Owner assistance program capable of rescuing 1000s of horses this winter

Project Safety Net helps owners keep their horses
Allen Warren checks in with Project Safety Net for Horses client Nataley Fidler of Poulsbo, WA, and her two horses Brandi, 14, and Brodi, 5, about her current need for financial assistance. Warren describes Fidler as exactly the kind of dedicated but financially challenged horse owner Project Safety Net was created to help.

National Equine Resource Network Press Release
By Shirley Puga


(October 27, 2011) — A pilot horse owner assistance program operated last winter by three independent nonprofit equine rescue sanctuaries in the Pacific Northwest had a 100 percent success rate in keeping horses in safe homes with financially struggling but committed owners and is ready to be expanded nationwide.

Project Safety Net for Horses has the potential of saving literally thousands of horses from neglect, abandonment, premature euthanasia or the brutality of equine slaughter for a minimal investment per animal, according to Allen Warren of the Horse Harbor Foundation (HHF), who developed and implemented the innovative program along with two other horse rescuers, Sara Penhallogen and Janean Doezal, in response to sanctuary capacity being at or beyond capacity in their three-county area on the Olympic and Kitsap Peninsulas across the Puget Sound from Seattle.

“In this economy when millions of Americans, including many good longtime horse owners, are struggling just to put food on their own tables and pay the mortgage, many who love their animals and have always provided good care find themselves in a terrible dilemma,” Warren states.

“With equine sanctuary capacity stretched, sell or adoption opportunities for certain types of horses extremely limited and no other options, they face either a cost of from $400 to $500 for humane euthanasia and carcass disposal or getting paid $50 to $100 by the auction yards when they can no longer feed their horses or provide other basic necessities,” he said.

“That is a decision no true horse lover should ever have to make and we’ve found a way that they won’t have to,” Warren continued.

Project Safety Net for Horses was developed by HHF, one of the country’s first accredited equine rescue sanctuaries, privately funded and produced results far beyond the expectations of its founder Warren, who just this week verified that all 22 of the owners who met strenuous acceptance standards for financial assistance in keeping their horses still have them.

“In all we provided assistance for 63 horses and except for one older mare who had to be put down after her second severe colic episode in a week, all are still in their homes, healthy and well cared for”, Warren said in a recent interview.

He pointed out that since the total sanctuary capacity in his three-county area of operations in Western Washington is only about 60 horses, Project Safety Net effectively doubled the ability of HHF and the other two area 501c3 rescue sanctuaries, Center Valley Animal Rescue and Sunrise Equine Rescue, Warren partnered with in the program to save horses.

“Perhaps more importantly, we were able to do this at a cost per horse of just under $250 for six months over the winter, a fraction of what it would have cost us to rescue them and care for them at our own facilities for that same amount of time”, Warren said.

Project Safety Net is based upon the concept of “in-place equine rescue” developed by a small working committee two years ago that included Warren and his fellow GFAS accredited equine sanctuary operators Hilary Wood of Front Range Equine Rescue in Colorado and Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses in Texas, Laura Allen of the Animal Law Coalition and John Holland of the Equine Welfare Alliance. Both Wood and Finch had similar programs last winter.

“We were fortunate to receive a grant to test the concept of in-place rescue and could not be happier with the results,” Warren states. “There is now absolutely no question that there are literally thousands of dedicated horse owners struggling to keep their horses properly in the current economy but who need just a little help to do so.”

Warren says that every horse kept in a safe and caring home is one that will not have to be rescued, will not be neglected or end up at auction as victims for slaughter kill buyers.

Project Safety Net was conceived as a hand-up, not hand-out by Warren and his fellow horse rescuers. Over the previous winter he had attempted a free hay bank for horse owners in his county in cooperation with the local animal control agency, but found this was abused when the agency made no effort to qualify these by the same standards it used for low income spay and neuter which he had envisioned.

“When animal control failed to make sure recipients of the hay were really in need as promised, it led to blatant abuse by free loaders and we had to disassociate ourselves from that program,” he said.

“We learned from our mistakes with the hay bank and applicants for Project Safety Net had to undergo a strenuous screening process before receiving financial assistance,” Warren continued. “And even then it was on a matching funds basis only. We would match their purchases for hay, feed and other essentials as opposed to providing it free, or pay for half of required services such as minor vet procedures and farrier work.”

He said that if it was felt the owner applying had no hope of properly caring for their horse even with help, every attempt was made to convince them to relinquish and have the rescue operators help find new homes. Six horses were taken out of marginal situations this way, including a mare who was pregnant at the time and who now is at HHF with her newborn foal.

A precondition to any assistance being provided was the gelding of all stallions and colts on a premise, and Warren said that three longtime backyard breeders in his area were put out of business this way.

The Project Safety Net approval process included submission of a detailed application form with proof of income and an on-site inspection by he or one of his partners to verify ownership of horses and the conditions under which they were being kept prior to approval.

“We were determined that everyone receiving this assistance was a dedicated horse owner and that our help would insure that the animals would stay in safe homes,” he stated.

Warren pointed out that the reasons for applying for assistance from Project Safety Net are indicative of the state of the ongoing economic downturn in America and he believes there is no more cost effective way for the equine welfare community to reduce the incidence of neglect or sell to slaughter than by helping owners who sincerely want to keep their horses but have hit a wall financially.

The reasons for applying for assistance by the 22 horse owners which Project Safety Net helped breaks down as follows: on fixed low income, 8; unemployed, 3; on temporary layoff, 2; reduced work hours, 3; on disability, 4, and in college, 2.

“Every one of these applicants had a solid history of good horse ownership and just needed a little help to continue to care for their animals,” Warren said.

Applications for Project Safety Net were available at selected feed stores in the area and from leading equine veterinarians Warren and his partners work with. No publicity or advertising was done for the pilot program, but they are now looking for funding to expand the program here and to make their experience available to other horse rescuers across the country.

“With the drought in the Southwest, flooding in the Midwest, a wet spring here in the Pacific Northwest, too many hay fields converted to corn recently for ethanol and increased competition from China and now Japan after the nuclear disaster there curtailed crops, hay will be at a premium this coming winter for already struggling horse owners across the country and I know of no better way to provide for the welfare of America’s horses than in-place rescue,” Warren states.

He recently approached the National Equine Resource Network (NERN) with the idea of establishing a Project Safety Net fund that can receive donated money both from private individuals and hopefully also other equine welfare organizations and breed registries, to distribute to equine rescue operators across the country willing to launch similar programs in their own areas of operation. This is now under review by NERN.

“We are particularly hopeful that the registries will support this effort,” Warren said and I would like to see a condition that donations can be made breed specific for that reason. “What better way to help your end consumer in this time of great need.”

As envisioned by Warren, there would be minimal administrative costs associated with Project Safety Net and therefore for every $250 donated to the fund, one horse would be saved by in-place rescue.

Warren said that although the population in the Project Safety Net pilot program is too small to draw real conclusions from, he found it interesting that 38, or over 60 percent, of the horses helped were either Quarter Horses, Arabians, Paints or Thoroughbreds. Of these the vast majority had been with their current owners for over 10 years.

Another interesting statistic that emerged from the program was that 16, or over 25 per cent, of the horses helped were either adopted from nonprofit equine rescues or saved directly by their owners from neglect. “These folks were trying to do the right thing for these horses and then found themselves in trouble later,” Warren pointed out.

He said that for every $1 million provided a total of 4,000 horses can be kept in safe homes and out of the displaced equine population in the Project Safety Net concept and stands ready to package and share the program developed by HHF on a turnkey basis to any rescuer interested.

“Every equine rescuer I talk to in the country is frustrated by constantly having to say “no” to desperate horse owners approaching us for help,” Warren said. “Project Safety Net provides a way to help them in a more effective way than any other I know of.”

For more information, contact Shirley Puga, Executive Director, National Equine Resource Network at nationalequine@gmail.com or 760-419-2462.

Source: Press Release

15 thoughts on “Owner assistance program capable of rescuing 1000s of horses this winter”

  1. The Evergreen, Colorado-based Horse Food Bank has done an outstanding job of assisting financially distressed horse owners keep their beloved equines home, where they belong. Now in their third year the board, headed by Juliana Lehman, and volunteers at the Horsefoodbank have worked tirelessly for several months now and have managed, against formidable price odds, and storage headaches, to stockpile hay needs for qualified owners and their animals. They can be contacted for assistance at http://www.horsefoodbank.org


  2. This would appear to have tremendous potential, but I have trouble with the requirement that all colts/stallions be gelded in order to qualify for aid, and that requirement may discourage at least some of the hoped-for support from the breed associations and communities. Perhaps a less draconian requirement (as appropriate and on the advice/consent of a veterinarian) would make that more palatable. I understand the idea, but when someone is sustaining an elderly stallion, especially in a non-breeding situation, subjecting that old boy to gelding may put him at greatly increased physical risk, not to mention could put a large dent in the owner’s wallet for which the aid might well not compensate.


  3. This is very encouraging. We have a program here in Colorado, that has helped many owners keep their horses in their homes – and it has successfully expanded to other states. It is called http://www.horsefoodbank.org. May this one here as well expand nationally and become a base for change – thank you all who made this happen !


  4. Good news, but you might want to call it something a little different. There are a lot of assistance groups out there for familys and adolesents in danger with that exact name, they also have a logo.
    Good luck, Mike


  5. Paula Hooper Denmon WHAT A GREAT HELP. This horse advocate might have to apply to be one of those that is helped. I have 3 horses, Polo gelding 20, Maggie,KWPN mare 17, Sweetie, Percheron, 9. The neighbors’ stallion knocked down his fence last fall, and now both mares are pregnant to foal within a month…Not my plan. And there is no hay in Texas, and feed is going up daily. If I don’t have a real estate closing soon, we will be desperate. I know many Texans will be in this situation. And the hay that was sent for help is sitting in one pro-slaughter barn. Polo and Maggie were born at my small farm. Sweetie is a PMU rescue.




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