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What do we do with them all? A euthanasia debate

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  • What do we do with them all? A euthanasia debate

    CANTER (and I bet most rehoming groups) have been getting inundated with horse donation inquiries recently--more so than usual. Most of these horses are severely injured, or useful for pasture ornaments only. I know that my group (CANTER Mid Atlantic) has stopped taking horses from racetracks other than Delaware Park completely due to a lack of funding and I would imagine many are in the same boat, and even from Delaware we can take only two injured horses at any given time due to finances, manpower and room.

    The question is, what do we do with these broken horses?? There are NO homes for them it seems. We have sound horses we cannot giveaway because they aren't 16.2, male, and showing at 3'. Very, very frustrating, but also a really big problem.

    I've thought long about the issue as there are many facets. Euthanasia is expensive--really, really expensive by the time you factor in renderer pickup.
    It's almost like Trainers/owners seem to believe that horses are all "fixable" if they just get to the right home--or they don't want to deal with the finality of putting one down. I've rarely heard of horses being euth'd at the track except in emergencies--is it done for non-emergencies?

    We've had horses donated to us that were said to be "sound" or "fine with some layoff", but x-rays reveal what appears to be a pipe bomb having gone off in the joints. This just makes us feel like dumping grounds for owner/trainer problems, and it doesn't seem fair. So we've now got the responsibility to make the decision, and to hold the end of the lead rope and watch them hit the ground dead, and pay for the heartache in mental trauma AND cash!

    Do any tracks offer low-cost euthanasia programs?

    So, what say you? What do we do with these animals?

    Obviously this doesn't apply across the board. I know some AMAZING trainers, some AMAZING owners who always--no matter the cost--do right by their animals. Lots don't. Worse yet, lots thing that just getting them out of sight absolves them of responsibility.

    Very very frustrating.

  • #2
    Personally, I would rather euthanize a young horse with a chronic or career-ending injury than risk him falling into neglectful hands.

    I've long wished that the Maryland Veterinary Medical Association would institute a low-cost equine euthanasia clinic. Euthanasia and disposal of horses is expensive, but there can be lower-cost solutions (composting for disposal, for instance). As a vet tech, I'd happily volunteer for such an event, but the organizational aspects are pretty overwhelming. For instance, by having it in a central location, you are depending on people to be able to get their horses to the site. There's also traffic issues, with numerous trailers coming in, and you would have to either compost on-site or have heavy equipment ready to remove bodies.
    Life would be infinitely better if pinatas suddenly appeared throughout the day.


    • #3
      I do think that some trainers see "re-homing" agencies as dumping grounds to help them avaoid paying to put a horse down. I know that most places like CANTER etc are torn because placing unsound/pasture sound horses is very hard, but euth'ing is very expensive.
      I often get emails asking for help for some poor animal that requires surgery to make a horse pasture sound and I would honestly rather donate to the horse's euthanasia. I know it sounds harsh but I'd rather see "rescues" focus on horses that can be rehomed an but to use. it's one thing if my own horse need surgery to make him pasture sound and I want to pay it, it's another to beg for help to save a rescue for a life on the dole as a pasture puff.
      I agree with the OP that if tracks offered low cost euth/removal for badly crippled horses, the rescues/rehomers would get some relief and be able to put their limited resources into horses that have a future as a working animal.
      F O.B
      Resident racing historian ~~~ Re-riders Clique
      Founder of the Mighty Thoroughbred Clique


      • #4
        Most tracks I know of have the policy that if the horse was injured during a race & did NOT leave the grounds -- then they will put it down for free within a day or two after the race & remove it. BUT -- if the horse is injured during a race & needs to be put down a week or month later OR if the horse left to a farm (or different location) right after the race the track charges approx. $300 to put it down.

        This is the main reason why you would see most trainers before sending to auction as they get the $300 instead of having to pay $300 as I'd say more than half the trainers at a low-end track are broke & would rather have the horse out of site & not think about what's going to happen (kill) than PAY the money & watch the horse put to sleep. Sad but true.

        I agree tracks should put in some kind of policy to help with euth. It makes no sense to what that $300 goes to as most dump sites don't even charge $50 for removal. I guess gas & labor....

        Renderers are EXPENSIVE for pick-up. Most tracks I know of take them to the local county dump that is considerably cheaper. I know some places (renderers) won't take horses that have been on the track because of the drugs used....

        Also wanted to add:... a few years ago a good friend of mine had a horse that injured his knee pretty bad in a race. Vanned home dead lame. They took the horse immediately as an emergency call to a vet clinic an hour away. X-rays, etc.... vet said no hope so they decided to put it down. Clinic was outrageous in price to put the horse down & their bill was already so high trying to save him that they loaded him back up & back to the track they went. Track ended up charging them almost the same price as the clinic as the horse "left the grounds" even though all this took place within 24 hours. Luckily they didn't send the horse to auction & did pay to put him down (removal was the expensive part). But this example just shows how tracks are about euth.
        Last edited by tbracer65; Aug. 24, 2009, 03:09 PM.


        • Original Poster

          Pick up fee from Valley (renderers) is 250$ for each animal, regardless of how close you are to the plant.
          Add that to the farm call and fee for euth, and we're topping 600$ (typically we've had the vet out to do x-rays etc).

          CANTER Mid Atlantic used to take "broken" horses as often as we could, and most of them would come back with some (ok, a LOT) of time, but with donations obliterated by the economy we can no longer do that.

          I turned 5 away yesterday. Just to take them and put them down so they wouldn't risk going to the sales would cost us 2K.

          We haven't even discussed my therapy bills!!


          • #6
            Excellent topic

            I believe there are two solutions. One would be to provide racehorse re-homing agencies with enough $$ to be fully operational, which includes euthanization when necessary. The second solution is to provide a surrender barn on every backstretch where horses can be evaluated, euthanized, or adopted out by accredited re-homing programs. Make it easy for trainers/owners to do the right thing by making it affordable. In many cases, it would have to be a free service in order to compete.

            The biggest stumbling block to either of these solutions is who is reponsible for funding them. And there we get into a whole "nuther" can or worms. There are too many fractured groups within racing to ever get a consensus on this topic, and the funding of it.

            I have yet to find anybody that disagrees with the solutions. I have yet to find anybody with an answer about funding them appropriately. I'm with Fairweather on this one, anyone have ideas?



            • #7
              Euthanasia is the norm in Puerto Rico, even for those race horses whose only injury is a chronic case of the slows, because there is absolutely no question that there are not enough resources to provide healthy retirements for them all.

              The debate is not so much whether euthanasia is the right thing to do for a horse so badly used up in a time when suitable homes are simply not available -- the debate is who is going to pay for it.

              While the track itself is the obvious venue for no- to low-cost euthanasia, I don't believe the tracks alone should bear the brunt of the cost. In an ideal world there would be a fund in place for this, as well as for bona fide TB retirement, established through apportioning part of owner's license fees, JC foal registration fees, and so on.

              As with just about everything TB retirement related, ongoing efforts to expand awareness are key. At current in our very non-ideal world, we will have to rely on funding coming in bits and chunks through donations from a variety of sources.


              • #8
                Originally posted by Linny View Post
                I often get emails asking for help for some poor animal that requires surgery to make a horse pasture sound and I would honestly rather donate to the horse's euthanasia.
                i agree. if you spend all that time and money on a horse that has no second career unless you have endless resources to monitor or care for him for the rest of his life, he's still "at risk". Meanwhile, how many other good horses fall into the at risk bucket along with him?

                Linny, i think there's a bit of using it as a dumping grounds along with being able to shield the owner from the cold hard truth ("he went to a new home!" instead of "he's broke and he needs the pink juice") because i bet they do worry that the cold hard truth could be a bit off-putting when it comes to inspiring clueless low level owner into claiming another low level claimer to repkace former low level claimer. or at least i know that was the motivation for a lot of trainers back in the dark ages when i was still working w/racehorses. i'm betting things haven't changed that much.
                Your crazy is showing. You might want to tuck that back in.


                • #9
                  the trick is to make contributing mandatory so it everyone giving a little instead of most giving nothing. The only agency I can think of with a broad enough scope to enforce a small per start fee is the trpb.
                  McDowell Racing Stables

                  Home Away From Home


                  • #10
                    How does Puerto Rico afford to euthanize them? Seems to me if they can find a way in PR....? Of course, it's on a much smaller scale there so perhaps that's why it's do-able.


                    • Original Poster

                      Agreed on all fronts--
                      That would unfairly weight the low-end tracks with the financial burden of euthanizing horses, while many of those horses had wear-and-tear at other tracks.
                      Thats why per-start fees would help even things out.

                      We recently took in a horse that we were told had a minor fracture, and would be fine with stall rest. He was bad off and we xrayed. The xrays were atrocious at best and we made the decision to put the horse down as we feel it a bit irresponsible to dump donated money into a horse who is in pain, most likely will never recover, and will not ever be placeable--again, we cannot give away sound horses with limited use right now (limited to doing novice, or the hunters, or dressage, not limited like "ride 1x a month only!). We paid to put the horse down after he was with us a week. Total cost to us? 1000$.

                      The trainer got to say "I found him a great home" and not deal with the reality that he was responsible for this animal's well-being to the end.

                      For putting him down, one of my volunteers was harassed badly recently, calling our vet a "moron" and saying the horse was "fine".
                      Umno it wasn't, but can I have some of that dreamland candy you're eating?


                      • Original Poster

                        In Puerto Rico they are shot, I'm not sure what they do with the bodies.

                        When that article came out there was a lot of outrage. Not from me, I thought to myself, "well, a shame they don't get a second chance, but at least they aren't suffering".

                        The debate is not so much whether euthanasia is the right thing to do for a horse so badly used up in a time when suitable homes are simply not available -- the debate is who is going to pay for it.
                        I'll disagree with this--when a well known rescue euthanized two horses last year because they were unplaceable, there was some major outcry. I don't advertise that we are euthanizing horses because the backlash is swift and fierce at times.

                        What about the horses who are injured but fixable? A man called me who had a horse who had bowed on top of an old bow. I told him the chances of finding a place for him to go were slim right now, and that we couldn't take him. He was at least willing to put the horse down if he couldn't find a home. Don't know what happened to that one.


                        • #13
                          Great topic. Didn't some horse rescue just hold a low cost euth clinic somewhere in CA?

                          Although as one poster said, getting horses there, etc., could be a problem.

                          I wish I had an answer, and I think about this A LOT. I have a 10 year old that I got off Penn in Spet 07, and a horse I am fostering for Rerun in my barn right now. When the foster gets adopted, I'll foster another - but it's a drop in the ocean.

                          And, I completely agree with everyone's posts!!

                          I love the idea of a barn or maybe a designated row of stalls for horses on the edge.
                          So, what if we formed a group, really casual, start with us on this post, to just brainstorm about this? COTHERS are brilliant, we maybe can come up with viable options? I am in SE PA, if we ever want to meet live, I'm in!

                          What if the tracks, the JC, NTRA, Breed, owners, vets all agreed to put in a portion for the euthanasia?
                          My big man - April 27, 1986 - September 04, 2008-
                          You're with me every moment, my big red horse.

                          Be kinder than necessary, for everyone is fighting a battle of some kind.


                          • #14
                            While I agree that euthanasia is a more desirable fate than other options, having a standard publicised euthanasia program would be a PR nightmare for racing. Can you imagine how certain groups would take that and present it to Joe Public? "... as soon as they are done with them, they kill them!!". Greyhound racing took a hammering on that one for years, still does.

                            As to a per start fee, how much would it have to be? A $10 fee would amount to about $4.25m annually. That might seem like a lot, but is that enough to fund a nationwide program at tracks across the country? I guess you could work backwards, decide on a figure and divide it by 425,000, to get an idea with the per start cost would be.
                            Using a percentage of prizemoney, there was $667m odd in purses offered in 2007. 1% of all purses would amount to $6.7m.
                            A fee tacked on to foal registration, with 33k odd foals, would have to be at least $30 to just crack the million mark.


                            • #15
                              Can't the Jockey Club start up a program & add on so much money to every foal that's going to be registered. Just increase the registration fee.... It would take a few years to get everything in order, but would eventually work out. To even the money up (covering all foals registered up till this date)they could take donations into a euthanasia fund now. Also -- it would be mandatory that the trainers NOT get reimbursed, but that the track pay for the euthanasia TO the vet & that the track get paid from the Jockey Club. Therefore tattoo could be checked by the vet. That would prevent all scam artists from getting money to put a horse down & then not doing it. Something along those lines....just thinking....
                              Last edited by tbracer65; Aug. 25, 2009, 12:16 AM.


                              • Original Poster

                                Drvm--Agreed, not a lot of money, PR nightmare.

                                As it stands though, I'm kind of tired of protecting the image of racing. The reality is that these horses ARE being killed, the racing industry just gets to point to the slaughter-plant as the problem, instead of where the problem originates.

                                Thats like blaming the gun for someones bullet wound.

                                Now, where is it originating?? Thats another can of worms, isn't it? Well, I have yet to see a horse end up at the slaughter plant, or at the other end of a giant dose of Vitamin Pink that wasn't ever bred in the first place.

                                If people want to keep this "game" going, they need some answers, and they need them now. Slaughter isn't the answer, but killing them humanely? That might could be the answer. Disgusting, gruesome, wasteful, heartless--yes, all of it. But if you want to play in this game, if you want to breed an animal, buy and animal, claim an animal, run an animal, make money on an animal, make demands of an animal,...Well, you should be willing to (at the VERY LEAST) humanely kill that animal if you can't find it a perfect home and you can't care for it for life.

                                My jaded, worn-out, just had to put down ANOTHER ravaged 3 year-old-with baby teeth opinion.


                                • #17
                                  Not to be a devils advocate- but are rescues and CANTER enabling them to be irresponsible by accepting very broken down horses? Allowing them to not create a solution that isn't stomach churning? Not only are you covering the expense, you are covering the moral burden. I think you should begin requiring a $600 donation for the broken ones- yup, we'll pick him, that will be $600. Perhaps you'd get some for whom the aversion to euthanasia is a moral issue. Of course, you don't deserve that burden. But at least you are covered on your costs. Because you spending limited donations given with the intent on them being used to improve a horses life... to put them down immediately... is in a way, wrong (though you have done the right thing by the horse). It puts your group in a bad position, PR wise.

                                  I'm sorry, it is a horribly sad circumstance you deal with. You seem held hostage almost- take my horse or he is slaughtered. I'd be tempted to throw the industry under the bus, if not for the good ones who work with you to rehome ones with a chance.

                                  Sadly, perhaps all you can do is only take adoptable horses and let them deal with the expense and heartache of the most broken. Remove your safety net and force action somehow, such as the funding etc. Say look- we don't have the money to help. We can only help with a constant stream of funding.


                                  • #18
                                    Excellent post FairWeather.


                                    • #19
                                      I think some vets could do to be educated also--as many younger vets it seems do not want to put a "heathy" horse down unless you can convince them the horse is in severe chronic pain (not just unsound pasture ornaments). But who wants to have to argue with a vet or be required to let the vet "evaluate" whether a horse should be put down (i.e., pass judgement on your already painful decision).

                                      I know they have a right to practice medicine that way, but I thought having to put animials down was a very real and unpleasant part of being a vet.


                                      • #20
                                        Don't laugh at me, I know this will sound laughable. Why can't racing charge some money upfront (as in, when a yearling is sold at those crazy expensive sales, for example) that is banked toward a humane euthanasia / retirement fund? Why can't a fraction of entry fees, registration fees, whatever, be skimmed off UP FRONT instead of leaving all the well-meaning folks scraping pennies out of their sofas to care for animals who have made thousands of dollars for their owners, who in so many cases, are nowhere to be found when hard decisions and expensive care is needed?

                                        I hate that it's the responsible, careful, concerned folks who end up cleaning up after the lazy greedy users. In this as in so much else in life.
                                        I tolerate all kinds of animal idiosyncrasies.
                                        I've found that I don't tolerate people idiosyncrasies as well. - Casey09