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Help for Horses: Days End Farm Comes to Aid of Abused Equines

Allan and Kathleen Schwartz founded Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Inc., in 1989, and since then, the Maryland organization has been committed to rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out equines as well as educating professionals and the public. Allan Schwartz is vice president of the farm, which works with animal control agencies to give shelter to abused horses and help prosecute offenders. In this excerpted interview, he spoke with staff writer Katina Antoniades about the work of Days End and offered advice for others who want to help horses.

Allan and Kathleen Schwartz founded Days End Farm Horse Rescue, Inc., in 1989, and since then, the Maryland organization has been committed to rescuing, rehabilitating, and adopting out equines as well as educating professionals and the public. Allan Schwartz is vice president of the farm, which works with animal control agencies to give shelter to abused horses and help prosecute offenders. In this excerpted interview, he spoke with staff writer Katina Antoniades about the work of Days End and offered advice for others who want to help horses.

© Katina Antoniades

Horses seem to have such a unique status among animals—you can’t generalize by saying they’re just companion animals, or just farm animals, or just sport animals. What kinds of challenges does that create for horse rescue?
AS: I think that some of the public opinion is moving more towards classifying [horses as companion animals], but that’s a perception. The reality is that horses are still considered livestock. Until some of that changes, it makes it a little bit difficult to prosecute some of these cases. Whether it’s being raised for production, or it’s a pet, or just out in the field because you need the tax break, we feel there should still be proper care, proper feed, proper nutrition, proper vet care, etc.

Can you describe your adoption procedures?
AS: We sometimes get accused of being a little too strict. Let’s say you want to adopt a horse from us. You would set up an appointment with [farm manager] Brooke [Vrany]; she would make sure that you get along with the animal and the animal gets along with you. We would require that you come up at least a minimum of two more times and work with the animal. If you’re working with a trainer, we encourage you to have the trainer do an evaluation. Although the horse has been vetted by our vet, we still encourage you to have your vet do a vet check. We have a [four-page] questionnaire. We do follow-ups with your references. If all that process goes through, we go out and do a barn check. We go out for three years afterwards and do follow-up visits, and we can show up at pretty much any time. Generally, what we’ll do is give you a call in the morning and tell you that we’re on our way out to check the animal— we don’t want to go and not have somebody there. If at the end of three years, there have never been any issues, questions, problems, anything, you can write to our board of directors and request that we sign over title to the animal to you. At any point in time, we’ll always take the animal back. The horse is always welcome to come back here.

You said you’ve received criticism that it’s too strict—have you ever thought of making it more lenient?
AS: No. I don’t want this to sound wrong, but we don’t care what people think. We want them to think the best of us, but our programs, our goals, our missions are all set up for what’s in the animals’ best interest. And by doing that, we feel like we’re going to match what’s in people’s best interests. If people feel that they don’t want to have us come out and do the follow-up visits, etc., then it’s not our problem.

© Katina Antoniades

What about the horses who aren’t made available for adoption?
AS: Pretty much all the horses that we have are always made available, but we keep up to six horses that we call permanent residents. They are what we call our program horses. We do hands-on training a couple times a year for animal control officers, where we show them how to lead a horse, how to halter a horse, how to do body-condition scoring on a horse, and various other things. We also keep those horses for when we do our education for the general public: a first-time horse owners’ clinic. All of the other horses that we have, regardless of anything, are put up for adoption. We have our regular adoptions, which is horses that we’ve rehabilitated, have been vetted, and generally either have no issues or might need some retraining. We also have a program that we started ten years ago, our SOS program. It’s called Save Our Seniors or medically challenged horses. We’ll have a lot of horses here that might have medical problems, or because of past issues they’re not rideable. But realizing that horses are herd animals and they like to be around other horses, we make those horses available for adoption as companions.

What are the best ways animal control officers or cruelty investigators can educate themselves about horse cruelty and its prevention?
AS: One of the best things is to educate themselves on what constitutes proper care. Maryland law states that the animals must have adequate food, shelter, water, etc., but there was never any real clarification of what that meant. We’d go out and find somebody that might have a bathtub that had some water in it that was basically rainwater and had dead bugs and scum floating on it, but you’d go to court, and the judge would say, “Was there water?” and you’d have to say, “Yeah, there was water; it wasn’t drinkable, but there was water.” We worked together with a few other people and the Maryland Horse Council and came up with basic definitions of what proper care meant. Like water, for instance. We, through the horse council and through the Maryland horse community, find that to mean clean, potable water, free of contaminants, available for all equines at all times—or as directed by a veterinarian. So now when we go out and find that it’s scummy water—now we can say, this is not falling under what’s considered minimal care standards in the state of Maryland, and therefore you’re in violation. So if animal control officers learn to look for the whole scenario and then find veterinarians that would be willing to work with them to go out and help them do the investigations, I think that might be one of the keys to getting these cases prosecuted.

Is there anything that you didn’t know when you first started that over the years you’ve learned and want to pass on to other people?
AS: There’s tons of stuff we didn’t know. I mean, we had no clue what we were doing when we first started. We had great intentions. I guess the best thing that happened is that we got really lucky. We met some very phenomenal people along the way who helped give us guidance. I guess the best thing about us is that we were willing and able to listen and learn from them. Doing these cases is essentially a team effort—it’s all of us working together, it’s no one person that does all this. It’s animal control officers and Days End Farm, and Days End Farm’s employees and volunteers and donors. It’s all of us working together to make sure that these animals get the best care. There are classes out there—Code 3 Associates puts on an equine investigators academy. It’s a weeklong school for animal control officers; it’s a “soup to nuts” sort of thing. It goes over the cruelty investigations, body-condition scoring; it teaches you how to do the cardiac recovery index and how to take heart rates and temperatures and respiration. It’s a phenomenal class, and for any animal control officers, if they’re doing horse investigations, cruelty investigations on any livestock, it’s a class they shouldn’t be without.

What kinds of equipment or supplies should ACOs have in their trucks in case they run into a horse in danger? What are the best, basic things?
AS: Some of the basic things are a lead shank and a halter so they can help hold the horse or contain it. A weight tape can help them do a rudimentary sort of weight on the horse to find out if it’s of the proper weight for its size. A hoof pick. But again, without knowing how to use these tools, it’s sort of a moot point. So they need to know what to look for; they should also know the questions to ask, like: Where’s your hay? Where’s your grain? How much do you have? How often do you deworm your horse? Do you have shelter for it? Just knowing the basic questions to ask will help you form a picture of the generalized care that that animal’s getting.

What are some of the biggest misconceptions about horses or about horse rescue that you’ve run into over the years?
AS: It’s a hot topic nowadays, and it seems like horse rescues are popping up everywhere. One of the things that people need to look at is, there’s different terms of what horse rescue is. What we look at is, is what you’re doing in the animals’ best welfare? We see a lot of these places that will go around to auctions and buy up these skinny horses and turn around and place them in a home, without doing any rehab or doing anything for them. A lot of times, these horses go to people that have well-meaning intentions but … the horses continue to languish for months and months because people don’t know how to re-feed a starved horse. And again, this is sort of just our opinion, but if you’re going to do some of this work, we feel that maybe before you adopt the horses out to somebody that you should at least be able to give them a plan, an idea, or like we do, fully rehabilitate the horse before it goes out so that it isin good shape. It’s more costly to do it that way, but again I think looking out for the animals’ best welfare is what you’re doing there. The other push that we’re working on locally is there’s no standards out there for horse rescues; anybody can say they’re a horse rescue. The AAEP—American Association of Equine Practitioners— came up with guidelines for horse rescues. I think there needs to be a standard of care for horse rescues as well as for horse owners or the general public. We need to be held to an accountable standard, which to this point has never really been there—and that’s evidenced by the fact that there’s been a lot of rescues that have been investigated by animal control and found to be deficient in their care for the horses that they’re allegedly rescuing. I think the biggest thing the public needs to do is educate themselves about who they’re dealing with; just don’t blindly send money to somebody because they say they do all these wonderful things. Check them out.

Can you talk a little bit about some of your major goals for Days End?
AS: I’d say the biggest tool that we have to help prevent abuse is the education programs. We hope to set up a model facility where we might be able to have internships, not only for vet students but for people that might be interested in starting a horse rescue. We could have training courses here for animal control officers, humane society officers. We hope to be able to set up a course where we can teach [large animal rescue] to not only animal control officers but fire and rescue, disaster personnel—working with HSUS’s DART [Disaster Animal Rescue Team] members and other organizations. And what we’d envision is that other people could set them up in various places around the country. A lot of people look at what we do and think rescues are competition. We sort of approach it from the fact that if you’re doing everything for the animals’ best interests, we have no competition; we’re all working for the same goal. So there should be no worries about egos, there should be no worries about, gee, this person’s doing something and I should be doing it. Take our ideas and run with them—if you do something better than us, tell us. We can all better ourselves at any given time. What I like to tell people is every day you wake up, you have an opportunity to learn something new, so avail yourself of that opportunity. Just because we’ve done something for 20 years doesn’t mean we’ve done it right for 20 years; if somebody can show us a better way, by all means, do it.

RESOURCES

Basic Guidelines for Operating an Equine Rescue or Retirement Facility

AAEP Care Guidelines for Equine Rescue and Retirement Facilities

Code 3 Associates’ Equine Investigations Academy

Investigating Equine Cruelty,” Animal Sheltering, May-June 2000

 

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