Lantry, S.D.–A team of seven is working long hours in blizzard-like conditions to place 520 at-risk horses in new homes as part of one of the largest horse rescues in U.S. history.
Control of the privately owned horses was recently transferred from the International Society for the Protection of Mustangs and Burros to Fleet of Angels as part of a settlement agreement between ISPMB and South Dakota state’s attorneys.
On Oct. 11, 2016, the court in Ziebach and Dewey counties impounded 810 ISPMB horses following a finding of neglect. A consortium of equine welfare organizations worked with state and local officials to prevent the horses going to public auction, where most of the horses would have fallen into the hands of kill buyers.
The support of the public is now critically important to the success of the rescue and adoption effort. In addition to the funds already spent, an estimated additional $250,000 will be need to be raised in order to complete the rescue mission.
Donations are urgently needed to pay for labor, veterinary and farrier care, among other costs. Funds to subsidize transporting the horses have been depleted, and the feed bill alone will reach $40,000 per month until each horse reaches an approved home or sanctuary.
While the condition of most of the horses has improved since October, others still suffer from a variety of health issues, including eye infections and blindness, hoof problems, and parasites. Foals and pregnant mares are most at risk.
Elaine Nash, executive director of Fleet of Angels, said that the dedication of her ground team, managed by Palomino Armstrong, enabled the successful move of 270 horses to adoptive homes before Christmas. The team continues to put in 10-hour days in miserably cold and hazardous conditions, working in blowing snow in pens and pastures where some drifts tower 15 feet high.
“We’re doing our best to get the horses to a new adoption hub in a more centralized area with a warmer climate in the next 10 days to two weeks. We want to get them moved before the next blizzard hits,” Nash said. ”Every time a trailer rolls away with horses inside, everyone involved has a little internal celebration knowing that they’re heading off to an improved quality of life.”
Some of the adopted horses have reached new homes as far away as Vermont and Florida, Oregon and Arizona. Fleet of Angels is still accepting and processing adoption applications as it works to match horses with potential new homes.
Return to Freedom, an organization known nationally for its work with wild horses, was called upon to assist in October, helping to provide resources and solutions. RTF is working to find homes for hard to place stallions, bonded horses, and whole herds when possible.
Only the generosity of The Griffin-Soffel Equine Rescue Foundation, Victoria McCullough, and donors to the Humane Society of the United States, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and the Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance made it possible for the horses to be fed and adopted, instead of being sold at public auction, by covering more than $200,000 in costs so far.
“These donors and organizations gave the horses a fighting chance,” said Neda DeMayo, president of Return to Freedom. “We are committed to leaving no horse behind, but the future of these horses depends on help from the public.”
The success of this mission is about more than finding good new homes for the remaining horses, Nash said.
“It is imperative that we succeed in this mission,” she said. ”If we can find new homes for 810 horses, the equine community can definitely find homes for two, four, or six horses at a time that need help and show that slaughter is not a needed option.”
The last domestic horse slaughter plants were shuttered in 2007, but American horses continue to be trucked to slaughter houses in Mexico and Canada, including an average of 127,000 horses per year from 2008-15, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
How the public can help
No Horse Left Behind Fund: Starting Feb. 3, The Griffin-Soffel Equine Rescue Foundation has offered to match donations through the Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance dollar for dollar up to $50,000. The public can support the wild horses while adoptions continue by donating to a fund created to for feed, veterinary care, and all other costs related to the lifesaving mission for the ISPMP horses by donating to the Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary Alliance: http://wildhorsesanctuaryalliance.org/
Adopt: More than 200 people have applied to adopt two or more of these special horses. However, Fleet of Angels and partners are hoping to get more of the horses adopted in family bands, larger groups and herds. Anyone who is interested in adopting some of these horses in larger bonded groups please contact: Fleet of Angels at HoldYourHorses@aol.com.Fleet of Angels is a not-for-profit organization with thousands of on-call members who offer crisis management and transportation assistance during equine-related emergencies, as well as other services. The organization oversees the coordination of hundreds of successful equine-related emergency missions in the U.S. and Canada each year, with each mission involving from one horse to many.Return to Freedom is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving the freedom, diversity, and habitat of wild horses and burros through sanctuary, education, advocacy and conservation, while enriching the human spirit through direct experience with the natural world. It has operated the American Wild Horse Sanctuary on California’s Central Coast since 1998.