Every rescuer has heard that line. Lots of people balk at rescue applications, contracts and requirements. I recently had a conversation with a friend who was shocked at how many rescues (ours included) have a strict adoption contract that includes cash penalties for major breaches. I can understand the initial reaction of someone who hasn’t worked in rescue. Until you have, you tend to think that most homes are good, and that people who love animals will therefore take good care of those animals.
…and then you get involved in rescue, or you work for animal services, and you see the things that you see. Things like (and all of these are real life examples):
– A former professional athlete with a horse whose founder had gone untreated until his coffin bones protruded through his soles. The owner believed the horse lied down so much because he was “lazy.” He was euthanized.
– A wealthy Southern California couple whose 17 hand ex-racehorse was 300 pounds underweight and nearly dead. He lived at their home and they looked at him every day. He was rescued and recovered.
– A family who were to have been the retirement home for a high level dressage mare. She and a yearling warmblood were found in their yard, skin and bones. Plenty of hay on site that wasn’t put out for the horses because “they had grass.” It was wintertime and the grass was eaten completely down. They were eager to tell us how much they LOVED their horses. The mare was euthanized, the yearling survived.
– An elegant show barn that adopted a lesson horse, failed to feed the horse as instructed and denied noticing the horse had dropped 200 pounds. The horse was returned to the rescue and recovered.
– A wealthy man who was known as a “big name” at the racetrack who had been starving horses at his home farm. Six had to be euthanized. He was sentenced to two years in prison.
ALL of these homes “looked good on paper.” In reality, they were terrible situations in which horses died or almost died – not because of any intent to harm the horse, but because of a lack of knowledge or just plain carelessness. In the last case, the man blamed the situation on workers at his farm – but the court held him responsible despite his excuses.
In short, there are a thousand things that can go wrong and bottom line, after we drop off the horse with you, we are all a little bit scared.
We are scared you won’t watch your kids and we will see him on You Tube being jumped over a picnic table…after we adopted him fully disclosing that he was arthritic and limited to flat work.
We are scared you will be taken in by some charismatic trainer who is abusive to your horse behind your back.
We are scared you won’t maintain the same level of cleanliness and horse care that we see on drop-off day.
We are scared you won’t notice a big, fat tendon and will continue to ride the horse on it.
We are scared you won’t notice your western saddle is sitting on the horse’s withers.
We are scared that, while we saw you ride and love you, you will let someone else ride the horse who has no judgment and will override or abuse the horse. A friend had a rescue horse come back 200 pounds underweight and, for good measure, he had been taught to rear.
We are scared that you will simply move the horse, ignore our attempts to contact you, and we will not know if the horse is alive or dead.
We are scared that you will totally change the feeding program and then dump the horse when it has a corresponding change of behavior.
We are scared that you don’t know what mold looks like.
We are scared that you will let the kids feed to “teach them responsibility” and never check to see how much has been fed or if it has even been done.
We are scared that you will move to a property with barbed wire and figure it’s okay to turn the horses out because, hey, it’s a big field and what are the chances they’ll get hung up? (A rescue friend just took in 2 horses, badly injured from barbed wire…one was dragging a useless hoof behind her. A young mare whose life ended today because of fencing. The other may pull through.)
We are scared that one day, we will be one of the rescues that has learned one of its adopted horses went to slaughter. We are scared we will be that rescuer who has to spend the rest of their life beating themselves up for making the wrong decision.
Rescuers make adoption decisions all the time based upon an application and one or two meetings. You might be the best home in the universe, but we don’t know that – and please don’t hold it against us if we try to verify that by talking to your references and checking you out. We simply can’t take your word because the bad people lie just as convincingly as you tell the truth.
Rescuers understand that you don’t think it’s fair that you can’t have your old horse back after we pulled him out of a kill pen. But we want a home for him where there is no risk of that happening. We have an absolute duty to keep that horse safe to the best of our ability for the rest of his life. This isn’t a shoe store where the goal is to move inventory along to make way for more. The goal is to put horses into homes where they will never fail to receive proper care – ever – and will be euthanized by a vet or keel over from natural causes at a ripe old age.
So when you read our contract, or any rescue’s contract, bear in mind that if you are the good home you say you are, you will never be reminded you signed that contract. You will tag us in your Facebook pics and show us how the horse is doing. We might stop by once in a while, with notice. And if you’re awesome, we will sing your praises from the rooftops! You will get plenty of credit for being awesome. If your circumstances change and you need to return the horse, we will take the horse back cheerfully and do our best to ensure that he finds a new home equally as awesome as you were. But if you starve the horse, or you take him to an auction, we are going to sue you. And we are going to tell the world about it. You need to know that up front. We have a life-long open door policy for returns and a zero tolerance policy for people who won’t use that open door policy to return a horse they cannot afford to keep or simply do not want anymore.
If it seems like adopting a child – well, it is. We take the responsibility of making the right placement just as seriously. If you don’t want to sign a contract, buy a horse. If you like the idea of having lifetime “technical support” and knowing that the horse always has a safe haven to return to if your circumstances change, adopt from a reputable rescue. The choice is yours!