Archive for October, 2011

What can you do to help?

Pastures have also dried up at True Blue Animal Rescue in the Washington area. TBAR is experiencing a tremendous increase in the number of horses it’s being asked to take in. Photo courtesy of True Blue Animal Rescue

By ARTHUR HAHN/Managing Editor


Thursday, August 27, 2009 11:32 AM CDT
Animal rescue organizations say they’re being swamped with requests to take in animals — particularly expensive-to-maintain horses.

Melanie DeAeth, president of True Blue Animal Rescue (TBAR) in the Washington area, said conditions have combined to create “the perfect storm for horse abuse, neglect and overpopulation.”

“Our horse numbers have more than doubled since last year, as have the number of horses taken in by any of the other rescues we work with,” said DeAeth. “It’s pretty scary.

“I think it’s a combination of things. When the (horse) slaughter houses closed, we all knew we were going to be affected by that. And then the economy started to decline, and then the drought hit.”

TBAR currently is maintaining 45 horses at its facility, said DeAeth.

Last week, the organization took in three emaciated donkeys and two horses. Foster homes were found for the donkeys, but TBAR is still looking for temporary quarters for the horses, she added.

And it hasn’t slowed down this week, said DeAeth.

“We just got a call about three stray horses in Washington County that will be picked up today. If they aren’t claimed, TBAR will be searching for homes for them.,” she said.

“We also picked up an abandoned horse in Burleson County Tuesday evening and got a call about a horse in Austin County that was abandoned a couple of weeks ago. If he isn’t claimed soon we’ll need a home for him.

“Lastly, there are two starved and abused horses in Grimes County and the lady that saw them is going to call the sheriff’s department today, so they’ll need foster homes.

“That’s just this week and that’s how things have been going for the last several months. TBAR is taking care of the animals in Washington County, Austin County, Burleson County, Grimes County and Brazos County because they are all local to us. We will help with horses in other counties when we have room but right now we’re staying full right here in our area.”

The problem appears to be statewide, with dozens of emaciated horses being seized on other counties, including 57 in one case alone in Hopkins County last May.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said DeAeth. “Hopkins County was probably the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It was horrible.”

TBAR’s pastures, like many others across Texas, have virtually dried up because of the drought.

DeAeth said the organization is “in desperate need of hay.”

“We’ll buy it, but we’re just having a hard time finding it,” she said. “We used to have corporate donations of hay, and that was with the number of horses that we’re used to maintaining. And now we’ve lost that, and with the drought and with the increase in horses, we’re in desperate need.”

Foster homes are becoming increasingly difficult to find. TBAR pays for veterinary bills and farrier costs for horses it places, but the foster homes are asked to pick up the feed costs. The cost of caring for and feeding a horse can run from $200-$400 a month.

Foster homes must be inspected to ensure they can handle horses, a process that takes some time, said DeAeth.

One of the main reasons for the sudden influx of unwanted horses is what DeAeth called “indiscriminate breeding.”

In the past, some people were breeding horses primarily to be slaughtered and their meat shipped to Europe, but federal court rulings closed down the last U.S. horse slaughter houses several years ago.

“I don’t understand a segment of the people who think they’re (horses are) livestock, and we should have slaughter houses for them,” she said. “Why is it OK to kill horses? They’re not a food source in this country. We shouldn’t be breeding so many.”

DeAeth listed things which TBAR needs — “cash donations, hay, feed, foster homes.”

For more information, visit TBAR’s Web site at www.t-bar.org.

ASPCA Hay Bale-Out Helps Equines in Texas and Oklahoma

In early October, the ASPCA announced that we’re granting a total of $250,000 to 24 equine welfare organizations and animal control agencies in Texas and Oklahoma as part of our “Hay Bale-Out” program. The funds will provide relief for horses impacted by the high cost and short supply of hay—problems that are largely due to regional drought and wildfires.

“The ASPCA is aware that the hay shortage has placed tremendous hardship on horse and donkey rescue organizations and agencies throughout Texas and Oklahoma,” says Jacque Schultz, Senior Director of the ASPCA Equine Fund. “Our program provides assistance to those who are struggling to feed the horses and donkeys in their care.”

“The Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT) is grateful to accept this funding from the ASPCA,” states Sandy Grambort, equine and livestock program coordinator at HSNT, one of the agencies receiving a grant through the Hay Bale-Out program. “These funds will help make a difference in the lives of North Texas equines and their owners as the effects of the drought continue to be realized.”

Please visit the ASPCA’s Pressroom to view the full list of organizations receiving Hay Bale-Out funds. And to learn more about the ASPCA Equine Fund, visit ASPCApro.org.


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Donkeys Abandoned as Texas Drought Raises Feed Costs; Rescue Groups Struggle to Deal with Hundreds Cut Loose

September 12, 2011
By: By WILLIAM PACK, STAFF WRITER, The Houston Chronicle

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Underappreciated by the public and the source of hard feelings when their name, in its shortened form, finds its way into an argument, donkeys have never had it easy.

With a record-breaking drought showing few signs of ending, donkeys in Texas are facing an additional challenge: finding a place to call home.

Sheriffs’ departments and animal rescue operations say donkeys, like horses, are being turned loose in growing numbers because the drought has made them too costly to keep, and buyers are not lining up to acquire them.

Donkeys, smaller and less useful than horses, typically are less valuable. Many auction barns aren’t interested in putting donkeys on the block anymore, officials said.

So cash-strapped owners are giving donkeys up, often freeing them on the sides of roads, and leaving the problem to law enforcement agencies and a determined group of donkey rescue operations.

“Donkey rescues have gone through the roof,” said Mark Meyers, executive director of Peaceful Valley Donkey Rescue, a California-based nonprofit organization with a 260-acre rescue ranch near San Angelo.

He and other Peaceful Valley representatives traveled Thursday to Presidio for donkeys seized by federal authorities after wandering across the border.

As of Friday, Navarro County officials had 40 more abandoned donkeys for Peaceful Valley to take, and six more sheriffs’ offices across Texas have called in asking the organization to take donkeys off their hands.

“There are so many coming in, we’re having a hard time keeping up,” said Meyers.

Hundreds from Texas

Texas alone has brought 500 donkeys into Peaceful Valley’s care since March, Meyers said. That’s 100 more donkeys than the organization rescued nationally last year.

Darla Cherry, president of Meadow Haven Horse Rescue in Nixon, said donkeys probably are being abandoned at a faster rate than horses, but rising feed costs associated with the drought are behind both trends.

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7 Smart Strategies for Kitchen Remodeling

By: John Riha

Published: March 25, 2011

Kitchen remodeling can turn a ho-hum room into your home’s pride and joy. Here are strategies to help your project run smoothly.

A significant portion of kitchen remodeling costs may be recovered by the value the project brings to your home. Kitchen remodels in the $50,000 to $60,000 range recoup about 69% of the initial project cost at the home’s resale, according to recent data from Remodeling Magazine’s Cost vs. Value Report.

To make sure you maximize your return, follow these seven smart kitchen remodeling strategies.

1. Establish priorities

The National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA) recommends spending at least six months planning your kitchen remodeling project. That way, you won’t be tempted to change your mind during construction, create change orders, and inflate construction costs. Here are planning points to cover:

  • Cooking traffic patterns: A walkway through the kitchen should be at least 36 inches wide. Work aisles should be a minimum of 42 inches wide and at least 48 inches wide for households with multiple cooks.
  • Child safety: Avoid sharp, square corners on countertops, and make sure microwave ovens are installed at the proper height—3 inches below the shoulder of the primary user but not more than 54 inches from the floor.
  • Outside access: If you want easy access to entertaining areas, such as a deck or patio, factor a new exterior door into your plans.

A professional designer can simplify your kitchen remodel. Pros help make style decisions, foresee potential problems, and schedule contractors. Expect fees around $50 to $150 per hour, or 5% to 15% of the total cost of the project.

2. Keep the same footprint

No matter the size and scope of your kitchen remodel, you can protect your budget by maintaining the same footprint: Keep the walls, locate new plumbing fixtures near existing plumbing pipes, and forget bump-outs.

Not only will you save on demolition and reconstruction costs, you’ll cut the amount of dust and debris your project generates.

3. Get real about appliances

It’s easy to get carried away during your kitchen remodeling project. A six-burner commercial-grade range and luxury-brand refrigerator may make eye-catching centerpieces, but they may not fit your cooking needs or lifestyle.

High-priced appliances are worth the investment if you’re an exceptional cook. Otherwise, save thousands with trusted brands that receive high marks at consumer review websites, like www.ePinions.com and www.amazon.com, and resources such as Consumer Reports.

4. Light your way

Good kitchen lighting helps you work safely and efficiently.

  • Install task lighting, such as recessed or track lights, over sinks and food prep areas; assign at least two fixtures per task to eliminate shadows. Under-cabinet lights illuminate cleanup and are great for reading cookbooks. Pendant lights over counters bring the light source close to work surfaces.
  • Ambient lighting includes flush-mounted ceiling fixtures, wall sconces, and track lights. Pair dimmer switches with ambient lighting to control intensity and mood.

5. Be quality conscious

Functionality and durability should be top priorities during kitchen remodeling. Resist low-quality bargains, and choose products that combine low maintenance with long warranty periods. Solid-surface countertops, for instance, may cost a little more, but with the proper care, they’ll look great for a long time.

If you’re planning on moving soon, products with substantial warranties are a selling advantage.

“Individual upgrades don’t necessarily give you a 100% return,” says Frank Gregoire, a real estate appraiser in St. Petersburg, Fla. “But they can give you an edge when it comes time to market your home.”

6. Add storage, not space

Here’s how you can add storage without bumping out walls:

  • Install cabinets that reach the ceiling: They may cost more–and you might need a stepladder–but you’ll gain valuable storage space for Christmas platters and other once-a-year items. In addition, you won’t have to dust cabinet tops.
  • Hang it up: Mount small shelving units on unused wall areas and inside cabinet doors; hang stock pots and large skillets on a ceiling-mounted rack; and add hooks to the backs of closet doors for aprons, brooms, and mops.

7. Communicate early and often

Establishing a good rapport with your project manager or construction team is essential for staying on budget. To keep the sweetness in your project:

  • Drop by the project during work hours: Your presence broadcasts your commitment to quality.
  • Establish a communication routine: Hang a message board on site where you and the project manager can leave daily communiqués. Give your email address and cell phone number to subs and team leaders.
  • Set house rules: Be clear about smoking, boom box noise levels, available bathrooms, and appropriate parking.

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Back in 2007, Tammy and Larry Freeman got a mortgage through Quicken Loans. Quicken charged them a “loan discount fee” of $980, but — they claimed in court — Quicken didn’t lower their rate.

Seems a simple case that belongs in Small Claims Court, right? Except that, if the Freemans are right (and Quicken did admit to charging the fee), that could constitute an unearned fee. And that looks like a RESPA violation.

The Freemans and two other families sued, and the issue soon expanded.

According to RESPA (and this is a rough interpretation), Quicken can’t charge fees for doing nothing, which is what the Freemans say is exactly what it did.

Here’s the RESPA wording:

(a) Business referrals

No person shall give and no person shall accept any fee, kickback,
or thing of value pursuant to any agreement or understanding, oral or
otherwise, that business incident to or a part of a real estate
settlement service involving a federally related mortgage loan shall be
referred to any person.

(b) Splitting charges

No person shall give and no person shall accept any portion, split,
or percentage of any charge made or received for the rendering of a real
estate settlement service in connection with a transaction involving a
federally related mortgage loan other than for services actually

The case moved through the courts, and eventually the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Quicken’s favor, saying that because Quicken didn’t split that loan discount fee with a third party, there wasn’t a RESPA violation. In similar cases, other circuit courts agreed.

But three circuit courts ruled the opposite way, saying the law applies to any unearned fees, whether it’s split or not.

Hence, the Freeman’s case is on its way to the Supreme Court.

Granted, this is a quick and dirty summary of the situation; if you want to read more, click here for the Housing Wire stohttp://www.housingwire.com/2011/10/12/high-court-to-decide-case-over-respa-fees.

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Finding a Place

Finding a Place.

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Finding a Place

When my kids were first starting to ride, we found a local riding school with a flexible outlook. I liked it because when the kids were all in school, moms were allowed to come to the barn, clean a stall or two, then choose a horse and ride. Free. For as long as we wanted. For a kid who grew up deprived of the joys of horse ownership, this was a little slice of heaven!
It didn’t take long until we progressed to leasing two horses, one for each kid. The lease included lessons and wasn’t much more expensive, so why not? We continued this for about a year, each week falling more in love with our leased horses and the horsey lifestyle.
Then, out of the blue, our teacher announced that she was moving out of state. The thought of losing the closeness and happiness we had found was almost unbearable. All that kept us from a complete meltdown was an offer to let us keep the horses we were leasing until after the 4H fair if we could find a place to board them. At our expense, of course.
I began the search with the local boarding facility. The stalls for boarders were small and dark, and the fees were high. We were informed that the indoor ring was unavailable any time that lessons were being given, which was most of the time. We passed on that one.
Next was a smaller facility, still close to home. The owners were friendly, but there were way too many horses for the small acreage. We passed on that one too.
Next, I went to the local saddlery and looked at posts on the notice board.There were several private barns advertised there so I started checking them out. One was located in a beautiful field with miles of trails nearby, but no ring for young riders to practice in. The barn was open on one side, but still very nice. A definite possibility.
The other place was not as fancy, but had a lighted ring, 35 miles of trails across the street, and large green fields for the horses. The owners were friendly and the price was reaasonable. There were boarders there who had been with this place for over 10 years. That really said something to me, so that was where we ended up.
Turned out that the other private barn was gone in less than a year, sold to developers. Our place is still there, and we have been happy there for 11 years now.
The children have grown, one of the horses has passed at the age of 33, and I have come to work there to reduce the cost of our board as the stock market crash took most of our disposable income.
If you want to find a good place for your horse, don’t ignore those gut feelings. Keep budget in mind, and don’t be afraid to bargain for what you want. Many places are willing to accept work in lieu of full payment, especially if you have skills that they need. Consider what your horses are used to, what they can adjust to, and how long a place is likely to be in business. You don’t want to have to search again any time soon.

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