Whilst I hesitate to return to the rather dismal happenings of a month ago and the current economic forecasts, they do raise the issue of managing a rescue (especially when inextricably bound up in one's own life and finances!) in trying economic circumstances.
Our role as a rescue, to paraphrase our mission statement and tag line, is to: rescue, rehabilitate and (where appropriate - my italics) rehome at-risk horses, and enable them to live in safety and dignity for the rest of their lives. Finding homes (whether as adopters or fosters) that will fulfill that mission is a careful process, not to be taken lightly, hurried or glossed over. And if such a home cannot be found for a horse, then we become that home for life. We cannot, and should not, so extend ourselves that we compromise the care of those we have already rescued. It is tempting, and Lord knows there are enough sad cases out there, to max up to the total capacity of one's space and energy. After all it is much simpler to say "yes" to someone with a genuine need to place their animal than to say "no". This is one of the most difficult decisions in animal rescue. But my premise is that, in the long run, saying" yes" every time does no one any favors if it puts the rescue at risk.
Risk Management has been a particular interest of mine in recent years, and the line between being overly cautious and overextended can be a difficult one to draw. This especially true when dealing with living things. However, there are some basic parameters that we try to consider (and could equally be considered by either a first time buyer or an owner looking to increase their herd). We offer these as suggestions to others in the hope that they may help in deciding whether to take on another animal, and determining whether you are becoming overextended in these difficult times.
First, we try to put our emotional response to a rescue request into some sort of context. One reason for doing this is because there may be other options. We have found that what often sounds like a crisis in an e-mail can be resolved with some ingenuity and thought, or additional time, and without necessarily adding another animal to the rescue. In other cases, the owner has other options that they prefer not to exercise. As we are an urgent need rescue, we must stay focused on the need of the horse as our first priority, rather than the convenience of the owner.
In evaluating our capacity for accepting another horse, we must consider the following:
- Open space - do we have the space, acreage, paddocks, and ability to separate incoming horses of unknown temperament or condition? Can we accommodate the horse's special needs?
- Shelter - if we have space, do we have adequate shelter against heat, rain, wind, cold and insects?
- Stalls - if the weather turns really bad (remember the snowfall of '96!) can we bring everyone safely in? Senior and arthritic horses must always have their own stalls.
- Hay - can we store enough hay for at least a few weeks ahead, better still do we have enough hay, either promised, bought, or from our own resources, for the entire winter?
- Feed - do we have feed for more than our immediate needs, do we know what we expend in feed costs and can we maintain (increase?) this expenditure for the foreseeable future with the same (more, less?) number of animals?
- Water - can we supply water to paddocks and barns under all conditions, what is our fallback for loss of power, frozen pipes, standpipes or hoses?
- Medication - do we have meds just enough for immediate needs or for some period ahead, do we know our med costs for a month, do we have a regular supplier at a known cost, are we in regular contact with our vet to maintain continuity of supplies, do we know what we are taking on with a new horse?
- Sufficient reserves - do we know how much it costs to keep one animal for a year, what is the likelihood that we can adopt an animal out, and how long will it take, where our funding is likely to come from - donations, us?