helping evacuated horses

Earlier this week Florence became the latest hurricane to batter parts of the U.S. deposited more than 30 inches of rain when it stalled over parts of the Carolinas and Virginia. Hundreds of horses were evacuated ahead of the storm, but that catastrophic flooding could prevent them from returning home anytime soon.

“This can be devastating for people, especially if their homes have been destroyed or damaged by the storm,” said Elizabeth Steed, founder of the Livestock and Equine Awareness and Rescue Network, in Ravenel, South Carolina. “So people who have taken in evacuated horses should understand that they may have to care for and feed these horses for weeks or longer.”

That’s why Rebecca Gimenez, PhD, president and primary instructor at Technical Large Animal Emergency Rescue, advises those who accept evacuated horses to have certain protections in place before they accept displaced animals.

“First of all, you have to have the authority to care for the horse while it is with you,” said Gimenez, who’s based in Macon, Georgia. “That means you need a power of attorney (POA) document.”

A powers of attorney gives those hosting evacuated horses the authority to call in a veterinarian to treat—or even euthanize a horse—in the event of an emergency. It also allows temporary caretakers the authority to provide daily routine care for however long the animal resides with them.

“A POA doesn’t have to be a formal document,” Gimenez said. “It can just be scribbled on a piece of paper, just to authorize you to care for the horse.”

Gimenez also recommends temporary caretakers require owners to provide detailed information about horses’ usual care and maintenance, including the type of hay and grain/concentrate feed they eat, whether they receive dietary supplements, or if they’re being treated with veterinarian-prescribed medication.

“Owners should have all this written down before they bring the horse to a private evacuation site,” she says.

Finally, because horses could be displaced for a lengthy period while their homes are cleaned up and/or rebuilt, those who host evacuated horses should make contractual agreements with owners that spell out how long horses might stay at an evacuation site, how farm operators can be compensated for the animal’s care, and when the caretaker might divest of the animal if the owner does not reclaim it.

“I know people don’t like to talk about this but maintaining a horse is costly,” Gimenez said. “Contracts should include the dates the horses arrive and when they’re scheduled to leave the evacuation site, a fee for temporarily boarding the horses, what constitutes abandonment, and the caretaker’s rights if the horse is abandoned.”

Ideally owners will include a POA, contracts, and proof of a negative Coggins test and other health documents, along with routine care directives and detailed descriptions of their horses ready in advance in case animals must be evacuated. But that is not always the case.

“If the owners don’t have this paperwork, the person taking the horse in should,” Gimenez said.