Couple finds adoptive homes for unwanted foals
Flinthoof sent along this article from the Associated Press. Click below to read the entire article. As a general note to submitters, I usually prefer a hyperlink to any article finds, so that I can avoid getting hit with unauthorized reproduction annoyances.
The Associated Press
SPARTANSBURG, Pa. - Many of the farms that artificially inseminate mares are looking to sell estrogen, not raise baby horses. That's where Mary Wisniewski and Don Tucci step in.
- United Pegasus Foundation
- Humane Society
- For the Love of Horses, Inc.
- Wyeth Laboratories
- North American Equine Ranching Information Council
The two Pittsburgh natives started their equine adoption agency, For the Love of Horses Inc., to rescue foals born to mares used in the production of Premarin, a popular women's hormone replacement drug.
Animal rights groups say if it weren't for people like Wisniewski and Tucci, even more of the foals would eventually be sold to feed lot operators who send the animals to slaughter for human consumption.
"It's pathetic that humans try to do so much for so many things and yet discard an offspring like that," said Tucci, 45.
The couple first got involved four years ago when Wisniewski, 44, saw a television newscast about United Pegasus Foundation, a California horse adoption group that organizes an annual rescue effort by bidding against feed lot operators for Premarin foals.
They learned that after the farms were done harvesting estrogen from the urine of pregnant mares to replace those no longer naturally produced by the human body, some foals are treated as unwanted byproducts.
Wisniewski paid $500 the next year to adopt a skinny draft horse named Sweet Dreams. That was followed by a second foal named Harmony the year after that.
"To see the fear in their eyes, that will change your life," Wisniewski said. "In fact, it was what changed my life."
Inspired by their adopted foals, the couple decided to become one in a number of small rescue groups across the country. They purchased a 165-acre farm in Spartansburg, about 30 miles southeast of Erie, in November 2000 and spent the past year putting up fences, cleaning out two old dairy barns and caring for the horses on a limited budget.
The couple traded their spacious brick home for the farm's modest white house, used nearly $250,000 of their own money from a small country crafts business and toiled long days in the barn.
In September, with the help of United Pegasus' president Helen Meredith, the couple brought 13 foals to the Spartansburg farm.
They charge a $600 adoption fee for each horse, which covers a veterinary test, border fees from Canada – where many of the foals come from – and transportation costs.
"We want to place as many young foals as possible and give them homes where they'll get long-term quality care," said Wisniewski.
So far, 12 have been adopted.
Animal rights groups estimate that mares kept on so-called PMU (pregnant mares' urine) farms live only eight to nine years, compared with a natural life span between 20 and 30 years.
When they can no longer get pregnant, they and many of the foals are sent to slaughter with some of the meat shipped to Europe and Japan for human consumption, said Ellen Buck, director of equine protection for the Humane Society.
"Our goal is to educate women about the source of Premarin and to let them know there are alternatives," said Buck about synthetic and vegetable-based drugs.
PMU farms say not all their horses end up for human consumption.
Some foals are sent to farms that train them as recreational or show horses.
"The ones the rescue shelters take may be at-risk horses," said Norm Luba, executive director of North American Equine Ranching Information Council, which represents 400 ranches in Canada and 22 in North Dakota.
Luba said the farms provide a high standard of veterinary care.
Charges of mistreating the foals when they are transported from PMU farms for sale are untrue, he said.
Premarin maker Wyeth Ayerst Laboratories said no other drug is as effective in treating symptoms of menopause and preventing osteoporosis. Millions of women have come to rely on the drug since it was introduced in 1942.
Health care industry figures show Premarin accounts for about two-thirds of the $1.7 billion in hormone replacement medication sold each year.
Rescue groups say they can barely make a dent in saving some 35,000 foals born on PMU farms, but celebrities like Robert Redford, Richard Gere and Kim Basinger have helped the cause by sponsoring adoptions.
"The story of Premarin has never really registered in people's minds," said businesswoman Andrea Eastman, who has two Premarin foals. "I used to take Premarin not realizing what I was taking."