Families facing life-changing circumstances such as poor health, loss of income, domestic violence, or relocation, often cannot care for or keep their horses. These horses, which may have been with the family for 20 years or more, are now at risk of ending up at slaughter or neglected. This year more families are going to face such hardship due to the Covid-19 situation and will need our help. Our casino and events funding are now restricted or postponed, limiting our ability to help.
Horse slaughter is a big industry in Alberta, with horse meat exported to Europe for human consumption, or live horses exported to Japan to be slaughtered for sashimi, a delicacy. Yet often horses that end up at the slaughter plant were once family pets, or someone’s riding or performance horse. We help people who have to surrender their animals due to a dire change in their personal circumstances: death, divorce, and financial hardship force people into very limited choices in trying to find a home for their horse, especially if it is older or unsound. Other than selling the animal quickly at auction, where it will most likely go for slaughter, euthanizing their horse can be the only alternative. Most certainly for those facing these difficulties, being able to give their horse to the Rescue is a big weight off their shoulders; they know the horse will be well looked after and, where possible, placed into a suitable permanent home.
Bear Valley Rescue, in existence since 2003, has, over the years, taken in well over 1200 horses and found good homes for many of them. With a province-wide scope, we have traveled to all corners of the province, often driving hours to help horses and their people. We work with the Alberta SPCA, Livestock Identification Service (Brand Inspectors), and RCMP in situations involving horses that are injured, abandoned, or neglected. We assist First Nations communities and individuals with injured or feral horses and impound situations. Many of the horses we intake are in poor condition and suffering from injuries or starvation. We receive colts or stallions that require gelding (castration) and mares that are pregnant or already with foals at their side. More often than not the horses have had little or no handling, meaning they can be quite wild and require skill and patience to control and, ultimately, train. Typically we take in between 70 or more horses each year and find homes for as many. We also network with other groups and individuals to place horses directly into new homes without having to intake them ourselves.
We have an adoption program whereby we place our horses into new homes. We also have an extensive foster program with at least 50 horses in foster care at any one time. In 2018 we began a new gelding assistance program where we arranged for our local veterinarian to accompany us to a First Nations community on two different occasions and we gelded over 15 horses. Un-gelded stallions cause overpopulation within their herds with uncontrolled breeding and they also fight and are difficult to handle, so gelding them brought good results on those fronts.
Many of our animals come from an aging population, where people are no longer physically or financially able to care for their horses. We have also assisted in situations involving domestic violence, where the abuser is a danger to the animals or a person needs to leave a situation in order to protect themselves but won’t leave their animals behind.
The Rescue is run solely by volunteers. In 2018 we also began an international volunteer program where visitors from other countries come to stay at the Rescue and help with the care of the animals. It has been a huge success. We hold tours of the Rescue and an annual Open House. Local individuals and families donate pasture for the horses which lowers our feed costs, as hay for the winter months is our single largest expense.
We receive our funding through private donations, foundation and society grants, and online auctions and fundraising. Cash donations are the single best way to support the Rescue as we have a large number of expenses to cover in the care of the horses. Hay has become a very volatile commodity which makes it very difficult to budget, costing us anywhere from $50,000 to over $100,000 per year. Our veterinarian expenses average between $40,000 and $50,000 per year. Because we travel over a large part of the province, our hauling and automotive expenses can be up to $30,000 a year, in addition to payments on our truck, trailer, and skidsteer (which has been invaluable in keeping the paddocks and pastures clean and in feeding hay!). Special feed for all the senior horses in our care is $36,000 per year.
We are always looking for dedicated volunteers, especially in the area of fundraising and grant writing.