“They can be food for the cats, and it’s better than putting (the horses) in a landfill,”
The headline over the Facebook story could have read: Old, arthritic horse fed to the lions.
The true story, however, has more shades of gray and no-clear cut antagonist. But it did have a happy ending for the hero, a 20-year-old gelding named Spencer.
Spencer was a family horse boarded in Sedona. Once ridden by the family’s children, who had scattered, Spencer had been without a rider for three years. His owner, who lived in Utah, wanted to find him a new home.
“He needed a job. He needed a kid,” said Shelley Woellmer, who worked with the owner to find Spencer a home. Woellmer said the owner is a friend, they board their horses together and together tried for six months to find Spencer a new home. The owner declined to be interviewed.
Looking for someone to adopt him, they tried horse sanctuaries and equine therapy businesses, Woellmer said.
Not everyone who read the Facebook post by non-profit animal-rescue organization AZ Pound Pups knew that. The group put out a call to find a home for Spencer, describing the horse “like a giant dog and will whinny and follow you around anywhere just to be pet/groomed.”
What readers did learn from the Facebook post, shared more than 220 times, was that one fast-approaching option for Spencer was to go to Out of Africa Wildlife Park in Camp Verde.
Woellmer confirmed the owner had approached the park about its horse donation program, which accepts qualified animals as food for the park’s big cats.
Spencer would be, as one poster, Jim Gath, wrote, “fed to the lions.”
The park is known for its lions, tigers and other large animals. Among its dozens of animal attractions is the “Predator Feed,” which invites the public to watch as “they throw 800 pounds of raw food to eagerly waiting carnivores. Plenty of opportunities to take amazing pictures while bears chow down, hyenas laugh, and lions roar,” according to the park’s website.
This bit of news shook up the people following the Facebook feed.
Some people brought up the circle of life — that lions need to eat, too.
Others commented on whether Spencer was better off euthanized, given his arthritis.
But others countered that arthritic horses, with medication such as Spencer was taking, can continue to live long lives.
Out of Africa Wildlife Park had considered the owner’s request to take Spencer.
Through its horse donation program, people complete a form that reads, in part, “We do not take healthy horses, horses with cancer, or horses on medication.”
The donated animal is used to feed the big cats featured at the park.
“We have refused horses because they are too healthy,” said park spokeswoman Linda Peterson, who processes donation requests. The form asks for a veterinarian’s name and number. The vet is called if the park’s specialist in equine donations believes the horse doesn’t meet “end-of-life” standards.
If a horse is deemed end of life, it is shot, since anesthesia medication would taint the meat.
“They can be food for the cats, and it’s better than putting (the horses) in a landfill,” Peterson said.
Out of Africa said the number of horses it accepts a year is private, but that it keeps records to report to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In the end, the park refused Spencer because a video shared on Facebook showed him only days earlier cantering with a rider.
Then, Facebook managed to do what the owner could not….(CONTINUED)