MIDDLEBURY — In a down economy, humane societies and animal shelters become overburdened with pets that owners can no longer afford to care for. And unwanted horses, some of the largest and most resource-intensive domesticated animals, present significant problems for those shelters.
On Tuesday, March 16, 6:30-8:30 p.m., veterinarians, members of Vermont humane organizations, farriers, horse owners and horse enthusiasts will gather at the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury to discuss local solutions to what some say is an urgent problem nationwide.
“Animal cruelty is a community problem, and it requires a community solution,” said Joanne Bourbeau, senior state director for the Humane Society of the United States.
This meeting is something that Bourbeau has been working toward for some time now with Gina Brown, the owner and founder of Spring Hill Horse Rescue in Clarendon. They hope to set up a horse council, much like one already in place in Oregon. Ideally, this council would establish a statewide cruelty response network and create support systems that address the high cost of caring for horses. These could include a hay bank, a low-cost sterilization program, a foster care program for abused horses and low-cost euthanasia and burial options for aging horses.
“We are looking for a holistic solution,” said Bourbeau.
So far, Bourbeau and Brown have heard from more than 40 people interested in attending the meeting or participating in the horse council.
“I’m hoping that this will be an opportunity for networking and working together,” said Brown.
Brown’s organization recently received a grant to hire a part-time volunteer coordinator, which will allow Spring Hill’s volunteer network to extend its services to a wider area. Brown hopes to find potential volunteers at the meeting.
Bourbeau and Brown decided to hold the meeting in Middlebury after many in the county reported possible horse cruelty at a farm on Route 7 in December. Large animal dealers Bernard and Louis Quesnel originally had intended to sell several horses to a slaughterhouse in Canada, but a number of private parties eventually bought the 11 horses on the farm.
Brown and Bourbeau are hopeful that the case has set the wheels in motion for some enthusiastic action in Addison County, and that it will extend statewide.
“The Quesnel case spurred a lot of people in Addison County to want to talk about how we care for horses,” said Bourbeau.
The Vermont Humane Federation, a network of humane societies in the state, received 335 cruelty complaints in 2009. Of these, horse complaints were the second-most common — 20 percent were horse-related, compared with the 37 percent that concerned dogs. This is not a complete picture of animal cruelty cases in the state — many cases are reported to law enforcement officers instead of to a humane society — but to Bourbeau, it paints a picture of proportions. And while the numbers of unwanted and abused horses is high, dealing with each case individually is difficult.
“We don’t have the resources for horses that we might have for dogs and cats,” Bourbeau said.
If the council takes off, Bourbeau and Brown are hoping it will extend their capacities to care for unwanted and abused horses beyond their separate organizations to an area-wide, and perhaps state-wide, network.
For more information on the council, contact Joanne Bourbeau at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Gina Brown at (802) 775-1098.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.