Valley’s gloomy economy victimizes horses
The number of horse-neglect cases has soared in Valley counties and nationwide over the past year, and it’s no coincidence that areas hit hardest by the housing crisis and job losses are seeing the most cases.
Animal-control officials say that when times were good, many people bought horses. When times got bad, they stopped paying for upkeep. The cost — often hundreds of dollars per month per horse — was too much.
“If you can’t afford to feed your family and pay your mortgage, you certainly can’t afford to feed your horse,” said Valerie Pringle, a Maryland-based equine protection specialist with the Humane Society of the United States.
Local animal control agencies, already struggling with shrinking staffs and budgets, are hard-pressed to care for the large animals.
Valley shelters are already burdened with higher-than-normal numbers of smaller animals, and cuts in government funding and donations.
Meanwhile, the price of hay continues to rise, doubling since last year to more than $20 per bale, and horses need regular dental and hoof care, vaccinations and veterinary checks.
By the time horses get to a shelter, their health has frequently deteriorated to a point where extended veterinary care is needed to make them ready for new owners. That was the case for horses taken this week from a Sanger-area ranch owned by Jose Francisco Romo, who won a $40 million Super Lotto jackpot in 2001.
Romo could not be reached for comment Friday. He was arrested this week on suspicion of felony animal cruelty and is out of jail on $40,000 bail.
The horses on his ranch — plus seizures in Riverdale and near Clovis in December — raised the number of horses cared for by the Central California Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to 37.
About 60 horses have come under the shelter’s care since July 1, nearly double the number from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, said SPCA spokeswoman Beth Caffrey. A normal year before 2010 was five or six horses, she said.
“We are being hit like crazy,” Caffrey said. “We have no budget for large animals.”
With thousands of dollars in added costs to care for horses, the shelter has put a veterinary hospital expansion and stray dog and cat building addition on hold, she said.
SPCA officials now are considering designating open property south of the existing horse holding area for more horses.
And Caffrey said two ongoing investigations could bring 10 more horses to the SPCA.
Other Valley shelters are reporting similar problems.
“When they come to us, the horses are in really bad shape, and those are costs the shelter has to endure,” said Kim Rodriguez, spokeswoman for Kern County’s animal control division.
In a normal year, she said, the Bakersfield shelter gets 15 to 17 horses. In the past year, the shelter has housed 61, she said.
In Madera County, some owners who can no longer afford to care for their horses have set them free to fend for themselves. In a normal year, Madera County animal control officers will seize six to 10 horses, but so far this year, they’ve taken in 35, said Kirsten Gross, the county’s animal control director.
The county’s goal, Gross said, is to keep the horses out of its shelter by working with owners on solutions that include finding new homes for their horses.
While the Madera and Fresno shelters have horses available for adoption, the $100 to $300 they charge does little to recoup costs.
Rescue agencies also are crowded.
Silverwings Rescue, east of Sanger, adopts horses and takes them from shelters around the Valley, said owner Gina Caglia.
She has 28 on her ranch. Last summer, Caglia said, she rarely had more than 16 or 17.
“Our phone calls have quadrupled in the last six months,” she said.
Beth DeCaprio, who operates Grace Foundation, a large-animal rescue agency near Sacramento, has 160 horses. Last year, it had half that. Grace Foundation takes horses from across Northern California; 56 are from a Lassen County ranch and include 20 pregnant females.
“We are in an absolute crisis situation,” she said. “We used to get two or three calls a month. Now, we average about 20 calls a week.”
HOW TO HELP
Adopt a horse: Potential adopters must qualify and undergo a home check to ensure the horse will be well-treated and have room to run. Contact Beth Caffrey, spokes- woman for the Central California Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, at email@example.com or call (559) 289-0374.
Donate: Those wishing to donate cash or items for horses can call Caffrey, go to the website at www.ccspca.com or mail a donation to the Central California SPCA, 103 S. Hughes Ave., Fresno CA, 93706.
By Marc Benjamin