Euthanasia: Not the worst thing that can happen to a horse

November 23, 2010

Over the years, I’ve seen many rescues and individuals go to incredible lengths to save horses. While I admire the love and dedication behind them, I often feel that such efforts are misplaced and counter-productive. A quick, quiet death is sometimes the best gift we can give to an animal.

It’s often also the only one that makes sense.

I won’t fault any individual for spending his or her own money to try to save a beloved animal, assuming the animal doesn’t suffer long-term, and assuming that spending that money doesn’t endanger any other members of the household. But rescues are different. Nearly all rescues are working with very limited resources, many of them donated. The sad reality of the current horse market is that spending thousands of dollars trying to save one critically ill or injured horse means that several healthy but unlucky horses lose their second chance at a good life. And often, even the ill/injured horse in question has very little chance at what most people would consider a GOOD, comfortable, enjoyable life.

As we’ve covered in previous posts, there are simply too many horses in this country, and not enough people with the resources to care for them. To truly help the unwanted horse situation, rescues need to focus on saving horses who have potential to be adopted quickly (perhaps after a reasonable period of rehab and training) and go on to live a productive life. If an animal is too damaged, either mentally or physically, to live a normal life– if it can’t live with other horses due to aggression, if it can’t walk comfortably across a pasture, if it has no chance of ever being adopted — euthanasia should be seriously considered. There is no shame in letting an animal go to a peaceful death.

The same holds true of individual horse owners. Many horse owners choose to send their elderly, injured or chronically ill horses away rather than have them euthanized. While a part of me understands that desire (Who wouldn’t want to avoid the pain of watching an animal die? And who really wants to spend several hundred dollars to kill and dispose of a body?), doing so is incredibly irresponsible. Of these horses, a very lucky few end up in a rescue or with a generous and kind-hearted individual. But all too many go to fates far worse than euthanasia, on a slaughterhouse-bound truck or at the hands of a neglectful or abusive new owner.

Sad truth: If you don’t have the time, money or patience to take care of your own debilitated horse, it’s unlikely that anyone else will either.

Euthanasia is a difficult choice, and not inexpensive in most cases. But as his owner, you owe it to your horse to provide him with a good, peaceful death rather than subjecting him to an uncertain fate. And as a horse person, you owe it to the industry to not walk away from your responsibility.


General information about equine euthanasia:

The Humane Society provides an extensive list of euthanasia resources for each state, including low-cost euthanasia programs, crematory services, carcass disposal, etc.

Low Cost Euthanasia

I applaud the following organizations for providing low-cost equine euthanasia clinics for those unable to afford the cost. I believe this is one of the most useful and important programs a horse organization can provide to the public, and I hope to see more organizations follow suit: