The Veterinarian’s Role in Equine Abuse Investigations

By Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

The following article is reproduced from “The Horse,”  January 19, 2017

How a veterinarian goes about examining and treating allegedly abused horses can mean the difference between a successful or unsuccessful case against the owner. He or she must know how to properly document all findings and avoid destroying evidence while still putting the horse’s welfare first.

Nicole Eller, DVM, a Minnesota-based field shelter veterinarian with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Field Investigations and Response team, described the veterinarian’s unique role in animal crime scene investigations during her presentation at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

First, she reviewed the basics of evidence identification, collection, and preservation. “Evidence is generally defined as anything that can demonstrate or disprove a fact in contention,” said Eller. In equine abuse investigations, this can include anything from photos of a horse’s injuries or body condition to the moldy hay in his feeder.

Veterinarians must view these cases through the lens of someone looking for and collecting evidence. As the equine expert, the veterinarian will recognize key pieces of evidence that other investigators might overlook.

Eller then described the four phases of processing an animal crime scene.

Phase 1: Document the condition of the facility or farm upon arrival

The area will most likely have already been secured by law enforcement and documented via photos and video by the time the veterinarian arrives on the scene.

Phase 2: Document each animal and its environment

The veterinarian will conduct what Eller called “critical triage” during the initial walk-through of the property.

“Critical triage is a rapid visual sorting of animals for treatment priority,” she said. “It’s done to identify animals in immediate need of medical care.”

The practitioner should classify horses needing immediate care as “red animals.” Eller said this might include horses with open fractures, seizures, hemorrhaging, etc.

“Document everything as fast as possible before treating, because the live animal is evidence, and treatment alters evidence,” she said.

After caring for the red animals, Eller said the veterinarian should perform a second walk-through and color-code the remaining animals as yellow (in need of treatment before transport), green (ready for transport), or blue (exhibiting signs of infectious disease).

“Given how horses are typically housed, if one has infectious disease, they may all have it,” said Eller. “But if a few are obviously infectious, you would want to handle them last and have an isolation area set up at the clinic or place where the horses are being transported.”

Once the horses have been documented and tended to, then it’s time to document their living conditions and environment. “Demonstrate how that environment may have directly affected the animal,” she said, including taking photographs or directing the person who is. Any dead horses, carcasses, or skeletal remains on the property must also be catalogued as physical evidence.

Once all horses have been removed from the property, the veterinarian should perform a more thorough documentation of the living space. Note the dimensions of each enclosure or shelter as well as how many horses shared each space, said Eller. Take mid-range and close-up photos of “any receptacles, presence or lack of good and water, quality of food and water, shelter and fence construction and possible hazards, feces, and urine,” she added.

Phase 3: Nonanimal evidence

Veterinarians also play an important role identifying nonanimal evidence. “This could include items such as medications, supplements, surgical supplies, emasculators, and caustic substances,” said Eller. “Some items of evidence may be overlooked by law enforcement officers who are not familiar with the particular crime type.”

Phase 4: Document the condition of the scene upon exit

This final phase involves a thorough physical exam and detailed photos of each horse. “Photos are a fundamental component of a forensic examination,” said Eller. She suggests treating the horse like a cube and getting photos of all six sides, with close-ups of any findings, such as lesions, abscesses, or wounds, and placing a forensic ruler next to these findings for measurement purposes.

And above all, never delete any photos—even the blurry or unintentional ones. “They will be found, and you will be questioned,” said Eller.

The veterinarian’s role in an animal abuse case doesn’t end after the crime scene has been documented, evidence collected, and horses treated. He or she must provide a final report on the facts of the case, known as a forensic veterinary statement. This will help the judge and jury understand the evidence. When putting together a forensic veterinary statement, write for a lay audience, and remain impartial, said Eller. It is not the veterinarian’s job to determine guilt or innocence, but to present the medical facts of the case.

When Rescues Go Bad, Veterinarians Should Be Ready To Help

Here’s a good article by Natalie Voss from the Paulick Report, on the importance for veterinarians to recognize and act upon neglect in horse rescues. Veterinarians are in a position to observe occasions of animal abuse and have a moral obligation to report suspected cases.  That obligation has increased with the recognized link between abuse in animals and abuse in people and the recognition in some provinces (Quebec) of animal sentience. The rapid increase in the number of equine rescues and the number of horses under their control also means that increased vigilance and scrutiny must be made.

For Canadian veterinarians,  there is a Canada-specific resource produced by the CVMA that can be used for reference purposes.  Please click here to read the Microsoft Word document.

From the Paulick Report:

“As social media brings together more animal lovers and homeless horses than ever, authorities across the country are seeing an increase in the number of rescue situations gone bad. At the recent American Association of Equine Practitioners convention in Orlando, Fla., a panel of experts devoted an entire afternoon to helping veterinarians understand the legal and ethical implications involved in reporting cruelty cases and helping investigators document them.

There is no centralized authority keeping track of the numbers of horses reported neglected by owners each year, but the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals suggests the number is growing. ASPCA is often called in large-scale neglect cases of all species to provide volunteer manpower and veterinary expertise.

It’s also becoming more common than ever to receive reports of large-scale neglect from farms operating as non-profit horse rescues. Dr. Jennifer Williams, president and co-founder of Blue Bonnet Equine Humane Society, pointed out the number of rescues has grown with the number of unwanted horses. When she began working in horse rescue 18 years ago, she was one of very few in that role in the state of Texas.

“Now you can’t hardly walk down the road without stumbling into a rescue. They’re everywhere,” said Williams, who noted there are now more than 400 organizations listed with the Internal Revenue Service as being a “horse” or “equine” rescue/humane society.

It’s only logical that some of those organizations will be ill-equipped to handle the unending need for their services, the panel agreed.

This means veterinarians need to be aware of the laws governing animal cruelty and neglect in their state and county and have an idea of who to call before they need to report a case. Some vets hesitate to report cases because they assume if the owner is ordering medical care for an animal, they can’t be considered to be abusing the animal. Others may believe they have to know who is responsible for abuse or neglect before reporting it (they don’t), or feel uncomfortable reporting a case in which the animals belong to someone who’s not a client. It’s also important for veterinarians to know the language of their state’s animal welfare laws, and the difference in “cruelty” (an act of commission, like beating an animal) versus “neglect” (an act of omission, like withholding feed).
 

“Just because you or I may feel something constitutes abuse, doesn’t mean the law recognizes it as such,” said Dr. Rachel Touroo, director of veterinary forensics at the ASPCA. “Therefore, you need to familiarize yourself with these laws to form an opinion of what constitutes cruelty or neglect.”

In fact, the non-reporting of a potential abuse case can pose a legal problem for veterinarians; some 11 states require them to report suspicions of abuse. (Kentucky, Florida, and New York have no such requirement; California does.)

Touroo indicated neglect is seen more often in horses than outright abuse and can be attributed to a variety of factors. Some owners (or rescues) run out of funding, others don’t have the necessary education to understand how to feed or care for animals. Others could experience depression or other emotional issues related to caregiver stress. Still others, Touroo said, have physical or mental health issues limiting their capacity to provide care. Mental health issues often manifest in the form of hoarding both animals and objects. In Touroo’s experience, people involved in these cases have lost touch with reality, and insist their crowded, starving, or ill animals are happy and healthy, even if it’s obvious they are not.

“They often will remain vigilant with this defense, all the way through court, even if they’re found guilty,” said Touroo. “They will insist they were providing the best care for these animals and no one else could care for these animals like they do.”

Despite this odd defense, people with overcrowded farms can also be aware enough of the horse’s physical appearance to hide the worst-looking animals on the back of the property, so veterinarians are encouraged to keep their eyes open. People operating rescues with this issue are sometimes known to refuse visitors to the facility, seem to focus on acquiring more animals rather than adopting out from their herd, and may insist upon accepting donated horses at a remote location.

Once a case has been identified and reported, veterinarians were encouraged to volunteer their support to local law enforcement. Some areas have dedicated animal control officers who may have training in identifying symptoms of malnourishment or untreated disease, but others are completely unprepared.

If veterinarians are brought in to help with an investigation, ASPCA has a suggested protocol for getting neglected horses treated without disrupting the legal case. Vets should take photographs of each horse throughout the treatment process from all angles, and establish identification numbers and descriptions of animals early on. Horses with contagious diseases should be quarantined and those diseases reported to the state’s animal health department if required. Medical records belong to the veterinarian and cannot legally be released without a subpoena (or permission from the animal’s owner), but should be maintained extensively for use in prosecution. This includes notes on normal findings or on vital signs and even means veterinarians shouldn’t delete blurry or out-of-focus photos from their phones. Dr. Nicole Eller, field shelter veterinarian, noted this causes gaps in metadata which could provide a defense lawyer a line of questioning in court.

Law enforcement should be tipped to any unusual equipment on the property such as veterinary drugs or surgical supplies. Possession of these items could constitute additional charges and could help identify accomplices.

Vets should also not refrain from billing the appropriate party for their treatment of the animals, since this demonstrates to the court the financial impact of restoring animals to health (though they shouldn’t expect speedy payment, either).

Ultimately, veterinarians’ role is to provide clarity, and hopefully in turn, justice and safety for the animal.

“We are advocates, in these cases, for the truth,” said Eller. “We as vets are used to being advocate for the animal, and in a lot of cases it should probably be the same thing. You don’t need to describe guilt or innocence; you just need to describe your findings.”

University of Saskatchewan Develops Endoscopy Capsule (Camera Pill) For Horses

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Julia Montgomery, from the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine, holds up an endoscopy capsule designed for humans but tested on the thoroughbred horse, Mama. The camera in a pill is able to take pictures for nine hours throughout the horse’s abdomen. | William DeKay

Endoscopy capsules are already available for human patients,  and aid in the diagnoses of inflammatory bowel and other conditions.  The capsule is the size and shape of a large pill and contains a tiny wireless camera.  After a patient swallows the capsule, it takes pictures of the inside of the gastrointestinal tract. 

The University of Saskatchewan has developed a prototype capsule for horses based on the capsule already in use for humans.  The capsule will be inserted via stomach tube and will contain lenses that send digital colour images attached to a receiver located in a belt wrapped around the horse’s rib cage.

Please read more here:

Ontario Equestrienne Receives Award For Exemplary Horse Health Care From McKee-Pownall Equine Services

jen-sweetIn an email blast dated October 20, 2016, McKee-Pownall Equine Services announced that they have selected Ontario equestrienne Jen Sweet to receive a welfare award based on her horse-health care philosophy.  We also congratulate Jen for her accomplishments! This is the second of an annual Horse Health and Welfare Award offered by McKee-Pownall.

“This award is valued at $1000 and is based upon:

  • Incorporating veterinary care as part of the overall training routine of horses in their care.
  • Putting the best interests of the horse’s health first over competition and training schedules.
  • Educating their clients about horse health care.

1074 votes were cast in a very close race!

We would also like to acknowledge runners up for this year’s award; Jesse Cassidy-Skof and Claire Hunter as well as all of the trainers nominated for this award.

Here are some words about Jen Sweet from those who nominated her for this award.
Jen is 100% dedicated to the health and well-being of the horses in her care. She has a dedicated daily and annual herd health program that incorporates a holistic healthcare professional approach, including vets, farriers, nutritionists, chiropractors and certified saddle fitters, all ensuring that her horses are well cared for.  Jen has used this approach to rescue and rehabilitate many horses to allow them to return to the equine community.

Jen passes her immeasurable knowledge on to her students and boarders at every opportunity, using the barn mailing list to inform her clients on herd health updates and education opportunities. She offers seminars and clinics to her students and engages the juniors in her barn in horse health clinics and horse care lessons. Jen is very aware of her horse’s behaviours and quickly picks up on problems and will put horse health above ribbons and prizes. She is engaged in a horse’s life from the moment they enter the barn to the moment they leave. She has an amazing ability to care for horses in their advanced years and is always able to make difficult decisions in the end stages with the best interests of the horse in mind, even when it is not easy. 

Presentation of this award to Jen Sweet will be made on the first Saturday evening performance at the Royal Winter Fair Horse Show 2016. Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to nominate and vote for these trainers.”

Agri-Foods and Biosciences (Ireland) Cautions Farms About Bute Cross-Contamination In Cattle Via Horses

ph-horse-eating-grainThis is an interesting and highly relevant article from the AFBI (Agri-Foods and Biosciences Institute, an amalgamation of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Science Service and the Agricultural Research Institute of Northern Ireland) that stresses the importance of avoiding cross-contamination of phenylbutazone in cattle when dosing horses. The suggestion is that positive results for bute in cattle are not necessarily indicative of off-label use of the drug,  but in accidental contamination through the treatment of horses on the same farm via shared feed buckets.

It’s surprising that such casual exposure can result in “significant concentrations of bute” in cattle. Also surprising is that the AFBI or other EU agencies have apparently not caught on to the logical conclusion here – if cattle can be eliminated from the food chain due to casual cross-contamination by feed buckets or pasture, what should that tell food agencies about the use of the horse as a “food animal,” many of whom receive bute directly?

Whether dirty buckets or shared pastures are the causative factor in the positive test results in cattle is unknown.  It seems unlikely that farmers would give bute to cattle based on their concerns about the acceptance of their stock in the food chain.  But it’s clear that the food industry in Ireland at least, fears bute contamination in cattle,  and that same concern should govern the decision to reject horses as a food source entirely.

Please read the original article here.

“Farmers are being urged to take extreme care when using the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug bute (phenylbutazone) to treat horses. Investigative work carried out by scientists at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) has shown the risk of inadvertently contaminating cattle through the use of bute is very real.

Bute is an inexpensive, yet highly effective treatment for inflammation and pain that can be injected intravenously or given orally as a powder or paste to horses.  It is not authorised for use in any animal, including horses, destined for the human food chain.  Despite this, official statistics provided by the European Food Safety Authority show that around 0.1% of cattle tested in the European Union in 2014 had detectable bute residues.  Horses treated with bute must not enter the food chain, and their passports must be signed to declare that the animal is not intended for human consumption. This is an irreversible decision.

In common with the EU results, testing for bute in cattle in NI has, over the years, identified a small number of animals with detectable residues of the drug.  Dr Steven Crooks from AFBI explains that, “following on from a number of positive findings in NI cattle, there was anecdotal evidence to suggest that, at least in some cases, the offending cattle may not have been illegally treated with the drug.  In these cases, non-compliance may have arisen through contamination as a result of the legal treatment of horses on the farms.”  Based on this evidence, a number of studies were carried out by AFBI scientists to determine the likelihood that cross-contamination could be at the heart of at least some of the problem.

Studies undertaken by AFBI, using bute in its powder form, investigated the possibility of illegal residues in cattle arising through the use of a shared bucket (i.e. if a horse was to be fed from a bucket containing bute and then the same bucket used to feed cattle), a shared pen or through contaminated pasture.  In all cases results clearly demonstrated that contamination could in fact play a significant role. For example, cattle sharing the “dirty” bucket showed residues of the drug in their blood some 3500 times greater than the lowest amount detectable using AFBI’s method of analysis.  Similarly, cattle sharing a pen with a treated animal, in this case an illegally treated bullock, demonstrated detectable concentrations within 24 hours of being penned together.  In the final study, a number of animals were treated with bute over the winter period.  The manure and bedding from these animals was spread onto pasture in early spring and untreated cattle allowed to graze the pasture some 10 weeks later.  Subsequent analysis of blood from these grazing animals showed that all contained significant concentrations of bute.

Given that bute is often the drug of choice for horses and that many farmers do keep some horses, it is important that those using the drug take extreme care to avoid contamination of their cattle.  Dr Crooks explains that “while the therapeutic dose of the drug is high with, for example, a 450 kg horse receiving as much as 4 g of bute on the first day of treatment, a 130,000 times smaller amount (30 μg) of the drug can give rise to detectable residues in the blood of a 500 kg bullock.”  As such, extreme care must be taken to avoid any form of contamination of cattle as this will result in detectable residues which are costly, not only for the farmer, but also for the reputation of the NI agri-food industry as a whole.”

 

Access-To-Information Documents Reveal Horse Death On Atlas Air Flights To Japan

The attached Access-To-Information documents, relating to live shipments from  the Calgary Airport in Alberta in March 2015, describe the conditions under which several horses went down once loaded or prior to being loaded on a flight to Osaka Japan via Atlas Air.

Of the horses that were taken back to be assessed,  one horse was found to be deceased in the crate.  Note that the brand has been obscured.  No explanation was provided for the cause of death,  and it`s unknown whether a necropsy was performed on the deceased horse.

 

Clinical Crisis: Why Are So Many Veterinarians Committing Suicide?

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Written by: Liz Brown

Republished from an article in Horse Network.  Please click here to read the original.

Veterinarians are taking their own lives at a rate four times the general population and the profession is finally starting to talk about it.

It was after midnight on New Year’s Eve when Dr. Carlin Jones stepped outside her mother’s house into the frigid Maine air. She sat on the deck. In her hands she cradled a syringe containing 2 cc of the horse tranquilizer xylazine—enough to make the average 1,000 lb. horse groggy and cause respiratory arrest in humans.

“I thought 2 ccs would be swift. I planned to hit my vein. I am often told I have great veins,” she says. “I remember it was freezing cold. Ridiculously cold. But I was going outside because I didn’t want to make a mess in my mother’s house.”

Earlier in the day Jones had spent hours crafting suicide notes. There was one for her mother, another for her sister. There was one for her husband and one for her young daughter. She had double checked her life insurance policy to make sure it would still pay her family if she died by suicide, because she didn’t want to leave them responsible for her student loans.

“I was very pleased with myself for being so proactive. I figured it was the least I could do, but that’s because in my mind, I was doing this to make my family’s lives easier,” she says.

That New Year’s Eve in 2010 was a culmination of a professionally and personally trying year for the 34-year-old Jones. After months of job related stress and unhappiness, the equine reproductive veterinarian had just been fired from a workplace she describes as toxic. She had also been dealing with serious health problems—an unexplained neurologic issue doctors suspected was Multiple Sclerosis.

“I was told if it was multiple sclerosis it was probably the primary progressive type that is pretty aggressive and I would be in a wheelchair within 10 years,” she says.

“I felt like if I was physically disabled I’d be a burden, and then there was the thought of not being able to practice veterinary medicine. Even though practicing caused me so much stress and unhappiness at that time, when I thought of not being able to do it, I couldn’t think of my life without it,” she says.

Jones sat with the vial of horse tranquilizer for several hours in the freezing cold. She sat there until the sun began to peek over the horizon, then walked back inside. “I was hypothermic,” she says.

“I came inside and sat on the couch for a while, and went to bed around 6 a.m. I woke up a few hours later and went about New Year’s Day like everything was fine.”

“I don’t know why I didn’t do it. I’m just grateful I didn’t.”

A familiar story

Jones’ story is not an unfamiliar one in the veterinary profession. In the last decade there has been an explosion of research into mental health and suicide within veterinary medicine. A 2008 U.K. study first raised alarm bells when it found veterinarians commit suicide at a rate of four times that of the general population and twice the rate of medical doctors and dentists.

Numerous high-profile suicides have shaken the veterinary community in the last few years. In 2014, Dog training pioneer Dr. Sophia Yin took her own life, as did New York City veterinarian Dr. Shirley Koshi, bringing the topics of job stress and mental health to the forefront of professional conferences.

“That’s what we’re taught—when the pain is too bad, euthanasia is the one thing left we can do.”

One of the first mental health surveys of U.S. veterinarians, conducted in 2014 by Dr. Randall J. Nett and Dr. Tracy Witte, found one in six veterinarians may have considered suicide, and one in 10 have experienced serious psychological distress.

Witte, a suicide researcher at Auburn University, first became interested in the topic in 2010 when she saw the alarming U.K. study showing the abnormally high suicide rate among veterinarians.

“I thought that was interesting, but as I dove into the literature, I noticed that there was a lot of gaps in knowledge,” she says.

She is now working to fill those gaps and also looking at the job stress levels of other workers employed in the veterinary field, including vet techs and vet assistants, who she says show similar job stress levels to veterinarians. The research is twofold: identify why veterinarians are at risk for suicide, and identify what interventions will help reduce the suicide rate.

Based on the data Witte has collected, work overload is one of the most commonly cited causes of psychological distress in veterinarians. Dr. David Bartram, author of the 2008 U.K. study, says his findings are similar. He cites work-life conflict, conflict with animal owners and staff management responsibilities as the major stressors veterinarians face.

“We’ve got a lot of vets saying they’re not interested in managing staff,” says Bartram. “They want to be vets but they are temperamentally ill-suited or don’t have the training or resources required [to manage an office].”

“People go to vet school not because they want to be a small business owner and entrepreneur, but because they want to work with animals, and managing a small business causes stress,” added Witte.

For Jones, her identity was wrapped up in being a veterinarian, so when work conflict arose it was that much harder psychologically to deal with. During her vet school years she had even resigned herself to the fact she might never have a partner or family.

“I wasn’t going to have kids or a family. Just work-work-work. I thought I was content with that direction, I was ok with doing nothing but working, but then I ended up meeting my husband and realizing that might not be the best course in life and there were other things than just work.”

“Sometimes my husband has said to me, ‘I’m jealous because I have a job, but you have a career, it’s part of you,’ and I say to him, ‘that’s not always a good thing.’”

The other contributor to suicide and psychological distress, according to research, is the exposure to euthanasia and access to drugs used in euthanasia, coupled with the knowledge of how to use them effectively.

“As veterinarians, we do view death as the end of pain,” agrees Jones. “That’s what we’re taught—when the pain is too bad, euthanasia is the one thing left we can do. So when we’re in that much psychological pain we’re going to look at it that way.”

What is being done

According to Dr. Bartram, professional veterinary bodies throughout the English speaking world are taking notice and beginning to talk about these issues.

“It still has a tremendously long way to go, but it has changed considerably. There’s hardly a veterinary conference in the English speaking world when wellness isn’t on the program somewhere. That’s a seachange,” he says.

Indeed, the stigma around talking about mental health and suicide and reaching out for help is lifting. In 2015, two veterinary students—Taylor Gaines and Amanda Carlson—started the blog Beasts Unburdened, offering support and tips for handling stress and looking after mental health. They even have a space on the site where students can share their experiences anonymously.

Gaines was moved to create the blog following the suicide of a second year Ohio State veterinary student. He wanted a place where students and veterinarians could share their experiences anonymously and lift some of the stigma and isolation associated with mental health issues and suicide.

Gaines says that veterinarians need to talk about these issues in “a real way.”

“Not just a vague ‘sometimes people feel sad’, but people need to step up and say ‘I have felt like I wanted to/have tried to kill myself. I am still here, here is why,’” he says.

“I can’t say I know exactly how it will get better, why it gets better, but it does and I’m incredibly grateful I didn’t do it.”

Last year, they informally surveyed veterinary students at the University of Wisconsin and Virginia-Maryland College about sleep and study habits. The average respondent reported sleeping 6.74 hours per night and studying 4.1 hours per day, not including class time. Participants reported on average working 37% more than they thought was reasonable.

At the veterinary school level Carlson says some schools have organized retreats for faculty to attend that focus on promoting wellness within the profession. “The momentum for these projects continues to pick up steam, but a lot of dismantling of the previously established stigma need time to be effective.”

For practicing vets, Witte says that state veterinary bodies are implementing wellness programs with support and hotlines veterinarians experiencing psychological distress can contact. Alabama, where Witte lives, has one of the oldest of such programs in the country. And there is a similar program in the U.K. with a 24 hour hotline that veterinarians can access if they are feeling psychological distress.

Gaines says that clients need to be aware of the stress and struggles associated with the veterinary profession as well. “I can tell you, vets are not in this for the money,” he says. “Ask them how their day is going. Tell them thank you and you appreciate them and what they do for you and your animals.”

For Dr. Bartram, something as simple as ensuring an hour lunch break in the work day can reap myriad rewards in the psychological health of veterinarians.

“Actually book a lunch hour and force everyone to take their lunch and sit together for half an hour. Something where you can chat to your colleagues informally can produce a great return on investment in terms of mental health,” he says.

Moving on

Six years after coming so close to ending her life, Jones is in a much better place. Her neurologic issues have cleared up and she has found new employment at a clinic in New York State with the “greatest group of people.”

To keep herself mentally healthy, Jones periodically checks in with a counsellor and now ensures she sets aside time each week—no matter what her workload—to spend time with her husband and daughter. Learning to navigate that work life balance wasn’t something she was taught in veterinary school, it was something she had to stumble across herself.

It was just two weeks after her brush with suicide that she was offered her new job.

“The biggest thing I would want any person in that same position I was in to remember is that it does get better. I can’t say I know exactly how it will get better, why it gets better, but it does and I’m incredibly grateful I didn’t do it.”

 

 

From Equine Guelph: The Equine Biosecurity Risk Calculator

shutterstock_268534550Originally published in Equimed, June 2, 2016

“Equine Guelph has named 2016 the Year of Biosecurity.  Find out if there are extra steps your farm could be implementing to help reduce the risk of infectious disease.  With a simple 10 minute survey, the Biosecurity Risk Calculator, sponsored by Vétoquinol Canada Inc., provides a starting point to protecting your horse’s health with easy to implement practices for infectious disease control.”

The calculator is a series of 42 questions in 10 categories and will take approximately 10 minutes to complete.  The categories are:

  • General Facility
  • Housing Materials
  • Movement of Resident Horses
  • New Horses
  • Vaccination/Deworming
  • Movement of People On/Off The Horse Facility
  • Pest Control
  • Infection Control
  • Sick Horses
  • Isolation

After completing each section you will be able to calculate your score at the end of the exercise.

 

Welfare Of Horses Transported To Slaughter In Canada: Assessment Of Welfare And Journey Risk Factors Affecting Welfare

shutterstock_268534550This study  was published in the Canadian Journal of Animal Science. The findings of injury to horses are hardly surprising considering the number of unfamiliar horses travelling together in close confines and the rough handling involved whenever animals are being transported to slaughter.

Abstract:

“Injuries in horses transported to slaughter in Canada. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 95: 523–531. Horses transported in groups on long journeys to slaughter are at risk of injury. Injuries can occur following trauma and aggression from other horses. This study quantified injuries in 3940 horses from 150 loads that arrived at a slaughter plant in Canada. Surface injuries were quantified using visual assessment. Digital thermography was used to detect areas of raised surface temperature. Carcasses were assessed for bruising. Multivariable regression analysis was used to examine the associations between journey characteristics and the risk of injury. There was a significant association between journey duration and the number of horses per load with surface injuries (P<0.001). In 100 horses from 40 loads studied in detail, 33% had surface injuries identified by visual assessment, 48% had areas of raised surface temperature identified by thermography and 72% had bruising identified by carcass assessment. The levels of agreement between identification of injury by thermography and that by identification of visible injuries and carcass bruising were low. Pre-transport assessments could not be performed and hence injuries could not be linked causally to the transport conditions alone. However, the detailed assessments of injury and the use of multivariable regression analysis showed that long journeys were associated with injuries.”

The full text of the study,  available here,  makes several interesting observations:

“On the basis of changes in the behaviour and physiology of horses during a 30-h journey, Friend (2000) considered that journey durations in hot conditions, without water, should not exceed 28 h and they should be shorter if there was aggression between horses, the stocking density was high, and the fitness of the horses was less than ideal.”  This suggests that the 36 hour transport limitation is inhumane.

“There are many anecdotal reports and graphic images available on the internet and the effectiveness of the enforcement program in the USA has been called into question (United States Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General 2010; United States Government Accountability Office (2011).”  This comment seems to question the ability of the USDA and other groups to police slaughter and transport infractions while slaughter was operating in the US.

“Some loads of horses were slaughtered immediately upon arrival, some were lairaged overnight and others were kept for up to 2 d (if they arrived during a weekend).”  This observation refutes statements made by pro-slaughter advocates that there is a “holding period for withdrawal” at slaughter plant lots.  Since most of these horses will arrive from US-based auctions  where they were previously  owned by private individuals,  we can only ask slaughter apologists where the holding time occurs in the chain-of-custody for horses.  Indeed, Under the Health of Animals Regulations Import reference document, section 5, if imported horses are going directly to slaughter they must be:

1. Accompanied by a USA-origin health certificate.

2. Inspected by CFIA at the border on entry into Canada. The load is sealed at this point

3. Licensed by CFIA to be taken directly from the border entry point to a federally registered slaughter plant. The transporter must proceed directly to the plant. The horses may only be transported to the plant designated in the license.

4. CFIA inspectors at the plant will open the sealed load upon its arrival.

5. The plant operator must slaughter the horses within 4 days of their arrival

“For journey origins associated with long journey durations the majority of horses arrived at the slaughter plant with a plasma total protein concentration that was greater than normal and indicative of dehydration.”

“Lameness and poor body condition were not identified as potential issues affecting the fitness of many of the horses that were transported to slaughter. If many very low value horses and/or geriatric horses had been purchased for slaughter then a greater percentage of the horses would have been expected to have been in poor body condition and have shown signs of lameness (Cary and Turner 2006).”  This finding supports observations elsewhere and by the USDA that 92% of horses sent to slaughter are healthy are able to lead productive lives.  It is also suggestive that most horses are not sent to slaughter as a last resort before starvation and that injuries incurred enroute are less likely to be due to poor condition at the outset and more likely to be attributed to travel itself.

Recent Study Findings – 15% Of Horse Transports To Slaughter Exceed 36 Hour Limitation

ayache horse trailer
Dorian Ayache, Three Angels Farm owner and operator, received a shut-down order in 2012 from the DOT stating the motor carrier posed an imminent hazard to public safety. Three Angels Farm had two accidents over an eight month period involving poorly maintained vehicles and fatigued drivers, which not only endangered the public, but also resulted in the death of multiple horses. Ayache was cited for those accidents.

Because it is a business viewed by many as disreputable,  horse transport to slaughter is sometimes accomplished using sub-standard vehicles traveling under cover of darkness,  driven by persons who have already incurred transport violations.  Current regulations allow horses to be transported for up to 36 hours without food, water or rest. Unlike some other species,  horses do not travel well in the company of other unfamiliar horses and often kick, bite,  or trample each other,  leading to serious injury or even death enroute.

There have been many reported cases of animal welfare violations in Canadian horse slaughterhouses including failure to provide food and water, illegal unloading of animals, late stage pregnant mares shipped, and sick or injured animals denied veterinary care.

Not surprisingly, veterinary experts around the world and leading animal protection groups have denounced horse slaughter as inhumane.

For many,  the study below, published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, merely validates what we have confirmed via Access-To-Information requests and Order Papers submitted to the government.

From the abstract of the study“Patterns and durations of journeys by horses transported from the USA to Canada for slaughter”

Roy RC1, Cockram MS1.

rotz horse transport fire
This truck caught fire with horses aboard, and the driver stopped but neither he nor first responders were able to extinguish the flames. No reason was given for keeping the horses trapped in the trailer as it burned. The truck was pulled over in New York on March 13, 2013 and ordered out of service until repairs and maintenance could be performed. Nine violations were noted in 2011, one of which was a discharged or unsecured fire extinguisher. The horses were reportedly destined for the Viande Richelieu Meat, Inc. slaughterhouse in Massueville, Quebec.

“Concern has been expressed over the welfare of horses transported from the USA for slaughter in Canada. United States Department of Agriculture owner/shipper certificates for the year 2009 were analyzed to provide quantitative information on the patterns and durations of these journeys. In 2009, horses from 16 states in the northern USA were transported to 6 equine slaughter plants in Canada. Thirty-two percent of loads were from auction centers, 33% from feedlots, and 35% from horse collection centers.”

The median duration of the journey was 19 h.  The actual time in transit for the horses was observed as follows:

  • 36% < 6 h
  • 11% for 6 to 18 h
  • 13% for 18 to 24 h
  • 25% for 24 to 36 h
  •  9% for 36 to 48 h
  • ….and apparently 6% > 48 h

“Some journeys exceeded those specified in regulations and, based on other research, would put these horses at risk of negative welfare outcomes, such as dehydration, injury, and fatigue.”

So,  despite the median journey being 19 hours,  a full 15% of the journeys exceeded the 36 hour limitation – 36 -48 hours without rest,  food or water.