Friday, October 3, 2008

Risk Management


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:
  1. 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?
  2. Shelter - if we have space, do we have adequate shelter against heat, rain, wind, cold and insects?
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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?
  6. 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?
  7. 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?
  8. 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?
This may seem a hard-nosed way of looking at rescuing animals in need, but my whole reasoning is based around not subjecting our rescued horses to further risk by overextending ourselves. Too many rescuers are having to close their doors because at a certain point, their hearts began to override their heads. While compassion is an admirable human trait, it does no good to rescue 20 or 30 or 70 animals, only to have them once again put at risk because the rescue has to shut down. The suggestions above are good ones regardless of the financial climate, but these are particularly hard times. We are all fearful of the fallout from the current economic situation and rescue organizations are reeling from the sheer numbers of requests for help that they are receiving. Most of us will survive, I am sure, but it will require careful management on our part. Our animal charges rely on us to make good decisions on their behalf, and we are duty bound to make those decisions based on the best information we have available. As a consequence, we aim to continue to give the best care we can to all our current and future rescues.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cow Pedicure

There comes a time in everyone's life when a new hairstyle and a pedicure are essential. Considering the current financial climate now is probably that time! So it is with cows, although their bank balance is probably in better shape than ours. Recently, we've noticed that our momma cows' toes were definitely in need of some filing and buffing. They were beginning to lengthen and we knew it was time to schedule an appointment with a pedicurist, sorry, a cow hoof trimmer. Seriously, cow hoof care is extremely important in cows. Improper or insufficient trimming can put put stress on joints and cause serious lameness. Foot and leg problems are major causes of loss in dairy cattle, mainly because being herbivores their preferred surface is pasture rather than concrete

Unlike horse's hooves, bovine hooves grow slowly, especially if the bulk of their diet is forage. They require trimming only once or twice a year, depending on diet and housing. It has been customary to secure the cows on a tilt table, then tip the cow and table combination slowly over to allow the trimmer to reach the hooves. Good for the trimmer but not so good for the cow as cows generally aren't wild about tipping over on to their sides and normally try to avoid this sort of thing. Fortunately, for our mommas we had heard about a local trimmer with a trimming box that kept them upright, and we scheduled an appointment.
Sunday was the big day and Ray (our new trimmer) arrived in the morning with his box. Looking like something out of H. G. Well's "Time Machine", our first impression of this contraption was that the cows aren't going to like this! Never mind, if the cows were unhappy with it, we'd just take a short vacation to some earlier time when we weren't discussing hundred billion dollar bailouts and people in other countries didn't think we were all profligate nincompoops. We could spend a few minutes dumping our AIG stock, buy up some Google and be back before lunch.

Disappointingly, this Tardis was not able to send us hurtling through time a la Dr. Who, and fortunately our mommas, as always, behaved like perfect ladies. It was just dandy for gently restraining our girls and supporting their weight so that Ray could trim and shape their hooves quickly and with little drama. The cows walked in one end, were placed in safe restraints, the box was lifted hydraulically off the ground, their feet were raised one at a time, they were trimmed and shaped, the box was lowered and the cows were then led out of the exit. The entire process was gentle and efficient.

We considered the white tips so fashionable these days, perhaps with an "Old Glory" motif, but common sense prevailed and we settled for a good filing and cleaning. Now, both girls are sporting new, sexy tootsies. And we are still watching the progress of the bailout on the news. But you can't have everything.

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Posted by Tom and Jorg