Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Matter of Perspective?

 A Matter of Perspective

Recently I stumbled across this article that approaches the very difficult topic of the owner surrendered pet.  Working in horse rescue, we are constantly plied with requests to accept horses who currently reside with an owner who, at some point in time, made a conscious choice to acquire that animal.  Contemplating this very insightful article has left me vacillating wildly on my perception of the surrendered horse and it's owner.

The reasons people give for wanting to give up their horse are as varied as anything you could imagine:  lameness, money, relationship problems, horse is ill, owner is ill, lost interest, horse needs training, rider needs training, etc.  In my rescuer mind, for a long time all of these situations boiled down to one fundamental issue- "I don't want this horse anymore and I want someone else to make it go away, but without me having to feel bad about it."  Please don't judge me too harshly, years of caring for aged horses that someone "loved but sadly could no longer afford" only to drive by said farm a few months later and see newly acquired young and sound horses has made me a touch sour.  It has left me with a pervasive feeling that accepting an owner surrendered horse only serves to reward human irresponsibility, but not only that- it allows the irresponsible human to walk away thinking that they are just fabulous because they gave their horse to a rescue.

Having read the above article, I had a little sit down with myself to reflect on that perception.  What if the owner had not come to this decision lightly?  What if they have tried within their resources to remedy the situation?  What if, due to the extremely subtle nuances that are human communications, they were simply not able to convey how much they DID try in a way that was heard and accepted?  What if they are not capable; emotionally, financially, or even intellectually, to make a better choice?  I have to openly admit that when I speak to people about giving up a horse, 99% of the time the source of their problem and the attached solution is clear as day to me.  They need to invest in either training, retirement, or euthanasia.   But what if the owner is not capable of seeing those choices, or those choices (for whatever reason) are not reasonable to the owner? 

So how does one rectify this internal conflict?   It's a tough call.  Lets interview the sides:

The side of me I'll refer to as JADED sees the surrendering of a horse as nothing more than a pawning off of your problem to someone else.  JADED believes that I should not have to retire the old horse you loved for years and rode until it was lame, because that is your obligation.  JADED believes that if you were dumb enough to buy a horse sight unseen on the internet because "the truck was coming" or it had really pretty spots, then you should have to sleep in the bed you made and deal with your horse... even when that means expensive vet bills, lessons, or training.  And JADED definitely thinks that if you buy a horse on the internet sight unseen and expect it to arrive as a perfectly mannered child safe bomb proof horse as it was described by the seller in Kansapennsiltucky... well, you deserve to get kicked in the head quite honestly.   JADED believes that if your  horse took you to the top of your sport, you should retire it with dignity and not abandon your partner, because you owe that horse and it earned it's retirement with you; not me.  JADED also believes that when we break down our horses in our use of them, we repay them their service and sacrifice with ensuring their lifelong safety.  JADED knows this is all about sacrifice, because JADED has to shoulder the care of three retired and un-rideable horses, who will likely live for many more years. That's why JADED shops at WalMart for new clothes.

But then I also have the side I will call COMPASSION.   COMPASSION understands that sometimes, people get sick or lose control of their own fate, let alone the fate of their animals.  COMPASSION understands that sometimes, despite giving it your all, the nice guy just doesn't win.  COMPASSION understands that some situations can be so wholly overwhelming as to leave someone incapacitated.  COMPASSION understands that I would do anything for my animals, and that includes find them a better home if I became their problem.  COMPASSION understands that just because a horse is one person's trash it doesn't mean it won't be another person's treasure.  COMPASSION understands that some people make poor choices, and that they will never hold themselves accountable for those choices, and that only the horse will suffer from those choices because the humans don't look back.  COMPASSION understands that I can plan and think I have it all figured out.... but life could throw me a curve ball at any time.  COMPASSION knows some of these owners never wanted to be in this circumstance.

So, as a rescuer, how does one weigh saving a horse vs. enabling irresponsible behavior?  If we hear "Oh, I gave my horse to a rescue", are we hearing a congratulatory proclamation of self-righteousness; or are we hearing a sorrowful confession of a deep loss?  

How do you chose to hear those words?   

Christine Hajek, President and Founder
Gentle Giants

Disclaimer:  This post was meant to inspire thoughtful philosophical debate.  It is not indicative of anyone elses thoughts or opinions within Gentle Giants.


  1. I hear your frustration and I feel your pain. I would probably never be able to adequately put in to words how much. You should know that I came across this because I find myself in the position of having to possibly surrender my best friend and his friends ( which by the way, at one time I was their rescuer) which have lead me to having to try and answer a lot of these questions for myself. I got him when he was 2.5 years old, cut up, scared to death and unwanted, he is now 28, so I have been on both sides of this fence. My horse and best friend taught me this so I will do my best by him to share it with you.
    Live with me in the here and the now. Do not worry about what yesterday’s worries and woes have been or what tomorrow’s troubles might be. Except me for who and what I am, as I except you. Do not ask or expect of me more than I am capable of. Appreciate and value my strengths and understand and forgive me of my short comings, and I will value and appreciate your strengths, and forgive you of your short comings as well. Whether I walk beside you, in front of you, or around you, I am near whenever you ask as long as I am able.
    Your answer is in the title you chose for yourself, “rescuer” No matter about those owners no amount of worry, anger, or hard feeling is going to change them or their choice or circumstances. It will however change you and how well you are able to help the horses. Are they not all in need of rescuing? Is a surrendered horse less deserving then a confiscated one? Are they in less need?
    You choose to do what you are doing. Those owners right or wrong made their decision. Running around checking up on them will accomplish nothing. It is as you stated all a matter of perception. So maybe they are not people that are able to care for an older horse, but look they are capable of enjoying and caring for a younger one. Look they didn’t like or get along with one horse but look at how well they are doing with this one.
    I lost count a long time ago of the animals and people I have either helped or tried to help. Some need me to bring them feed, some need to learn more (so I chose to teach), and some just said “hey come get or I’ll shoot”. Some I snuck in to feed so they wouldn’t go hungry. I did and do those things because I chose to, because it made me feel needed, useful, and just plain good, but it did not make me anymore right or better than them, because I got as much or more out of it as they did. Except them for whom and what they are for they are what helps you to be you.

  2. Incredible story. I understand where you were coming from. When a situation like that happened, our horse fell terribly ill. We needed him to be healthy. Luckily there were emergency veterinarians in gilbert to take care of him. Fantastic story and keep posting.