The dire predictions made in 2007 when the last horse slaughter plant in the U.S. was forced to close appear to have come true, according to research at University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Veterinarians there surveyed nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations to quantify the extent of their ability to care for the estimated 100,000 horses/year that are unwanted or abandoned. What they found seems to confirm much of the anecdotal evidence that has surfaced since the Humane Society of the U.S. and other animal rights groups were successful in passing legislation to ban horse slaughter in the U.S.

Along with the economic recession that began in 2008, other factors have precipitated the increasing number of unwanted, potentially neglected and abused horses in the U.S., the researchers say. Horse rescue organizations reported that financial hardship, physical inability and lack of time to care for horses are the most frequent reasons that horses are relinquished, followed by seizure by law enforcement agencies for neglect or abuse.

However, for every four horses taken in by horse rescue organizations, only three were adopted or sold between 2006 and 2009, and many facilities refused to accept additional horses because of lack of resources. The survey found that funding was the greatest challenge to continued operation of nonprofit equine organizations, with maintenance costs for the care of a relinquished horse averaging $3,648/year.

The estimated maximum capacity for the 326 registered nonprofit equine facilities in the U.S. identified by the California researchers is 13,400 horses, well below the estimated 100,000 horses that become unwanted or abandoned in the U.S. every year.

“Nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary facilities appeared to be struggling with insufficient resources to meet increasing demand for accepting, caring and providing sanctuary or finding new homes for unwanted horses in the U.S.,” the researchers conclude. “Without additional resources, the nonprofit equine organizations can’t predictably expand to provide quality care and rehabilitation for more than 13,700 horses, only a fraction of the estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the U.S.”

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-- Burt Rutherford