekend!

From January 20th through the 22nd, the 16th Annual Maryland Horse World Expo will be held (indoors!) at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium.

We will have a booth, flanked by two of our very own gentle giants (who will be rotated throughout the Expo, so you might get to see different ones each day!).  We will be in booths B8 and B9.  Find us on this Interactive Floor Plan!

There will be tons of vendors for absolutely every horse-related thing imaginable! Grooming supplies, training programs, saddles, jewelry, trailers (my fave!!!), custom halters, hoodies, boots, helmets, I could go on FOREVER! (Yes, I am a shopaholic enabler, especially when it comes to horse... ah... "stuff")

There will also be demonstrations, clinics, and educational seminars featuring both locally- and nationally-known trainers, riders, respected horsemen/women, professors, and veterinarians.

The Expo is a HUGE to-do for all horsepeople in the area.  All you have to ask is, "Going to the Expo?" and they immediately know you're talking about THE Expo.

As you can probably tell, I'm soooo EXCITED!!!

We look forward to seeing all of you there!


PS- Amazing FOOD!!!

PPS- Free Parking (sorry, not like Monopoly's "Free Parking", but close enough), and cheap admission fees!