Millstone, Twp, NJ --- Twenty-four years of statistics compiled by a horse adoption organization show that 76 percent of horses adopted for the first time need another adoption, and 49 percent need more than two homes in their lifetime.
"These numbers are a little higher than expected, but not surprising,” stated Judith Bokman, wife of racehorse veterinarian Dr. Stephen Bokman, one of the founders of the Standardbred Retirement Foundation. “Unlike dogs, horses are now living into their thirties. People have lifestyle changes, get divorced, their kids move on to other hobbies, some have financial issues, there are so many reasons a person can no longer provide good care for a horse. Very few organizations take on a horse for life where only the animal's natural passing, or required humane euthanasia by a veterinarian, ends the responsibility of the organization to the horse.”
The SRF keeps track of every horse in their program for the life of the animal. They require semi-annual reports on the condition and the care of the horse from the adopter's veterinarian. Horses adopted are never released from the safety net of the organization. Should an adopter no longer be able to provide good care, the horse must be returned to the SRF. The design of the program made the compilation of the statistics possible.
Paula Campbell, SRF's co-founder, refers to adoption without follow-up as Hospice.
“These numbers show that just finding a home is not the solution. When 76 percent need help beyond their first adopted home and no one is there to provide it, not much is different from the common practice of horse disposal. This is precisely what prompted the growth of adoption programs. Starvation, abuse, neglect and slaughter are just postponed a little longer.”
Years ago a large, national canine feed company launched a program for shelter dogs. The idea seemed very promising, place them with elderly citizens for mutual companionship. But what happened, because there was no follow-up, was that many dogs starved, some were left tied to trees when their owners forgot that they had a pet, others were neglected because they were unable to provide the care, and so the program was ended. Writing a precaution into the design of the program may have been difficult for dogs, but for horses there are ways to do so.
It's a difficult mission when you love them for life like SRF, it is more costly as well, but it is money well spent. A total of 108 horses are now retired with the organization where they live out their lives in pasture. Some are not sound enough for pleasure work, others are elderly and unattractive to adopters, most came back into the program during the course of their lives; had they not, their fate would have been at great risk.
It's not that the concept doesn't work, but so many horses find themselves in the same disturbing situation as before a charity stepped in to help, just at a later date. Adoption programs that do not extend their mission beyond one adoption should feel compelled to do so based on these findings.