What to do if you suspect an at-risk horse
Please read all of the following before taking action. There are many scenarios and taking the proper steps can mean the difference between helping an animal long term and putting it in jeopardy again.
PLEASE KEEP IN MIND that animals can appear to be in poor condition but are being properly cared for with a medical condition that makes them look poor. Take in the whole picture when determining if it is a situation of concern and talk to the owner if possible before calling the authorities. If you see indicators that all the other animals are being cared for on the property and there is only one that looks poorly, it is likely an aging or sick animal and not necessarily neglect.
The first and best option, where possible, is owner education or referrals to the correct source for assistance.
Things you can do if you see a case of at-risk or neglect:
- Familiarize yourself with the California Statutes on animal cruelty. UC Davis has just published a book to assist Law Enforcement to determine standards of care. http://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/ceh/sp_standards.cfm
- If possible try to approach the owner and ask if you can help in any way. Do not put the owner on the defensive by saying they are abusing or neglecting their animal . . . this will make the situation worse! Do not approach an owner if you feel your well-being might be threatened.
- If the owner shows a pattern of at-risk/neglect with multiple animals involved, contact authorities IMMEDIATELY and do not approach the owner.
- DO NOT feed, doctor or otherwise interact with the animal. This opens you up to trespassing charges and possible liabilities that will not help the situation. If you provide care when authorities show up the animal will have care.
- DO NOT enter another person’s property without permission.
Things to look for that indicate at-risk or neglect:
o The animal does not have access to food or water on a regular basis.
o The animal seems lethargic or is lying down for long periods of time.
o The animal’s coat seems excessively shaggy or patchy with no shine, indicating malnourishment.
o The animal’s feet are extremely long so that the toes are curling up.
o The animal is not able to bear weight on one leg or is limping excessively (limping can indicate a known injury so be sure to look at the entire situation.)
o The animal’s ribs or hip bones are showing
o The animal is bleeding or has a significant injury that is not being treated promptly.
Things that are NOT LEGALLY considered at-risk or neglect – Please DO NOT call authorities in these situations:
o An otherwise healthy animal being left alone.
o An overweight animal.
o An animal that is not blanketed in cold weather.
o An otherwise healthy animal that is not vaccinated or dewormed.
o An otherwise healthy animal that does not have a lot of feed onsite (the amount of food does not determine level of care).
o An animal in an outdoor stall.
o An otherwise healthy animal that is in a small area or stall.
o A hooved animal with hooves that have some chips or cracks, but are not excessively long or oddly shaped and the horse is comfortably standing and moving.
Animal neglect can be a felony charge. Be sure to look at the California Statutes to fully understand the state definition of what constitutes At-risk or neglect. Remember that your ultimate goal is the well-being of the animal and the best way to achieve that is to help the owner get resources for the animal, or involve the authorities if you feel it is a dangerous situation. There is a known pattern of animal At-risk with other forms of violence against people, so be cautious when getting involved and defer to authorities who are experts if you feel there is any danger to yourself or an animal.
If you see a horse (or horses) that are at-risk or neglected and the owner does not seem co-operative . . . please be aware that the ONLY officials are authorized to remove an animal without the owner’s permission. Rescue groups or individuals that remove an animal without owner consent are trespassing and stealing unless they go through the legal process to seize a horse. Please involve proper authorities in order to protect the animal from being returned to that situation.