Abandoned horse cases on rise

January 2, 2009 6:15:37 PM PST
Stories abound of dogs and cats being left behind in foreclosed homes.

Now, abandoned horses have created a new concern in this troubled economy.

Shea Stewart has been a professional horse trainer for 12 years. Molly and Lucy are just two of the neglected animals she has helped rehabilitate. Now, she's worried horses are becoming the economy's latest victims.

"Everyday I'm getting e-mails about horses who need homes from desperate situations, people losing their homes," she says.

Shea says feed for horses has gone from $8 a bale to $20. And, when people are struggling to make ends meet they face difficult choices.

It is not just individuals giving up horses. I talked to a woman in Aptos who says a ranch in central California has gone into foreclosure. She says it has 16 thoroughbreds, six of them pregnant, and all of them need new homes.

Stewart Ranch has heard stories of people who simply set their horses free sometimes with a note asking anyone who finds them to care for the animal. People in the rescue community say that kind of action is obviously not the right solution.

"They're not designed to live out on their own in the wild anymore, and to contact animal services for assistance if it comes to that," says equine specialist Julie Wood.

Santa Cruz County Animal Services does have a new $5.6 million facility to care for and adopt out unwanted pets. However, the barn used to house larger livestock is in need of repair.

"The barn needs of a lot of work. It's been on the site for a good many years. There's bits and pieces that need to be put back together and reinforced, and also the corrals as well," says Henry Brzezinski with Santa Cruz Animal Services.

That fundraising effort is now underway. A number of non-profit agencies specializing in horse care are also raising awareness and money. They say they need to address a problem they fear could get worse.