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California nonprofits struggle to aid abandoned horses

August 8, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
Stalls are filled with stories of tragedy and heartbreak at the Villa Chardonnay in Temecula, a nonprofit horse sanctuary.

Louise Gardner and Monika Kerber co-founded the horse rescue operation three years ago.

They started with 20 horses. Since then there has been a marked increase in the number of horses abandoned across California.

"We are getting close to being full here at Villa Chardonnay," Gardner said. "We have 40 horses today. We can probably take a few more."

The large number of abandoned horses is being blamed on the economy, the soaring price for a bale of hay and a federal law meant to protect the animals by banning their slaughter.

"What we are seeing is the inability of horse owners to deal with - for lack of a better term - getting rid of their horse or having no longer having a functional use for the animal," said Dr. Allan Drusys, the chief veterinarian for Riverside County.

The closure of horse slaughter houses in the U.S. also put a strain on horse rescue organizations since they were given no federal grants or assistance for horses that were abandoned by their owners.

"The funding is the most difficult part," Gardner said. "We work full-time jobs just to take care of everything here at Villa Chardonnay. We cover about 95 percent of the expenses every month and they are substantial."

The nonprofit gets by on donations, sponsors and volunteers. Still, it's barely enough to meet the needs of the growing number of horses left to fend for themselves.

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