Horse ownership is a huge responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. It is time-consuming and expensive. On average a horse can live to be 25 years of age and according to the American Association of Equine Practitioners, “the average minimum cost of care is $1825 annually” and that doesn’t include expenses like the veterinarian, farrier fees and boarding. As horses age, and become ill or injured the expenses rise. Sometimes the horse’s disposition can be difficult.
So, what happens to those animals when the
owners either can no longer afford, or in some cases, have lost the will to care for them? The options are limited.
Sadly, many of these horses are neglected or abused and not all can be saved in time. That’s how Linda Hewerdine, of rural Dewey, found one such horse she was looking to buy in 1998. The horse was starving because the owner was feeding it straw, due to the high cost of hay. Hewerdine brought it home, started asking around and learned there were a large number of horses that weren’t being cared for properly.
That experience spurred her to contact the Hooved Animal Humane Society (HAHS) located in Woodstock. She took the test to become a humane investigator for the equine shelter and volunteered for several years, but discovered there were so many horses being rescued in northern Illinois there wasn’t room for more. The Department of Agriculture needed a central Illinois facility and, as it turned out, Linda and her husband were the only ones with the land and buildings necessary to hold such an operation.
In 2003, the Society for Hooved Animals Rescue and Emergency (SHARE) was incorporated as a 501c(3) rescue operation. SHARE is a non-profit humane society that provides housing, care and training for rescue horses and has seven investigators. It sits on 200 private acres and has grown quite large – currently holding 66 horses.
In order to become a humane investigator, you must be sponsored by a humane society/shelter, complete training and pass the test, and have experience in the species being investigated. Although certified by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) Bureau of Animal Health and Welfare, investigators represent the shelter, not IDOA. When called with a complaint, investigators are looking for sufficient quantities of food and water, shelter adequate for the weather conditions and any signs of disease, injury or mistreatment.
According to Hewerdine, when called in to investigate, they can write violations and ask for impounds and relinquishments. Investigators are there to support the Humane Care for Animals (HCA) Act. While not representatives of the IDOA, they do have the authority to present investigation findings to the county state’s attorney for consideration of prosecution.
“When there are legitimate concerns, we try to educate the owner on what they should do to take care of the animal,” says Hewerdine. “We ask them to comply with the law, write a violation and make them aware of the penalties, which can be up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine. I usually give them up to 48 hours to comply, but I have only given 30 minutes in a case where it was 90 degrees and the horse had no water. Usually, we tell them what’s wrong and ask them to have a veterinarian inspect the animal and make recommendations. We aren’t veterinarians and don’t want to overstep our boundaries.”
Not all complaints are legitimate ones, and all they can do is enforce state law. For example, they received a complaint about a horse that was too thin, but upon investigation found plenty of hay and water, but the horse was 35 years old and just couldn’t keep on weight.
If an investigator comes upon an extreme situation, they can call the IDOA and ask for recommendations. Hewerdine tries to get the owner to relinquish the animal. If they relinquish it there are no more legal proceedings; she can remove it and care for it, which is the best case scenario. If they have to impound the animal then a court proceeding is involved, which can be very lengthy. During this time, SHARE is feeding and caring for the horse but can’t geld, stud or adopt it out.
“It can be very difficult when going on an investigation. You just have to put your emotions aside,” says Hewerdine. “I have a little black pony that was so thin and had been beaten. Every time anyone went in his stall he would run in the corner and cower and wait. Who would hit a little pony? I just don’t understand it at all.”
Several years ago some University of Illinois (U of I) students set up a club to help SHARE. The group does benefits, and six nights a week volunteers carpool out to feed, water and brush the horses. It’s a big help with 66 horses to care for. Most of the horses SHARE receives have never been trained, and several U of I veterinary students train them.
While a few of the horses are sanctuary horses and will live out their days at SHARE, there’s a real need for adoption. And while they wait, some horses go to foster homes. These are horse lovers that have the room and are willing to care for them. Sometimes they end up adopting the horse themselves.
SHARE is always looking for donations, and volunteers are needed to help feed and care for the animals.
For more information on SHARE or to see adoption requirements and download an application go to its website at www.s-h-a-r-e.net or you can check them out on Facebook at facebook.com/pages/Society-for-Hooved-Animals-Rescue-and-Emergency-Champaign-County. You can also view the horses currently up for adoption and read success stories.