When “euthanasia” is not a dirty word
As a rescue organization, our mission is to help those in need. We want to save lives and provide second chances. Our model is not based on how much money we can make off an animal or how much an animal is worth on the open market. Rather, it is based on the value of a life and providing a new life of quality. It is about giving a horse a second chance, whether retiring from a racing career or rescued out of a neglectful situation.
This is why we will carefully re-feed the starvation case, whether he is 6 years old like Sean Connery or closer to 30 like Jareth. This is why we will attend wounds and provide training for a pet pony like Rosie, who came to us with an infected eye and stayed with us for more than 3 years awaiting her forever. We do not assign horses deadlines, and we do not rank their behaviors on a scale that they “pass” in order to earn their right to life.
If they need training, we provide it – via volunteers or professionals. If they need medical care, we consult our veterinarians for the best options and outcomes. When quality of life comes into question, then and only then do we discuss euthanasia.
And we’ve had these difficult discussions with people who want to surrender their horses, up to an including providing euthanasia via our veterinarian when necessary. You see, it is much better for a horse to remain with a loving home whenever possible. We have bridged the gap for a couple of months of hay or an annual veterinary visit or a castration for an owner in need. But – a private home can likely provide much more extensive veterinary care than a rescue can. We can’t afford to MRI your lame horse and find out what’s happening in a complex soft-tissue injury; we can shoot a few radiographs, do chiropractic and supportive therapies, and have our farrier address an issue through shoeing. We can’t perform miracles outside of routine care and veterinary medicine. When a horse is no longer comfortable living life in the field, when their “bad” days outnumber their “good” – the necessary and responsible answer is humane euthanasia.
Your neurological horse that your vet has told you is a danger to ride because she falls down would be just as dangerous for our volunteers to handle – or more so, because you already know what a bad day looks like, but they have to learn.
Experience has shown us that your fully blind horse will not do well transitioning to a foster home and then transitioning again if an adopter can be found. In general, we are not equipped to take a fully-blind horse to a foster farm and hope that it will settle in; we do not believe that moving a blind horse from the place and companions it knows is fair in any way. Blind horses may run through fences in panic and have an extremely difficult time integrating with a new companion; they may collide with walls suffering catastrophic injury, or colic in their fright.
The feral horse that has run wild on your property for 15 years should have been caught and trained when you bought the property – he shouldn’t just become a concern now that you’ve sold the place. Think through the process: you’re asking someone to volunteer to come out, set up a catch pen, run the horse into the pen, then onto their trailer, risk them and the horse getting hurt in the process…then, if the horse is safely caught and transported without injury, the rescue will need to get the horse safe enough to vet and farrier (and maybe geld), and then invest thousands into professional training – all of which could have been avoided, and all of which is logistically and cost prohibitive for a small rescue organization who really wants to help but realistically, heartbreakingly, most likely cannot. Horses like this end up shipping to slaughter for price-per-pound because of human irresponsibility, and the sad reality is that euthanasia is often the only other option. (For example, even if he can be safely caught without injury, a horse that’s run wild on rich Tennessee cow pasture with zero hoof care in its life is likely chronically laminitic and isn’t able to live pain-free regardless of how much effort is put forth in trying to ‘save’ him.)
The reality in the world we live in, is that in these scenarios, euthanasia is the kindest answer. It’s the safest answer to ensure the horse won’t end up in the auction cycle. And it’s the responsible answer for an owner who cannot keep, care for or invest in a special-needs animal anymore.