Habitat for Horses in need of foster homes as caseload triples 
Faith Huffman | News-Telegram News Editor

Dec. 11, 2006 - Habitat for Horses, along with Sulphur Springs Animal Control officers, served a search warrant and seized an emaciated male horse at a Houston Street property Thursday afternoon.

The warrant was obtained after 6 months attempts to work with the animal’s owner to ensure it was properly cared for resulted in what , in officers’ exstimation was continued deterioration of the animal, officials said Thursday.

Animal Control Officer Chris Rich executed the warrant and Kim Simpson, an equine rescue member who also rehabilitates horses rescued by Habitat for Horses, have been working on the case and monitoring the horse’s condition for more than a year.

Simpson became involved in May of 2005 when a tip of suspected horse neglect was reported to be occurring on the property located at the corner of Houston Street and Hillcrest Drive.

�People who want to report abuse can go online and fill out a form on our website and mail it in. They can call the toll-free number [866-434-5737] or contact local law enforcement. When we get a complaint, we go out and investigate. We�ll take the horse if the owners can�t take care of it themselves anymore. They can donate it to us,� she said.

Simpson noted the horse seized Thursday was located in a fenced area with a younger horse and a bull, and was noted to appear unhealthy, with his ribs showing when she first began investigating the case. 

She said she also found evidence that while feed was left for all three animals, the horse’s teeth were worn with age to the point he was unable to chew the food. 

The owner was contacted and the case became active again about 6 months ago when another inspection of the horse showed signs of neglect.

�I�ve been working this one off and on for more than a year,� Simpson said. �We tried to work with the owner, but he just wasn�t doing what he needed to do and said he would for this horse. An older horse needs more care. They can�t chew up or digest food. As is often the case with owners, they won�t take the time to care for older horses. Some people will say that in their 20s a horse gets skinnier, but they won�t if properly cared for. The owner had six months longer than most. He is not doing what he agreed to do,� Simpson said.

This week, animal control officers sought a search warrant and filed a civil suit, citing neglect with the horses’ gaunt skeletal condition as cause for the removal.

Not only was he little more than skin and bones, the horse also appeared to have an eye ailment, likely an infection. The water trough for all three animals in the pen had about a quarter of an inch of water in one corner and was thick with leaves and debris. When officials went to turn on the water, they discovered little pressure, resulting in no more than a trickle of water slowly flowing out the end of the hose. The property does have a small pool, but that water was also thick with leaves, fallen limbs, wooden boards and other debris.

Simpson, one of more than 2,500 Habitat for Horses members, took the animal straight to the vet, where the organization, along with Lone Star Equine Rescue, will cover the basic $300 start up cost for a full evaluation of the horse. The horse was held overnight, where tests were run to determine his overall condition and health needs. Once he’s released, Simpson planned to take the horse home with her to begin recovery at her rehab facility, one of 107 foster and rehab homes in several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas, Florida and Maryland.

As is standard procedure with Habitat for Horses rescues, Simpson will go to court as the case representative at a civil hearing where a justice of the peace will hear the basis of the case and determine the final outcome of the horse. The owner is encouraged to attend the proceedings to present his side of the case. 

The civil hearing is slated for Dec. 14.  Habitat for Horses will petition the justice of the peace to award custody of the animal to the agency on the basis they are already taking care of the animal. They will also ask to be reimbursed for the costs associated with its care. While custody is often awarded to Habitat for Horses, Texas judges also have the option to return the animal to the owner, award it to animal control officers or law enforcement, order it sold, or require it to be “terminated.”

�Although this is criminal, we file it under civil first, Health and Safety Code 821. Our main concern is horses and getting them help as soon as possible. We can go back and file criminal charges later if that�s what needs to be done. Some people don�t take it seriously, but this is the same classification as family violence as far as penalty and degree. It�s a misdemeanor class A. If they get convicted on a second offense it goes to a felony,� she said.

�This is our fourth case this year,� Rich said Thursday evening. �They�re not as common in the city as in the county, but we do still deal with them within city limits. This was an ongoing case and it was obvious it had not improved. We can�t leave it there.�

Habitat for Horses also has a couple of pending cases, involving two or more horses each, which could also result in authorities filing to seize the animals if the situations do not show considerable improvement soon. In fact, the horse rescue group’s case load has tripled since last year.

�Usually in November we have a few seizure cases. We started last winter and we didn�t stop because of the drought, which left no grass. The cost of hay is just too expensive for some (owners),� Simpson said.

Simpson said if the judge awards custody to Habitat for Horses, she will continue to treat the animal at her rehab facility locally for 6 weeks to six months, or until the animal is given a clean bill of health and determined ready for a home.

It will then be placed in a foster home until it can be sold, as is the case with all horses and donkeys rescued from neglect or “donated” to the organization.

Unfortunately, due to the large case load this year and the fact that the non-profit rescue organization only had 107 foster homes for the 200 horses already in foster care, the agency may soon have to turn cases away, especially “adoption” cases because there simply are not enough homes for them.

Some 45 horses being sheltered and cared for at one ranch in Hitchcock alone, Simpsons said.

�We are in desperate need of foster homes,� said Simpson. �In some cases, because we�ve had no foster homes in an area, we help where we can but we have had to hold back on removal. We work with owners and have to help them (and the animals) in the field instead of acting. I�ve purchased hay and taken it to people to help out. We just do not have enough foster homes. That�s our main need.�

Habitat for Horses and Lone Star Equine Rescues are funded strictly through  volunteer labor, corporate and private donations, and some grants. Foster homes are responsible for feeding the horses and daily out-of-pocket expenses. The organization pays the vet bills.

While donations to help support the program are always welcome and can be mailed to the group headquarters: Habitat For Horses, P.O. Box 213, Hitchcock, TX 77563, the groups’ most imminent need is for foster homes.

Anyone interested in helping by becoming a designated foster home can download the guidelines and application online at the website: www.habitatforhorses.org,

Individuals willing to adopt the horses will assist in caring for horses where the group is working with the owners. Volunteers who can help the group investigate cases are needed as well. There are currently 50 trained equine cruelty investigators in Texas.

Habitat for Horses and Lone Star Equine Rescue were the primary rescue groups in Louisiana in September of 2005 during Hurricane Katrina and later Hurricane Rita. Members donated thousands of hours to rescue horses, expanding their scope during those two disasters to also rescue hundreds of dogs and cats, and delivered thousands of dollars worth donated hay, feed, medical supplies and tack to the main recovery center for animals recovered in parishes south of New Orleans, New Iberia, Slidell and into Mississippi.

Those interested in adopting any of the 200 or so horses in Habitat for Horses’ foster homes can do so by going online and downloading the form on page 5.  Vet references are required, along with periodic checks performed by the group every six months to insure the adopted animals are well cared for, are continuing to thrive, and to offer suggestions for care and answer general questions about the animal’s well-being.

Each rescued horse and those ready for adoption is also pictured on the web site: www.habitatforhorses.org (or www.LSER.org). All annual financial and other information about Habitat for Horses can also be found on the web site. 

To report abuse or neglect, for more information on Habitat for Horses, adoption, foster homes or any other related topics may call -866-434-5737. 

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