How much is a life worth?

My old girl, Anastasia

My old girl, Anastasia

The other day, someone asked me how I felt about taking on horses with lots of issues while I was running a horse rescue charity and it’s not the first time I’ve been asked, so I thought I’d take the chance to write about it here.

One of the most difficult things about rescuing horses is that at some point, you’ll be asked to make life and death decisions. Which horse do you save? Which horse do you pass over?
When faced with requests to save a horse that is on death row, I took every situation very seriously and always did my best, even if that meant all I could do was to post the information online and hope someone else picked the horse up.

Every horse I heard about lodged itself into my psyche and I continued to think about it for weeks and months and maybe years afterwards… always wondering. What happened? (Even now, two years after the charity ended, I still wonder what happened to some of those horses.)

The next difficult question to deal with was how much money would we, or could we, invest into a horse? If we had one horse that needed thousands of dollars to rehabilitate, then weren’t we taking money away from other horses in need? Is it fair? Does one horse’s right to a new life outweigh the rights of many others?

Ultimately, the question people are asking is how much is a life worth?

I realised very early on that we couldn’t play the numbers game. That is, it wasn’t not necessarily ‘better’ to save one hundred horses than it was to save ten. Why? Because there are too many horses in Australia. No matter how many we saved, there were hundreds of thousands more waiting to take their place at the slaughterhouse. Since we couldn’t beat the numbers (quantity), we had to make sure that the horses we could save received the very best (quality) in order to improve their lives.

I used to be a teacher. And at one point, we had several new students come to the school. These students had special needs and were being integrated into mainstream schooling. The school was required to make many modifications to buildings, costing many thousands of dollars. Many parents and teachers were upset by this, saying that it was unfair. It was then that I heard a new definition of equality:

“Equality doesn’t mean that every person is treated the same. Equality means that every person receives whatever they need in order to have the same opportunities in life.”

So I adopted that definition. Was it fair to spend thousands of dollars rehabilitating one horse? Yes, if it meant that horse got whatever it needed in order to have the same opportunity to find its loving forever home. How much is a life worth? Whatever it takes.

I felt that it wasn’t up to me to place judgement on a horse that was in a world of emotional and psychological pain and say that it wasn’t “worth” spending the money to rehabilitate it. I believe that all life is valuable; all life is equal.

And if I did put a value on a horse’s life, that would make me a horse dealer, which I am definitely not.

So I always want to make sure that the horses lucky enough to come into my care receive whatever they need in order to go back out into the world, stronger, wiser, healthier and healed. It’s the best I can do.

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