More than 60 starving and neglected horses are in need of foster homes and ultimately adoption as Spokane County faces its largest-ever horse neglect case just as freezing temperatures set in and winter hay costs soar.
It’s never easy for Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service to find suitable homes for rescue horses, which often have special needs on top of an already large financial commitment that can easily total $1,500 annually. Yet after already placing more than 20 horses since July, SCRAPS is struggling to find foster homes – let alone adoptive homes – for this latest batch of animals.
The 63 newly seized horses are temporarily living at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center and a local veterinary clinic. Three previously rescued horses are still waiting for homes. That’s why SCRAPS Director Nancy Hill called the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for help. They had a crew in Spokane by Monday.
“We told them we are completely overwhelmed,” Hill said. “They are committed to staying here 30 days to help with care. They also indicated they could help with an adoption event if we need that to broaden the market.”
Hill also has contacted other equine rescues in the state who are willing and prepared to take some of the most emaciated horses.
So far the community has stepped up with donations of hay, de-wormer and grain. Yet many more are needed, especially since the initial rescue in July has already cost $27,000 and it’s not fully finished.
SCRAPS has seized 93 horses in four different instances since July. One woman, Janice Hickerson, is accused in two of those cases, suspected of starving and neglecting 91 horses – 89 found alive and two dead. The first 26 horses were seized from Hickerson’s property north of Airway Heights July 20. Another 63 were confiscated Nov. 15 from the same property. This time the horses were in even worse condition with no water. Hickerson, who also is known as Janice Long, was gone. She had stopped appearing for her court dates on the July charges. There is an active warrant for her arrest on charges of theft of livestock and first-degree animal cruelty.
Now somebody else must care for these horses. So who should adopt a rescue horse?
Someone realistic about the time, cost and years of care for an animal that can live three decades. Someone who understands that rescue horses are a gamble: Some are feral horses terrified of and disrespectful to humans, others may be youngsters with no training or old horses with special needs. Hardly ever is a rescue horse fit for a child’s first horse – so scrap that dream of adopting a pony to hide under the Christmas tree for your aspiring young rider.
SCRAPS, with the guidance of River’s Wish Animal Sanctuary, where the first group of horses were boarded and cared for until their adoption, recently developed a pre-adoption application to ensure the people adopting have the time, resources and long-term interest to take in a starving and/or neglected horse. The goal is to ensure the horses don’t end up in trouble again.
The questionnaire asks for references, an annual household income of more than $25,000 and details about boarding, training, farriers and veterinarians. There is a $125 adoption fee and the applicant must allow SCRAPS to conduct on-site inspection and follow-up checks.
“It’s imperative that we do our homework to ensure they are placed in a stable and knowledgeable home with people who are willing to make a lifetime commitment to the horse, said Kit Jagoda, director of River’s Wish.
Yet that doesn’t mean people with little horse experience can’t adopt. They just have to show a desire to learn and take advice. River’s Wish helps these people develop relationships with trainers, veterinarians and farriers.
Equine professionals estimate it costs about $1,500 to own one horse per year in the Spokane area, which doesn’t include annual increases in feed costs, unexpected veterinarian bills, training or equipment such as saddles, grooming supplies, a horse trailer and a seemingly never-ending list of other expenses.
“Our primary concerns when adopting out animals is that the adopter is welcoming the animal with full responsibility and commitment,” Jagoda said.
Debbie and Dick Mott fit the description. This month the couple adopted Buddy, a 10-year-old sorrel gelding with a blaze face who was found during the July raid sharing a pen with a dead horse. He’s sweet and kind and Debbie Mott can’t stop taking photos of her new love. Yet she’s realistic. This spring she wants to ride Buddy on the trails. Buddy acts as if he’s had some training, but nobody can tell how much until the first ride. She plans to work with him on the ground a lot before getting in the saddle.
“That will be an interesting moment,” she said with a hesitant laugh.
The images of the starving horses with visible ribs, vertebrae, and hip bones on the TV news this summer horrified Dick Mott, who insisted they do something.
This wasn’t their first adoption. The couple adopted a BLM mustang in 2007. The paperwork said the animal was a 4-year-old mare, when the Motts got it home, the wild horse was actually a gelding. Their veterinarian worried the starving mustang wouldn’t survive the winter. He did, and Debbie Mott broke him, but not without naming him Preacher and paying for professional help the first few rides.
“Every time I would swing on him he would buck like crazy,” Debbie Mott said. “He got me closer to God.”
Sally Schiller, a lifelong horse owner and Humane Evacuation Animal Rescue Team volunteer, adopted Elwood, a young bay pony with a beautiful head and a disaster of a body. Although probably only 5, Elwood has too many conformation problems to ride, so his new job is to keep his buddy, Waylon the thoroughbred, company in the pasture.
“I have a purpose for Elwood or I wouldn’t have kept him,” Schiller said. “It’s too expensive.”
Veterinarian Jerry Ponti regularly deals with starving and neglected horses. SCRAPS brought the sickest of the horses seized Nov. 15 to his Otis Orchards clinic for medical care such as de-worming, vaccinations, dental work and hoof trims. Ponti even adopted a rescue horse a few years ago: an old paint gelding, at least age 33, who now lives comfortably on the pasture in front of the clinic with a paint mare as a companion.
“This horse was the thinnest horse I’d ever seen standing,” said Ponti, who has practiced since 1977. “We call him Grandpa. But he got a little feed in his belly and he thought he was going to breed a mare or two.”
Even though Grandpa is feisty, he’s a gelding. Rescue horses are always gelded before adoption to prevent overpopulation and unwanted foals. Birth control is more difficult for mares, but the River’s Wish contract prevents adopters from breeding them.
Ponti said he’s seen a rise in animal neglect cases in the past six years, mirroring tight economic times and the rising cost of feed. He said another reason is the general public is more educated and willing to call SCRAPS if they see thin horses along the roadside.
“The public really is our set of eyes and ears,” said Nicole Montano, SCRAPS field operations manager. “Anytime you see anything concerning, call us. We just need that phone call to start an investigation to start rescuing these animals.”