A recent question about too-skinny horses from one of our AAHC members prompted a discussion about the right way to help.
To get clarity on best practices for our area, a local equine rescuer, Paulette Brown of the newly created 501c3 Redux Equine Rescue, had a conversation with Matt Thompson, Equine Health Manager of the Georgia Department of Agriculture and provided us with the following information. Edited by Cathy Micali.
This is written with the assumption that the reporting party has good judgement. We all know some horses get skinny and look rough at the end of winter regardless of the care. Some horses drop weight if you look at them sideways or the weather changes! Those are not the horses this article is intended for. This is written for when you see the same horses on your commute every day, their body condition continues to lower, and they lack sufficient food or water for a significant amount of time, or if you know for a fact someone is not providing sufficient care for the most basic needs. The terms “equine” and “horse” are going to be used interchangeably throughout this article, but please note this includes all equines- donkeys, horses, zebras, and mules.
If the equine is in immediate danger from cruelty or abuse, call your county’s law enforcement or Animal Control (AC). If the equine is suffering from inhumane care such as a low body condition score and is lacking food and water, follow the steps outlined below.
Whatever you do, do NOT provide any food or water. It seems counterintuitive, but feed especially can be harmful to the equines and their case long term. Equines with a body condition score less than 3 can suffer from “refeeding syndrome” if not carefully rehabilitated, and presence of food or water might prolong the situation, as the authorities can only base their case off what they see at that time. If a kind soul throws them some hay and sets up water, the owner will appear to be taking adequate care of the equines. As heartbreaking as it may be to watch them suffer, the best thing to do is document the situation through clear, verifiable pictures and notes (date, location, witnesses, weather conditions), and file a complaint with the Georgia Department of Equine Health by calling (404)656-3713 or filling out the online form found at the top of this page “Click here to log a complaint”. You will need the street address and a physical description of the property. If the exact street address is not visible, look for a neighbor’s number or cross streets that could help you determine the exact address later. Sites like QPublic show property lines based on the county and are great for this research. Getting the exact address is important, as some AC will not visit without an exact street address. Also know that complaints cannot be anonymous. No one will release the complainant’s information during the proceedings, but it may be part of the open records report later on.
After the complaint has been filed, the Department of Ag (DoA) staff, usually accompanied by law enforcement for safety, will visit the location within a few days to assess the situation. If there is an apparent violation of the Humane Care for Equines Act (ie. lack of food/water) the DoA will address the situation and advise the owner of proper humane care. Sometimes this is all it takes for the owner to “wake up”, realize what is wrong, and rehabilitate their own equines. The DoA will follow up to see if the issues have been addressed, and that the equines are improving. If the situation is not improving and the owner is not making changes, a formal citation is filed with the local law enforcement office. This is the beginning of the impound process. In the past the state operated impound barns, but now individual county’s law enforcement/AC is responsible for locating rescues or farms that can house the equines.
It is up to the authorities to build a case to charge the owners for abuse, and sometimes these proceedings can be lengthy. Outcomes can be checked via an open records request.
After the DoA has assessed the situation it might be possible to step forward and offer help or connect resources to the owner. The DoA/state does not provide financial assistance- they only instruct what must be done- but some local animal welfare groups are able to financially assist the owner. Check back in next month for the post highlighting local rescue groups in Georgia and how they help.