British Columbia

Horse rescue organizations see increase in surrendered animals amid rising costs

The increasing costs of land, fuel and feed are putting pressure on people who keep horses, which means groups that look after rescued horses are at their limit.

Some groups report more people trying to find a place for their horses, with fewer people ready to adopt

Kris Latham, at Second Chance Cheekye Ranch, says she fears the rising costs associated with keeping horses will prompt more people to give them up, meaning many will end up at auction, then slaughterhouses. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Jet is a three-year-old black horse with striking white markings on his backside. He's calm, sometimes comes when he's called, and seems to like a little scratch on the bridge of his nose.

Jet has been at a horse rescue facility for six months — Second Chance Cheekye Ranch, just north of Squamish, B.C.

"He was totally unhandled when we got him," said Kris Latham, president of the ranch.

"You can see an old injury on his back leg," she said. "That's probably one of the reasons he was put in the auction."

Latham got Jet along with six other horses from an auction in Alberta, narrowly saving the animals from the slaughterhouse.

"They were in the hands of the meat buyer for sure," she said, adding that Jet would have likely already been packaged, frozen, and perhaps eaten by someone overseas if her group and a rescue organization in Alberta that she works with hadn't intervened. 

Jet is one of the horses rescued from auction by Second Chance Cheekye Ranch, north of Squamish. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

According to Latham, more and more horses are being sent to auction as the cost of everything from fuel to animal feed increases.

Cheekye has taken in 26 horses so far this year, and that's stretched its volunteers and resources. Each horse has to be transported, seen by a vet, vaccinated, castrated if necessary, and tended to by a farrier. It can cost well over $1,000 just to take a horse in.

In Langley, at the Horse Protection Society of B.C., president Sharon Wells-Ackermans has 10 rescue horses, which is the facility's maximum capacity.

Wells-Ackermans said they're basically always at capacity, but recently, pressure has been mounting, with people calling every week in search of a place to take their animals, and challenges finding forever homes for the rescued horses they have.

"It's just getting worse and worse," she said. "I guess we all know what the economy is doing right now and how people are doing, and pets are usually on the bottom of the list when it comes to priorities."

Those who care for horses are feeling the squeeze from rising costs. Fuel, land, and feed are all getting more expensive. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Wells-Ackermans blames increasing gas prices, land prices, and the cost of feed. The war in Ukraine has contributed to rising grain and fuel prices, and locally, a cold late spring means there's little hay to go around.

"People are really struggling," she said. "They're struggling to maintain a regular feed program for their horses."

Jill Giese runs Dreamcatcher Meadows with her partner in Pemberton. They focus on sports horse breeding and training — it's not a registered horse rescue charity — but, they also have a few animals that are considered "rescued."

It's a large ranch, and Giese is able to harvest their own feed to help manage rising costs. But she said this year, with the late spring, they've sold out of last year's hay and they've yet to get their first cut this year.

"By this time we'd normally have 3,000 bales in the barn, but we haven't been able to make any of it yet," she said.

Homer, with the white bridge of his nose, is one of the lucky horses. He was saved from auction and, after some time at Cheekye Ranch near Squamish, he's found a new home. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Giese said every day she's getting calls from people who are panicking in search of hay, but they need to keep what little they have for their animals.

She describes the situation the same way Well-Ackermans does: "It's getting worse and worse."

"I'm worried. I know the capacity of all the formal rescues are at their limit," said Giese. "It's scary. I mean, we're in an unprecedented time."

She said her ranch isn't inviting any more rescue animals — they afford the ones they have by serving as a wedding venue, but they can only hold so many weddings.

Latham, president of Second Chance Cheekye Ranch, shares a tender moment with Homer. (Rafferty Baker/CBC)

Back at Cheekye, north of Squamish, Jet has found a comfortable place with caring team of volunteers, but Latham shudders to think of his fate at the slaughterhouse if he hadn't made it to the ranch.

"Oh, it's nasty. It is nasty. It's the most traumatic thing an animal can go through," she said.

With files from Rachel Adams and Ali Pitargue