The BC SPCA rescues thousands of animals every year in the province, and although they’re best known for adopting out dogs and cats, they’re also responsible for rescuing, rehabilitating and rehoming larger farm animals like horses.
Leiki Salumets is the farm animal care supervisor for the BC SPCA. She spends her workdays looking after the BC SPCA’s rescues – currently two horses, two pigs, a cow and a llama – at the Good Shepherd barn in Surrey.
In her free time, she also takes care of her own horse, Dawn.
Dawn is a tall chestnut mare that Salumets rescued from abandonment and has been caring for ever since. It’s her special bond with Dawn that helped fuel Salumets' passion to care for other abused horses.
Salumets first met Dawn at a summer camp when she was 15 and Dawn was 10. The horse had already had led a tough life. Dawn had back problems that made being ridden incredibly painful.
Since Dawn wasn’t working out at the camp, Salumets brought her home and doted on her with massage therapy and chiropractic care.
“[Dawn] didn’t trust people… She really taught me a lot about our connection with animals, with horses,” Salumets said. “We can bring a lot into their lives and they can bring a lot into ours.”
But when Salumets went to university she realized she wouldn’t be able to care for Dawn anymore. So she looked to adopt Dawn out to another family. But a few months later, that family sold Dawn on false pretenses, not revealing her back issues.
Dawn kept moving from home to home for the next five years and Salumets losing track of where she was.
“She ended up being abandoned in a field and found underweight and with skin problems,” Salumets said.
She was reunited with her childhood horse when Dawn was surrendered to the SPCA.
The thing that touched Salumets her most about her reunion with Dawn was the horse’s capacity to forgive.
“I was expecting this broken horse that was just disconnected from the world… but she still had all her little personality quirks… she was still there,” Salumets said.
Rescuing and finding homes for abused horses in B.C.
Dawn’s experience bouncing from home to home after being sold made Salumets aware of just how important it is to find a forever home for horses being adopted out by the BC SPCA.
Salumets says a lot of the animals that come in are emaciated and haven’t had proper hoof care, dental care or parasite management.
“They’re often left in a field or barn to fend for themselves,” she said.
She says that people may not know the kind of commitment caring for a horse is. Owners need a lot of space and need to the animals’ environment clean. Proper care often involves equipment, machinery and fencing that can be expensive—not to mention vet, ferrier and dentist fees.
On top of that, horses eat a lot: up to 9 kilograms of hay per day.
“We have to be very careful with matching… [They] have to be willing to commit to these horses for their entire lives, not just a year or two,” Salumets said. “Which is difficult to find, but those homes are out there.”
On average, horses live for 25 to 30 years.
The BC SPCA cares for horses at its Surrey facility and fosters them until they find forever matches.
“It’s very difficult to see animals suffering,” said Salumets. “But we get to see the other end once they’re rehabilitated and placed into good homes. That definitely keeps us going.”
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Maria Weisgarber.