Amid worries some horses set to leave the Danada Equestrian Center could end up in the hands of unscrupulous owners, DuPage Forest Preserve commissioners are considering revising the district's horse adoption policy.
The district is giving Danada volunteers until the end of the month to submit applications to adopt five horses that no longer participate in the Wheaton facility's programs because of injury or retirement.
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If all five horses don't find new homes with volunteers, officials are planning to advertise on the Internet that the remaining animals are available for adoption.
"We would promote the adoption program process for those interested in participating outside the agency," said David Guritz, forest preserve office of education director.
Anyone trying to adopt one of the animals must have prior experience working with horses and the financial means to house, feed and provide medical care for it. Applicants must go through a lengthy process that includes interviews by district staff and a three-month trial period.
Still, a number of Danada volunteers this week voiced concern that advertising on the Internet could attract the attention of so-called "kill buyers." A kill buyer, the residents explained, is someone who purchases horses to ship them to a slaughterhouse.
"People who work for the district get a nice retirement," said Denise Boutin, a Lisle resident. "The horses deserve that, too. They work hard for this district, so they deserve to be well cared for."
Boutin cited an internal probe of Danada as a reason to postpone the adoptions. Commissioner Shannon Burns is investigating how the facility is run in response to volunteers' complaints about the mistreatment of horses at the equestrian center.
One group of volunteers that spoke to the board on Tuesday night told commissioners to stop wasting time on both the investigation -- which they claim is based on unfounded allegations -- and the adoption policy.
"The recent complaint that the horses could end up in the wrong hands as the result of the district's adoption policy is nothing short of ludicrous," Margaret Clifford said.
Still, other volunteers such as Beth Sexton insist their concerns about kill buyers are valid.
"I hope we'll vote for a moratorium on Internet or social media advertising for our horses," said Sexton, who has volunteered at Danada for four years. "Give us the time to find them proper homes."
While forest preserve commissioners didn't take any action on the issue, Burns is calling for an amendment to the district's horse adoption policy that would prohibit Internet advertising.
While the district's intention for advertising online has been to find good homes for horses, Burns said the reality is there are people looking for horses to sell to a slaughterhouse.
"If that happens to even one horse, it's too many for me," Burns said. "I would like to put one more layer of protection between us and the possibility by adding a clause that we don't advertise horses on the Internet."
In the meantime, Guritz said there is no deadline for when the five horses need to be adopted. Danada has more than enough stalls for the 25-horse herd.
But the district is planning to purchase two new horses to add to the herd. The amount of pasture space at Danada is limited.
Even though nothing is preventing the district from keeping the five horses, Guritz said the ideal time to put them up for adoption is when they're still young and healthy enough to have "an active second career."
"The horse adoption policy supports transition of Danada horses into ideal second careers under private ownership where the needs of the horse and the interests of the adopter are well matched," Guritz said.