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Abandoned horses growing problem

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POSTED July 9, 2012 1:28 a.m.

SAN BERNARDINO (AP) — A growing number of horses are being abandoned by owners in San Bernardino County, an apparent lingering effect of the 2007 housing market collapse.

So far this year county Animal Care and Control has taken in 35 horses at the Devore shelter, already coming close to its entire total from 2011, San Bernardino’s The Sun reported.

“It tells me that more horses are being abandoned and people are still struggling to care for them financially,” the agency’s director, Brian Cronin, told the newspaper. “We’re still in a situation where horses are displaced on a fairly regular basis.”

Widespread foreclosures over the past five years have forced some people to move off rural properties, occasionally leaving horses behind. The animals have been found in drainage basins along the freeway or running through open desert.

In recent weeks, two volunteers at the Mustang Spirit Ranch, a horse rescue in Pinon Hills, discovered five horses wandering the arid flatlands near Phelan. County animal control officials seized the horses — a stallion, a yearling, two American Paints and a buckskin.

Tania Bennett, ranch president and founder, told The Sun she averages five to six telephone calls a week from people wanting to relinquish their horses because they can no longer afford them. Before the economy soured in 2007, the rescue received one or two calls a week from people wanting to give up their horses, Bennett said.

In June, a dead American Paint was found by two hikers in the open desert in Hesperia. In Lucerne Valley, more than 15 horse carcasses were spotted in the open desert off Camp Rock Road.

They appeared to have all been shot in the head, said Jacob Johnson, who has a contract with the Devore shelter to provide equine veterinary services and also runs Mojave River Equine Veterinary Services in Apple Valley.

Cronin said the area appeared to be a dumping ground for dead horses, and the case remains under investigation.

The majority of the horses taken in at the Devore shelter have been from Muscoy, with 12 horses in 2011 and eight so far this year, Cronin told The Sun.

The bulk of the remaining horses, he said, come mainly from the High Desert — Newberry Springs, Landers, Joshua Tree, Yucca Valley, Twentynine Palms, Oak Hills, Apple Valley and Pinon Hills.

Officials said keeping a horse can be very expensive. Unlike the typical household pet such as a dog or a cat, which cost between $500 and $800 a year to care for, a horse can cost between $4,000 and $8,000 a year, according to the newspaper. Costs include hay, routine veterinarian care, grooming services and boarding if the horse is not boarded at one’s home or ranch.

Anyone wishing to adopt a horse from the Devore shelter can place a bid during a public sealed-bid auction that starts seven days after the animal is brought to the shelter. The minimum bid is $50, and if the horse goes unclaimed at auction, it is adopted out on a first-come, first-served basis for $50, said Doug Smith, the shelter’s supervising animal control officer.

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