Some people are finding it impossible to keep their horses as the economy worsens, leaving owners scrambling to sell or find shelters for their animals. They occasionally wind up setting horses free to fend for themselves.
Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, wants to make it easier for horse owners to get information about shelters and to make sure that the shelters they contact can care for horses properly.
“A lot of people don’t realize when they get a horse how expensive it is, especially during hard economic times, they end up turning animals loose,” Konopnicki said.
He has introduced HB 2178, which would require the state Department of Agriculture to create a registry of approved equine rescue facilities and to make that information available on its Web site and in its offices.
The bill, which has won approval from the House Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee and is heading to the floor, also would establish standards for equine rescue facilities that would be listed on the registry. They would have to be nonprofit organizations that maintain physical conditions and care sufficient for horses.
“A lot of times people don’t realize that it’s not like taking in a dog,” Konopnicki said. “The bill aims to make sure that horse rescue centers know exactly what they’re getting into when they take a horse.”
Officials at the Department of Agriculture didn’t return several phone messages seeking comment on the bill. The department is responsible for seizing neglected or abandoned horses, and animals that aren’t returned to owners are auctioned.
Holly Marino, who heads the Horse Rescue of North Scottsdale, said getting horses in shelters can save them from slaughter. While there are no longer horse slaughterhouses in the U.S., auctioned horses sometimes go to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
“We get horses from all over the country and do our best to get them healthy,” she said. “Horses are social animals and a lot of the psychological trauma they experience is healed just by being in a loving environment with other horses.”
Betty Welton, president of Healing Hearts Animal Sanctuary in Willcox, addressed lawmakers on behalf of the bill, saying that some individuals and organizations wishing to provide shelter to horses aren’t up to the task.
“Well-intentioned people can sometimes get overwhelmed with the cost of caring for horses or the sheer volume of horses in need that we’re seeing today because of the economy,” Welton said.
Healing Hearts currently has 30 horses on its 54-acre property, but it can accommodate 60.
“Certain organizations are better organized and more equipped to handle certain things,” Welton said, “and we want people to have that information before they hand a horse over to someone who may be well intentioned but can’t realistically care for a horse.”