A city in crisis
Some version of the Monty story is just about everywhere in Houston. Monica Schmidt, public relations officer at HHS, says the horse problem is completely out of control. And, she says, it's not just horses being abandoned on the side of the road. "It's anything from horses to a litter of puppies, to older dogs, dogs [who] are ill, dogs with wounds, dogs who are emaciated." The animals are often found in the same spots where people discard couches or beds. "Unfortunately," she says, "this is something we are battling big time here in Houston."
Facebook / Rotonda PeteThere are "hundreds and hundreds" of horses being abandoned throughout Houston, says Baimbridge. "You will see horses tied to trees or dumped in an empty lot. Many of them are malnourished and in pitiful shape." The police spot so many horses while driving through the streets of Houston "that you almost get accustomed to it," he adds. "It's terrible. If you go down on the main drag - like West Montgomery - you will see at least three, four, five, six horses. But then you go down a side street, and they are everywhere." A sizable portion of this horse dumping - for lack of a better term - occurs in an area called Acres Homes, which Baimbridge describes as having a tradition of horse-ownership and "the country life - even if it is in the city." Baimbridge says he was a patrolman in the area in the '90s, and when he returned to the neighborhood more recently as a captain, he was struck by what he saw. Part of the problem, Baimbridge estimates, is that every quarter year or so, Acres Homes spawns a series of rodeos and parades, which showcases horses. "So, all of a sudden, everyone will have a horse," he explains. Some of the horses are bought from auctions, some are likely stolen from rural communities outside the city and some are from previous events. But the bottom line is this: After the hoopla has quieted, a staggering amount of the horses are discarded. One common scenario is that the owner will tie the horse to a tree without sustenance, says Baimbridge, "because the owner assumes the horse can take care of itself." Then a week or so later, the owner will return to the horse and force the animal to give him a ride - even though the horse hasn't been fed or given water in days. It's likely what happened to Monty before he finally perished. Reform is tragically slow
HHS contracts two sheriffs from the county to work full-time for the organization on cruelty cases. But, even though it is clear what neighborhoods are the hot spots for horse dumping, the two sheriffs simply don't have enough bandwidth to constantly monitor those areas, Schmidt says. "We've put up signs in those areas where people [dump the animals], saying to please call us if they see something suspicious," says Schmidt. "There have even been security cameras in the problematic areas." But in the end, she adds, "they just drive one street over and find a new place to dump." Abandoned horse named Samantha rescued by HHS. (Houston Humane Society) Walter was rescued by the HHS (Houston Humane Society) Since February, HHS and Baimbridge have started something of an informal partnership, with both recognizing the dire situation. Baimbridge says he is now training and designating certain officers to specifically address the horse-dumping cases (some of his officers now carry lassos along with their weapons). He is also undergoing a more formal educational component: disseminating information on how to properly care for equines, he says. However, the circumstances are so overwhelming, Baimbridge is confident that for every horse he and his officers are able to save, there are 20, 30, maybe even 40 who will not survive. The sad reality is that when the odds are stacked so high in the wrong direction, the life and death of so many horses comes down to math. "The officers look around [at the horses] and have to figure out which ones might make it through the night if they rescue them or which ones aren't worth saving because they'll probably die anyway," says Baimbridge. "I keep telling the guys, 'We can't expect we will solve the problem overnight ... it will take years,'" he notes. "But," he says, "we get so many calls for horses on the streets, we just need ... something." When asked if he thinks his efforts are working so far, one can almost hear his head shaking: "No." The fatal cycle of abuse and neglect Even for those horses who are saved, there is a disturbing chance the animal will simply re-enter the fatal cycle. On Labor Day, two horses were found by authorities in the middle of the night. Local news reports showed images of the emaciated horses, while neighbors described the horses being left "to die" in a ditch on the side of the road. One of the horses - an 8-year-old mare - could barely walk. She was heard bellowing in pain on the on-air news broadcast. The Harris County Sheriff's Office in Houston was called to the scene to aid the rescue. One deputy, Thomas Gillibrand, told The Dodo that the mare was taken to the county's 20-acre livestock stable and is being examined by associates from Texas A&M; University. However, once she's healthy she will likely be taken away: Protocol demands that after 15 days, if a horse is healthy, an animal is brought to a local livestock auction. As for the second horse, Gillibrand says the sheriff's office left him where he was, because even though attempts to find an owner were unsuccessful, there were signs of food and water nearby. Schmidt says HHS makes a pronounced effort to keep the horses it is able to actually rescue out of the cycle of cruelty as best it can. "We don't want them to end up in another bad situation," she says. "Luckily, our chief vet was a large animal vet in east Texas, so he has a lot of contacts with older ranchers and farm owners and he will try and rehab them and find the horses a good home." In the meantime, however, it's a practically futile situation. "If we could take them somewhere, that would make a big difference," Baimbridge says. "If we could call someone and say, 'We have a horse, can you take them for us?' And they said, 'Sure, we'll come now.' That would make such a difference. And then tomorrow, we could do the same thing. And the next day ... " But for now, he says, he's simply trying to solve the problem moment by moment, saving the horses he can and reconciling himself to the reality that so many more will die. What he needs, really, he says, is a miracle. To help Houston Humane Society address the epidemic of horse neglect and abuse, go here.