As temperatures drop, horse rescues rise
BY ERIN GALLAGHER Correspondent January 12, 2014 9:29PM
Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County has taken in six horses since the recent cold snap, founder Tony Pecho said. | Supplied photo by Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County
Updated: February 14, 2014 6:14AM
When extreme weather hits, the phone at Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County rings off the wall.
The past couple of weeks have been no exception. Unfortunately for the nonprofit group that already operates on a shoestring budget, there is no built-in additional funding to care for large animals when owners turn them out.
That is exactly what is happening, according to Tony Pecho, the founder of the rescue, which according to its website has offices and barn facilities in Beecher and Peotone.
Even when owners give up on their animals, Pecho does not. He is at the barn every day, no matter the weather.
“Since this extreme weather, we got probably about 10 more animals in the past few weeks here,” six of which were horses, Pecho said. “It’s too cold. (Some owners) don’t want to go out and feed their animals.”
With 125,000 miles on his pickup and a trailer in constant need of repair, Pecho makes emergency rescues wherever, whenever he is called, all over Illinois and northern Indiana. At one point last week, he was waiting to pick up eight horses, including six yearlings.
“We’re getting calls for seven horses, eight horses. We’re not getting calls for one or two,” he said.
The Illinois Department of Agriculture regulates animal welfare in the state but has limited resources. So Pecho and his volunteers take in hundreds, even thousands of animals each year, essentially everything but dogs and cats.
“We’re equipped with a barn,” Pecho said. “Animal control doesn’t have a barn.”
Will County Animal Control helps offset some of the horse rescue’s costs, which could range from $160 into potentially thousands if an animal needs extra veterinary care, Animal Control administrator Lee Schild said.
Animal Control is a fee-based department that gets no general funding from the county. What it offers Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County is limited. But many municipalities don’t offer even that much, Pecho said.
“We don’t necessarily know who else to rely upon to help out,” Schild said of Illinois Horse Rescue. “There’s not government money available.”
Pecho treats each rescue call with caution, just like a police officer would approach a domestic violence call. He has seen horrendous abuse and neglect cases, he said, such as horses with broken legs with bones protruding, deliberate chemical burns and wire around a horse’s neck.
On one call, he arrived while a drunken man was violently stabbing a goat, saying he was hungry and was going to eat it.
Because of the danger, Pecho is selective about which volunteers go with him.
Pecho also picks up small animals from hoarding situations. He picked up 118 rabbits from a small Chicago apartment in a case in which the owner was not cited or charged, he said. A month later, the same owner brought another van-full of rabbits to the rescue. Pecho has picked up the same animals multiple times, or different animals from the same owners.
Schild said that is not as common in Will County. He credits Will County State’s Attorney James Glasgow with prosecuting animal abusers, whose penalties can include hefty fines and jail time.
“Illinois Horse Rescue of Will County continues to try to raise funds so we are able to rescue and rehabilitate as many horses and hooved animals as we are able to,” said Pecho’s wife, Gina, the rescue administrator. “However, if we do not have the funds to take care of them, we cannot rescue them.”
For more information or to make a tax-deductible donation, visit www.illinoishorserescue.org.