Apifera Farm - where art, story, animals & woman merge. Home to artist Katherine Dunn

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©Katherine Dunn.

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Taking care of old and needy animals takes time, money, insight...and of course desire

Old Matida, age 30, walks to the barn.

A couple days ago, a friend sent me a link about a neglect case in southern Maine where many horses and other animals were taken from a property where a woman was taking in needy animals. Neighbors said that the number of horses seemed to be multiplying fast and while there had been complaints, many of the nearby neighbors weren't totally alarmed. When I saw news footage, many of the horses looked in good body shape - I could not see their feet and I guess that was another issue. Some looked thin, but I knew that it takes months to put weight on a horse and maybe they had just arrived. One neighbor said the horses got out a lot.

But maybe she was just in over her head.

I thought of the woman all day, and what she must be feeling. I don't know her nor is she being identified, and because she was cooperating with animal control and police, I thought it was perhaps an all too often case of someone with a good heart but misguided expectations. The woman did not own the large barn and farmhouse, she rented. This to me is an immediate red flag for trouble ahead for anyone wanting to take on as many animals as she was. While the barn looked large, it supposedly did not have adequate shelter for 30 horses.

We have built just about everything here for the animals, over time. It took money  but it also took Martyn and his skills since he did all the finishing and prep work. I could not have done it alone, I have little to no building skills even though I am handy and capable of many jobs here. Each animal that comes along it seems a new fence or paddock has to be built...fencing goes up but you have to maintain it. If you have pigs -and I guess this place had pigs taken too-well, pigs are tough on everything and require an entire different fence than a horse or sheep or goat. And even then, they have strong noses and get out-trust me, I speak from experience, Earnest the pig will concur. ANimals get out, but if they are getting out all the time, something is missing in the managment.

I thought of the weight of caring for that many equines, not only the feed cost, but the hay storage, the farrier work, teeth floatings for any of the needy ones...my vet bills are huge and that is with mainly healthy animals. Just the manure management...and fly control.

I do know that those of us who choose to help animals are always asking ourselves if we can accommodate one more, or one comes along and you just want to help it. When I took the old horse Honey on, I knew she was on her last legs and just wanted to give her a good year in a better situation. And I did. But I thought about it long and hard. If she had been younger, I don't think I would have. Once I had euthenized her, I knew I could handle one more equine and Biggs was presented to us and I'm so happy he was. But I have to think about many things-do I have room for that much hay since I buy my hay all at once for the year which is the safest and best way if one can afford it, and has room for it. We have putrid fields but we supplement with feed and hay so we do not put money into our fields-they are wet much of the year and are not great grass fields. But again, since I supplement I have to be realistic about feed costs and storage.

And how many can I work with at a time? I guess these horses had very little interaction with people, and it showed right away to the people taking them. I work with my equines-not necessarily in the round pen, but in boundary work and manners and such. I am with them a lot.

I feel for this person, without knowing all the details. I think her heart was in the right place, she just did not have the means to make it work.

Just caring for old Matilda is a big commitment. For example, she has Cushings so is on a daily pill. Every year we do blood work to see how her levels are [it's kind of like having diabetes]. She came out of winter thinner than I had hoped-after multiple teeth floatings- but still looking OK for her age. But her levels had really jumped so now she is on a whole tab instead of a half of tab. I think it is $1.50 a day for the tab. It adds up. Multiply that by other horses that might need pills [like Captain Sparkle] and it can get very costly very quickly. I spend lots of time grooming her since Cushings horses often don't shed well [another sign her meds needed to change, we thought]. She's now on other pain meds too, and will have to be regularly floated the rest of her life [some horses, like Boone, went for long stretches without needing a float].

I think one needs to start small if they are taking animals in–and learn how to work with them, and build relationships with their vets. Farming out west and rearing animals taught me so much. I learn something all the time working with my vets and farrier.

It takes time, money, insight, and desire–desire to keep doing it day in and day out. There aren't any vacations and I don't care. I don't need a vacation. Working with animals is a vacation for me.