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INTERNET AUCTION REFUGE ANIMAL LOVERS ABLE TO BUY WILD HORSES, BURROS.

Byline: Scott Thomsen Staff Writer

PHOENIX - Cady Ness-Smith can't say enough about Seymore, an Alamo Lake burro she adopted over the Internet in May.

``I love him!'' Ness-Smith said. ``Of all the animals I've adopted, I don't know why, I adore him. I wouldn't trade him for anything.''

Ness-Smith of Eagle, Mich., got Seymore from the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program, which is hosting an adoption event in Buckeye, west of Phoenix, this weekend. Ten burros and 30 mustangs will be available at the auction, where bidding starts at $125.

The adoptions were established under a 1971 law designed to help limit the number of wild horses and burros roaming the West while keeping them from being rounded up and sent to slaughter. There are some 42,000 wild horses in Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado and California.

They have no natural predators and reproduce so quickly the herds get bigger than the available forage can support, leading to malnourishment for the horses and other animals.

Nationally, 6,000 to 8,000 horses and burros will be adopted this year from regional facilities, satellite events like the one in Buckeye, and over the Internet. Of those, about 2,000 were removed from areas burned in this summer's wildfires.

While the program has had problems with people adopting animals only to sell them for slaughter, participants say it remains the best alternative for keeping the wild horse population in check.

Ellen Elford of Buckeye adopted a sorrel and white Sabino pinto mustang she calls ``the Nevada redneck'' last year. Friday, she was checking the animals at a temporary BLM corral in Buckeye to find a burro for her granddaughter.

``On the whole, it's been a real positive experience,'' she said. ``But you have to have a lot of respect for them. On Friday he might be lovable and want to climb up in your pocket, but on Saturday he might be a little spooky.''

For all the success stories, though, the national program has struggled.

In 1997, an Associated Press investigation showed that many adopted horses wound up in slaughter houses.

Rules are in place with the intent of avoiding such problems. BLM employees screen applicants to make sure they can care for an animal. They also are supposed to make a followup inspection within six months. Ownership of the animal is not transferred for one year, eliminating the financial incentive to sell an animal for slaughter.

``If you keep an animal for a year, it's going to cost you a lot more than you'd get,'' BLM spokeswoman Diane Williams said. ``There are checks and balances in the system.''

Still, critics say the program has been plagued by poor record-keeping and lax enforcement.

In August, an animal rights group called the Fund for Animals asked the U.S. District Court in Reno, Nev., to enforce a BLM rule requiring people to sign an affidavit pledging not to sell adopted animals for slaughter or rodeos. The tougher rules were part of a 1997 settlement requiring tougher oversight of the program.

The group alleged that in the year after the tougher requirements went into effect, 575 federally protected wild horses ended up at butchering plants. Such violators could face criminal prosecution for perjury.

Ness-Smith, who has also adopted three mustangs -- Tango, Indigo and Lakota -- said she would like to see adoption fees raised to further reduce the financial incentive for slaughtering a horse. She'd also like more resources provided to police adoption rules.

On the Net:

BLM Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program: http://www.blm.gov/whb/

CAPTION(S):

3 photos, box

Photo:

(1) Patricia Carson of Chino Valley, Ariz. looks at a wild colt available for auction this weekend through the Bureau of Land Management.

(2 -- 3) Spectators watch wild burros, above, that will be auctioned this weekend on the Internet through the Bureau of Land Management in Buckeye, Ariz. Below, Ellen Elford displays a photo of a horse she adopted from the BLM in 1999. She was looking for a burro to adopt for her granddaughter.

Phil Connors/Associated Press

Box: On the Net (see text)
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 12, 2000
Words:691
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