When a family loses its home, pets often wind up in a shelter.
But what happens to a horse whose owners have to move or can no longer afford to pay for it to be stabled?
All too often it means a trip to the auction yard, where the horse is sold and then butchered for its hoofs or meat. Others are sent to Mexico to be used in charreadas or rodeos where they are chased and then tripped with a lasso, a practice outlawed in the United States.
“Humans bred these horses, most probably for profit, raised them and trained them to obey human commands, and now that the horses are getting older, and times for some are getting tougher, humans want to discard them,” says Petaluma resident Gwen Justis.
To address the problem, Justis, who spent several decades in high-tech sales, has started Cimmaron Sanctuary, a group dedicated to finding new homes for horses.
Numerous horses Justis has "saved" are boarded at a local ranch, while seven others are the Sonoma Mountain Equestrian Center, where they are used for therapeutic and children's programs as well as horsemanship courses.
But four years into the financial crisis, the calls and emails keep coming from people desperate to place their animals.
One of them was Ingrid Thomson, a 44-year-old Vacaville resident who lost her job a year ago. Thompson's husband lost his job too, and the couple soon fell behind on stable payments for their thoroughbreed, Theo.
"I tried putting it off for as long as I could, but then the owner told us we had to find a new place for him," she recalls.
“I contacted local organizations, but Gwen was the only who responded to me. She was very understanding and sympathetic and gave me a lot of hope. I don’t know what I would have done without her.”
To continue her work and meet the growing need, Justis is looking for someone to allow the use of their pasture that has fencing, water and shelter for the horses (even 50-100 acres would be great, she says.)
“When you are around horses, your blood pressure and stress go down,” she says, adding that horses can help treat everything from autism to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Horses are very sentient beings – in my experience they are much more spiritual, intelligent and wiser than most humans – and we have a responsibility to care and provide for them.”
For more information about Cimarron Sanctuary and to contact Gwen Justis, visit www.cimmaronsanctuary.org