Local creating a safe haven for horses

Starved horses are easy to spot, as their ribs will show.

ILWACO — Melanie Mills is frank about horse-neglect situations in general, but especially with cases happening right here in the southern end of Pacific County. She stressed that, “Seven horses died here last year from starvation and from being exposed to the elements.” 

Mills said that some pastures on the Peninsula are strewn with bones from the skeletons of deceased equines. Tired of seeing horses desperately needing help but having no place to get it, she wants to head off neglect and malnutrition by starting a horse rescue operation. 

“I’m jumping in with both feet,” she stated. But, knowing it will be a tough undertaking to get off the ground, she added, “It’s going to be a long, slow process. But I just can’t stand to see anymore horses die.”

Currently taking a course of action to acquire tax-exempt status under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, she plans on calling this venture SAMS Horse Rescue. SAMS will stand for Saving Animals Means Something. And it also has another reference that stabs at Mills’ heart. Quietly, she explained, “Sam was the name of my son, who was killed by a drunk driver six years ago. He was 20.” She knows that he would want her to take on this venture.

Mills hopes to acquire property, probably about five acres, where she can put up an eight-stall barn. But in the meantime, she’s asking people on the Peninsula who have empty stalls and barns to consider donating use of the facilities, so she can bring in rescued horses. It would be a self-care situation. Mills would come to do feeding, general care and stall cleaning, without being a bother to the facility owners. She already has a couple of people waiting and ready to offer their stalls.

Cash donations are also needed for start up money. Ed Ketel, DVM, and Catherine Linblad, DVM, of Oceanside Animal Clinic in Seaview have agreed to accept donations at their clinic. They’re setting up a special computer program and account for any money given to help support this cause. Ketel said they are fully on board with this project and that there is a real need for it here. And, he said, “I think there’s a need in every area. Whether or not it’s evident or obvious right now, there will be a need some time. People have different ideas on what need is. We’ve definitely had situations (in this area) where there really was need.”

 

Weighing the cause — determining if cases are from neglect or lack of knowledge

The sagging economy, where horse feed and care costs have sharply risen over the last few years, is surely a factor that has plummeted some horse owners into a situation of being unable to provide quality care. But Dr. Ketel said sometimes there is another cause. 

“Nutrition is a big thing around here and we do see problems with it. Lots of times, it’s because people are not aware of what they need to be feeding. When those instances arise, often just with counseling, they agree to go ahead and change things. So, they’re not doing it on purpose. They’re doing it out of just not having the knowledge and background.”

When a horse begins to lose weight, his owner might not realize it right away. Ketel said that horses can be compared to people in this aspect. “If you’re 50 pounds overweight, nobody notices you’ve lost any weight at all until you’ve knocked 30 pounds off. With horses, all of the sudden they look skinny. It comes on rapidly. When it gets to the point where you notice, compared to when you didn’t notice, it is hard to put weight back on them.”

Ketel said another problem he sees through his practice are horses “that are what we call really hard keepers.” He said some horses might be declining in weight, even though they’re owned by “the best of families” that are trying to give the horses what they need, but don’t understand why it’s not working. Ketel explained, “Those horses look wonderful throughout the summer, but then winter comes and no matter what they’re being fed, it’s a battle. They just slide and lose weight. They look horrible.”

These horses, Ketel said, “Have to be on innoculants” and other supplements, to increase their ability to absorb the nutrients of what they eat and not simply digest it. Basically, innoculants are pro-biotics.

 

Peninsula weather is also a factor

Battling against bad weather can also be a factor in horses that lose weight, often to the point of appearing emaciated. Their bodies might be quite stressed from fighting the elements. And, hay that is thrown out in the mud is often not properly consumed, but rather stepped on and buried below the boggy surface.

   “I think the situation here is our weather pattern,” Ketel explained. “This year has been horrible, with the rain and mud. There’s a lot of concern for animals standing out in this weather. It’s a situation where it would be nice if they had some type of cover, so when they want to get out of the weather, they can.”

Wet weather also produces problems such as rain rot and rain scaled, where horses develop sores from infection, often covering large areas, particularly on the back. Many horses recently seized in other counties have clearly had these maladies, including nine neglected mares and stallions taken from their owners in Marion County, Ore., in early January and another 22 (all crammed into one muddy pen) taken by a rescue organization last week, under the watchful eye of Marion County Sheriff’s deputies.

 

Neglected and malnourished horses need help, regardless of the cause

Whether the cause is neglect or lack of education, once a horse becomes emaciated, it needs a lot of special care to get it back on its feet. And through her horse rescue outfit, that is just what Mills will be doing.

Having owned and shown horses for almost 25 years and having also spent time working at a race track, Mills has a lot of experience to call upon. Also, the staff of Oceanside Animal Clinic will be offering their advice and expertise. Rehabilitating neglected horses is a tricky procedure, but Mills said she’s up to the challenge.

Funding the process

In addition to working from donations, Mills hopes to eventually help fund the rescue efforts by taking horses that are deemed “done” at the race tracks — horses that might be headed to kill pens — and working with them to make them marketable to private owners, for everything from pleasure riding and barrel racing, to jumping. 

These thoroughbreds usually require a long “letting down” process, after they come off the track, where they were super fit and usually nervous. Often, a few months on a relaxed schedule “unscrambles their minds,” as Mills put it and they can be trained and adapted for other jobs. The sales of these horses will help fund rehabilitation efforts of formerly starved and neglected horses, a process that can take several months. Those horses, too, can eventually be adopted out to qualified owners, leaving Mills space to take in newcomers.

 

What can be done about neglected and starved horses?

Mills felt encouraged after recently speaking with Pacific County Sheriff Scott Johnson. 

“He’s interested and wants his deputies trained a little better to understand animal abuse and how to get the people to take care of their horses,” she said.

Other counties, particularly those with animal control departments, have characteristically been aggressive in neglect cases. One such county is working even harder to get the job done. Don Thomson, spokesman for Marion County Sheriff’s Office, put out a press release last week as a follow-up to the early January case where nine horses in the Woodburn area were seized. Owners of those horses are scheduled for court on Feb. 7. Thomson’s release stated, “This investigation was the latest in what appears to be an increase in the number of animal neglect reports received by our office. On Feb. 10, we will be meeting with representatives from the District Attorney’s Office, Animal Control, Brand Inspection, Willamette Humane Society, veterinarians, and rescue agencies to develop a cooperative strategy to improve the investigation of these calls. The goal will be to provide training in the identification of animal neglect cases, identify resources available to animals in need, and provide for appropriate prosecution of those who neglect or harm animals. “

Mills continues to hope that she can help rehabilitate neglected horses in Pacific County. But, for now, she needs donations of money and use of facilities to get her efforts going. She can be contracted at 360-244-1686.

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