Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Boarding facility licensing?

I've been pondering this for a while now, since the meeting with the AC Board earlier this month. It's clear to me that the MSBACR would really like to see licensing for horse boarding facilities and operations. I am really on the fence on this issue, but probably not for the reasons one might think at first read.

First thing to know is this: Anyone can "hang out a shingle" for anything horse related. Training, farriery care, trail rides, guides/outfitters, boarding, you name it. In theory, if you are going to be a business, you should have a business license too. In the MSB, that means two licenses-one from the state, and one from the Borough. In practice, folks advertise but some do not bother with licensing. The customer/client has no idea there is no business license. I think most of us just presume that if you are advertising/promoting your talent/operation, then of course you are licensed, and insured to boot! And that somehow, you know what you are doing too.

When it comes to horse boarding, facilties run the gamut from "luxury accomodations" to "rough board" with most places falling in between-like my own-practical, not fancy. The larger operations will have the licensing and insurance-and that is partly why the fees are high. Rough board (pasture with water only, shelter optional) in someone's unused back plot is a different issue and most would not bother with a formal business for temporary, extra summer income.

Given what has happened with Wingnut, and others that I have had direct experience with over the years, *some sort* of oversight would not be a bad thing. It would be nice if there was a minimum standard of care to meet....but on the other hand, I surely do not want more governmental interference. I would be very concerned that formal licensing (or permitting) could lead to Premesis IDs, which encumber the land and lead down the NAIS path-not a good place to go. It would open the door to inspections and who knows what as far as fines and fees. And yet, I can think of a way that this could be just takes co-operation between the goverment (MSBACR) and the public it supposedly serves. Naturally I don't see this happening because surely the simple idea I have is too blasted easy and entirely too sensible to be workable-never mind all the babble about public-private partnerships.

So what I had in mind was this: A person who wants to gain "approval" (is that the right term?) would provide copies of biz licensing to MSBACR. They would receive a small packet that includes an open book test. The test would cover such basics as minimum standards of care, basic emergency knowledge (P&Rs, signs of colic, etc), vaccines and deworming, and the like. It should be fairly simple thing to come up with 40 or 50 questions which would at least force the applicant to learn something about horse care if they don't already know. There would be a section on their responsibilities as boarding operation-feed, water, shelter, fencing. Once the test is completed, they return it to MSBACR. MSBACR hands a copy over to a group composed of AC board members, AER board members, and other volunteers.

That group assesses the knowledge base of the applicant, and then inspects the facility for safety. If the facility meets the established minimum standard, then they get a pass. A pass earns the operator a place on the list of "approved" facilties. This list is made available in local publications, at the MSBACR offices, and other places as needed to inform the public. The approval is good for at least two years, with future reviews by the oversight group. MSBACR personnel would have to do nothing but provide imput on the testing, maintain a file cabinet, and provide a copy of the list to anyone who asks. A win win all around, I think.

In this way, MSBACR gets first hand knowledge of existing facilties. The public can be asssured that the operator/owner has a certain level of knowledge. If an owner/operator chooses not to participate, the only consequence is that they are not on the "approved" list, period.

I would never want such a program to become mandatory as that infringes pretty heavily on our personal rights.

So, input, anyone? Good idea? Bad idea? Am I crazy?


Lori said...

Well, licensing in my opinion, will only cost and restrain the honest folks. Those who mistreat/neglect will continue to do so.
Although, I think it would be a good idea to have a brief class on general animal/horse care available to the public on a regular basis. A test would insure the individual did have a understanding of basic requirements.

suvalley said...

Lori, thanks for commenting :)

For the rest of you emailing about how appalled you are at the mere suggestion of licensing.....

You better get a little more vocal as I am fairly well convinced this is going to become statute whether you want it or not. Attend the AC Board and tell them what you don't want, eh? If you are silent, they will act without your input, see?

It's perfectly obvious that the AC personnel want this pretty badly, and have already determined the number of horses that would consitute a "boarding facility".

How about requiring someone who has been visited by AC on a legitimate complaint, pass a general knowledge test of some sort?

mbd said...

This is a 'no win' situation, really. The good facilities will have no trouble getting and keeping a license and probably won't gripe about it too much.

The bad facilities won't bother to get licensed and will continue to operate the way they have been, until they get put out of business by word of mouth or law enforcement actions. Let's face it, as much as the Borough would LOVE to have a bunch more staff to run around and peek at everybody, they don't and can't get them under the current budgets.

I am not a fan of more government oversight, because I think it causes more troubles than it cures.

As a horse (dog/cat/whatever) owner, it's my responsibility to research where I keep my animals. It's my responsibility to keep an eye on them and be involved. I don't need the Borough to tell me if a boarding facility is a good place.

It's also my responsibility (as I've said before) to spread the word about both the good and bad facilities.

Sorry TJ, that's a fence-sitting position if you've ever heard one, right?

But, being involved with Animal Control is definitely a must, or we'll all end up with more regulations. Good, bad or otherwise.

A general knowledge test, huh? There's a bunch of 'horsemen' out there that'd flunk.

I've asked the MatSu College about offering general horseownership / nutrition / health care courses. If the OWNERS are educated, the bad facilities will find themselves with a shortage of clientele and slither away into the sunset.

suvalley said...

You are on the fence just like me, and recognize the practical aspects too.

I don't know the answer but I am convinced this is in the planning stage, based on what I heard at the meeting.

I personally think this is bad juju, not only for the reasons you mention but that this will create a basis for Premesis IDs/NAIS. Bad bad bad thing, and I do NOT know one person who wants NAIS here-once they understand what it IS.

The thing that annoys me about this, is the AC officers respond to complaints (sometimes!) and then have poor follow up. If any.

Then, no move is made to educate the caretaker as to not only their responsibilities under the laws of Alaska, but general horsekeeping.

AERs answer is to make a booklet. ACs answer is to help with printing. Sigh. How does this help the marginal operation where they have not been reported yet? It doesn' can't reach people very easily this way.

A horsekeeping course would be awesome. It would be even better if magistrates mandated passing such a course as part of sentencing too. I mean what the heck, they require all kinds of courses for certain offenses already-such as alcohol awareness for a DUI. But if there is no course available, there is no reason doing an open book exam would not work too...this would force the respondent to at least learn something (one hopes!)

mbd said...

So, where do we go from here?

I had managed to forget about NAIS for a moment, thank you so much for reminding me :) Just what we need, a form to fill out every time I haul my horses, do a trail ride off my property, or board your horse for the weekend while you take that well-deserved vacation. I forget about it because it's ludicrous, but if I blink, it may be made into law.

What's the answer? Nothing simple, obviously. In our society of rules, regulations, goverment oversight and, let's face it, lack of personal responsibility, *letting* the government step in and take over is okay to a lot of people.

"Oh, my horse is in a *licensed* facility, he's fine"

"I didn't know they weren't licensed! My horse / dog / cat / goat is starving! "

If anybody has the answers, I'd love to hear them.

In the meantime, I'll continue to be responsible for my own animals.