Vermont horse rescue first to be accredited

  • Dorset Equine Rescue became the first Vermont organization accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. (Courtesy photograph) Courtesy photograph

Published: 11/28/2021 9:27:55 PM
Modified: 11/28/2021 9:27:27 PM

DORSET, Vt. — Dorset Equine Rescue became the first Vermont organization accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries in October, passing extensive requirements for horse sanctuaries in a state that requires none.

“I wanted our organization to be the best animal rescue around, so we’re the obvious choice (to bring horses to) when there’s a seizure happening,” Jen Straub, founder and president of Dorset Equine Rescue, said.

Applying for accreditation is voluntary and extensive. While some states have requirements for rescues, most don’t, said Daryl Tropea, equine program director for the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries based in Texas. The globally recognized organization offers accreditation for a variety of sanctuaries and rescues to ensure the animals “receive the highest standards of care during rescue, rehabilitation, and the rest of their life,” according to the website.

Applicants are required to submit 45 different documents, including a disaster preparedness/emergency plan and preventive medicine program, the website states. This is followed up by an extensive visit to the rescue, Tropea said.

Straub said she applied for the accreditation to be transparent and set her rescue apart from others in the state. A Google search identified more than 15 horse rescues operating in Vermont.

In its nine years, Dorset Equine Rescue has rescued more than 200 horses. Straub is currently looking for a bigger place so she can help more animals at once.

She said she wants donors to know their money will go to something sustainable that will give horses the best care.

A lack of regulations for horse sanctuaries allows any Vermont farm to call itself a rescue, no matter the quality of care, said Lori Berger, an award-winning equestrian who taught equine studies at Vermont Technical College for 13 years.

“There are horses all over the state of Vermont standing in manure up to their eyeballs in tiny pastures, overcrowded, insufficient medical care, and you cannot get anything done about it,” Berger said in a phone interview.

One case exemplifies the issue. In May 2019, Vermont State Police began investigating a Topsham, Vt., woman after two people boarding horses on her property discovered they had been left dead on the farm for several months before being buried in a shallow grave, authorities said.

A vet told police the horses were “severely malnourished to the point of emaciation,” and recommended they be seized and taken to another facility. Instead of seizing the horses, police allowed the owner to take them to a neighboring rescue.

Berger, who owns Seize-the-Day farm in Tunbridge, said she knew the rescue did not have the means to rehabilitate them.

According to The Associated Press, the owner was charged with animal cruelty and pleaded not guilty, but could not be charged with the horses’ deaths “because the bodies were too badly decomposed for police to press charges.”

Preventing such cases another reason she wanted the accreditation, Straub said.

State police can hold farms accountable, but Berger said Vermont doesn’t have many animal cruelty investigators, and there are no laws police can use to shut down inadequate rescues.

Vermont State Police does not have any investigators specifically for animal cruelty cases, Adam Silverman, spokesperson for Vermont State Police, confirmed in an email.

“Members of law enforcement, including state troopers, do respond and investigate when we receive reports of possible animal cruelty, including a couple recent cases that generated news releases and media coverage,” Silverman said.

In May, Gov. Phil Scott signed H.940, a new law updating who can be a humane officer and who can initiate an animal cruelty investigation. The position will require proper training by the end of 2023.

Berger said she testified in favor of Act 116, adopted last summer. It requires that livestock have a certain amount of shelter.

It took 10 years to get the bill passed, and Berger said there is no plan for implementation.

Beyond the safety of the animals, Berger said she’s concerned that the public will donate to rescue organizations because they want to support horses in need, and assume the rescues describe themselves accurately. Some are even registered nonprofits. Berger said people see the 501(c)(3) designation and assume the farm must be reputable.

“What the public doesn’t understand is that the 501(c)(3) status is not a guarantee of legitimacy and it is not in any way associated with quality,” Berger said. “So it’s very easy to become a 501(c)(3) if you’re somewhat literate and can file the paperwork.”

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