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A home for horses, too

Posted: April 9, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 9, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Registered Veterinary Technician Kathy Baxter administers a dose of worm medicine to a horse.

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The former racehorse - ribs and hips protruding through his skin - limped on its front leg as it moved to snatch more hay from its bucket at the Castaic Animal Shelter.

While most people think of cats and dogs when they think of animals in need of rescue, the Castaic shelter is often home to rescued hoofed animals - including horses, sheep, cows and donkeys.

Four horses and a small cow were waiting for homes during a recent visit to the shelter.

The unnamed thoroughbred is not alone in its plight as horse owners throughout Southern California struggle to keep up with rising hay prices and other horse-ownership costs.

Part of the reason for neglect is the poor economy and rising hay prices, experts say.

But another is a law that was intended to keep horses safe. It's backfired.

A law passed in 2006 prohibited the use of federal funds to inspect horses destined for food - effectively prohibiting domestic slaughter and leading to a steep increase in horse neglect cases, according to a June 2011 report from the Government Accountability Office.

Congress wound up reversing its decision with a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in November 2011, but horse slaughter has not yet resumed in the United States.

Horse owners who used to be able to send their ailing and elderly horses to slaughter in the United States now must ship them to slaughter over greater distances to Mexico or Canada, euthanize them at a cost of hundreds of dollars, or abandon them.

Often, the result is starving horses as hay prices rise and the value of horses drops.

Ownership costs

During a recent scan of advertisements, three horses in the Agua Dulce and Acton areas were listed for $1 or less. The Castaic shelter offers horses for adoption for about $100.

"Buying the horse is the cheap part," said Kathy Baxter, a registered veterinary technician who cares for the horses at the Castaic Animal Shelter. "It's the upkeep, the vet, (maintenance of) the feet that cost the most money."

Feeding and caring for a horse can cost about $5,000 a year, Baxter estimated.

"Hay has gone up," Baxter said. "Everything has gone up. A lot of people have downsized."

Horse rescues

Three out of the four horses at the Castaic shelter on a recent day in March were retired racehorses, Baxter said. All four were geldings - males that have been sterilized - and thus cannot be used for breeding.

The shelter has received rescued horses from around the Los Angeles area because it's one of the few shelters that has horse facilities.

The horses are cared for by farriers, or blacksmiths, who trim the their hooves every six to eight weeks. Some are veterinarians, some volunteers, and some staff.

"We put thousands of dollars into these horses, and then we get $100 back," Baxter said.

The horses at the shelter range from a 5-year-old thoroughbred to a mixed Arabian and quarter horse in its 20s, Baxter said.

When the horses come in, most of them are emaciated and can have sores and problems with their feet - the most critical and often the weakest part of a horse's anatomy.

Horses can take eight to 10 months to get back to their normal weight after being neglected, Baxter said.

Before the horses can be adopted, the property or stable that will be boarding the horse has to be inspected to make sure it's safe for the animal.

Success stories

Sapphire, a 16-year-old thoroughbred, was found abandoned, tied to a post in Carson. Majestic, a 7-year-old thoroughbred, was found wandering near Sierra Highway.

Both were housed at the Castaic Animal Shelter and both found homes with Valencia resident Adriane Kristo-Reinking last year.

"They were kind of like little diamonds in the rough, which is why we gave them those names," Kristo-Reinking said.

She said that her family loves both adopted horses. They are boarded at a stable in Saugus.

"We encourage people to adopt more horses because you never know what you'll find," Kristo-Reinking said.

For an abandoned quarter horse dubbed Joey, found near Sierra Highway, the Castaic Animal Shelter was a lifesaver.

Jody Buciak, the owner of a boarding stable in Chatsworth, decided to adopt Joey about three months ago after someone called her for help.

When Buciak got him, he was nervous and half-starved, she said.

Since she adopted him, he's put on weight, and one of her boarders is thinking about taking him in.

She said she's seen a lot of neglect during the past few years and she just wanted to do what she could to help.

"You do what you can," Buciak said.





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