Saving horses: It’s no longer ‘in lieu,’ it’s ‘in lunacy’

& You’ve got to hand it to the New Mexico Livestock Board.

They can take a big pile of road apples and turn it into an even bigger pile of horse poop.

Loyal readers of this here Gazette will recall that Yr’s Truly has written before of the massive problem of unwanted horses in New Mexico, and the never-getting-anywhere debate over what to do with them. Keep ‘em and feed ‘em, says one faction. Slaughter ‘em and sell ‘em, says another.

In the midst of the circle-jerk debate-that-goes-nowhere, however, unwanted horses keep turning up. The inspectors of the NMLB are kept busy carrying out their state-mandated duties of picking up horses that are loose, or mistreated, or starving, or surrendered by down-and-out owners who can’t afford to buy milk for the kids, let alone hay for the horse.

And what do the inspectors of the NMLB do with the horses? Well, that’s where we start slogging into the mounting mountain of bureaucratic manure.

Let’s start with a law in New Mexico that says the government can’t donate property it owns. Sounds reasonable – that stops people from giving away county-owned Caterpillar bulldozers and things like that. You just walk into the guv’s mansion and start asking for the bathtub. See how far that gets you.

If you live by the letter of that law [in New Mexico, I know that’s a very strange concept], you can come to the conclusion that the horses seized by or signed over to the NMLB inspectors are the property of the state, especially if no one has claimed the horses within a five-day waiting period. Not many people come a-claiming.  So, the inspector has picked up the poor thing, he’s advertised it on the NMLB’s website for the required five days, and there have been no claims. Now, the state is the proud owner of yet another starving-unwanted-mistreated equine bag of bones which, to the anally-inclined-narrow-minded among us, is no different than a bulldozer or a bathtub, and cannot be given away.

But, legalities aside, there is one small difference: Bulldozers and bathtubs don’t eat hay. And they don’t deposit smelly pelletized poop that has to be picked up. Hay and poop pickers cost money. The state, which doesn’t like to spend money on any smelly thing unless it benefits a politician, wants to get rid of these horses as soon as it can. So, it tries to sell them. For the first five days a horse is advertised on the NMLB site, individuals can submit bids, assuming they also agree to pay the state $10 a day for the cost of boarding the horse in addition to the bid. If nobody bids on the horse by the end of the sixth day, the horse goes to the auction barn, and, probably, from there to a south-of-the-border slaughterhouse. Nobody knows where it goes for sure, but ah’ll betcha the abattoir is a good bet.

That’s the way it is these days.

Back in the old days, say a month or two ago, the NMLB’s inspectors had a little leeway, which offered at least an opportunity for the state to save some money, and for some dedicated people to save a horse’s life.

Back in the old days, an inspector had the discretion to work out a deal with one of the several state-licensed horse rescue organizations, one like Four Corners Equine Rescue up in Aztec, or End of the Road Ranch in Silver City, or The Horse Shelter in Cerrillos, where they actually rescue horses – take them in, care for them, even train them – and get them back to being something worth more than a trip to a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Back in the old days, an inspector could drop a horse off at The Horse Shelter, for example, where it would be cared for during the five-day temporary hold. If no bids were received, and the rescue and shelter folks decided they’d take the horse, the inspector could transfer ownership, using the shelter’s cost of feeding and stabling the horse in lieu of payment to the state. To some lawyers, at least, (maybe even a state-paid lawyer, it’s said) that’s a perfectly acceptable way of getting around the state’s ‘no donation’ law. Not to mention saving lots of brain damage and a little money.

But in the new days, like today, the NMLB has replaced the ‘in lieu’ payment process with an ‘in lunacy’ process. No longer does the inspector have the discretion to make a deal. He or she must haul the horse, at additional cost to the state, all the way to Los Lunas, where the horse stands less of a chance of finding permanent shelter: The non-profit, donation-dependent, money-strapped volunteer-supported horse shelters must bid, just like everybody else, for the right to take an unwanted animal off the state’s hands. They don’t always have the money to do that bidding. It makes no sense, but it no doubt makes it easier on paper-shufflers in government offices, for whom nothing is of greater value than less work.

Under this pile of poop is the plain truth: Although its inspectors may feel otherwise – and Yr’s Truly hears that some of them do — the NMLB no longer takes into consideration the benefits of putting a horse in a state-licensed shelter, or the efforts of those who operate those shelters. In the blinkered eyes of the Livestock Board, those who are trying to save horses are no different than the kill buyers who prowl the sale barns looking for fat horses to ferry off to the slaughterhouses of Mexico.

& Heading off to look a gift horse in the mouth, I’m outta here.

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