Pound puppies and shelter kittens are familiar sights — every year, more than 135,000 dogs and cats enter our state’s animal sheltering facilities. Most people know the benefits that robust animal shelters have for the quality of life, not just for the animals but also for public safety, population management and disease control in our communities, plus the enrichment of daily life that adopted animals bring.

Until recently, a key component of New Mexico’s humane network has been overlooked. The state’s licensed equine rescue shelters (find the full list at www.nmlbonline.com/index.php?id=23) work 24 hours a day, seven days a week to ensure care and rehabilitation for horses, donkeys and mules.

Located in many rural communities across the state, these facilities take in horses relinquished by owners or collected by law enforcement whenever possible. Our state’s horse shelters are champions of a second chance for innocent animals who would otherwise suffer from inadequate care or would be sold at the livestock auction with a likely destination of a foreign slaughterhouse.

Nonetheless, these are trying times for our state’s equine rescue shelters. Faced with the same conditions that have forced many families to give up horses — including a struggling economy, drought, rising hay prices and overbreeding — the rescues often struggle to care for their existing animals. Unlike most city and county animal shelters, the New Mexico equine rescues receive no public funding. The facilities are privately supported and rely heavily on volunteers.

Beginning this year, New Mexicans have an easy and effective way to help horses and the licensed shelters that care for them. In the 2013 state income tax form PIT-D, New Mexico Voluntary Contributions Schedule has a new charitable program, the Horse Shelter Rescue Fund. Taxpayers can contribute a portion of their income tax refund to helping the state’s equine rescues licensed by the New Mexico Livestock Board.

The program is based on a similar effort in Colorado. Launched in 2010, Colorado’s Unwanted Horse Alliance program has raised tens of thousands of dollars annually for equine rescues. With this model in mind, the rescue organizations worked alongside Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, in bringing the bill for the program’s creation during the 2013 legislative session.

The Horse Shelter, the Santa Fe-area licensed horse rescue, is one of the organizations that will be benefit from the Horse Shelter Rescue Fund. The Horse Shelter, currently housing 78 animals at its Cerrillos facility and in foster homes, occupies a special role in the community, taking in animals seized by and relinquished to law enforcement in animal cruelty investigations. These survivors of neglect and abuse receive veterinary care, feed to regain weight and rehabilitative training with the goal of adoption into permanent homes. See photos and stories at www.thehorseshelter.org.

Many other rescues across the state do similarly vital work. In 2012, the Horse Shelter joined with several of the organizations to form the New Mexico Equine Rescue Alliance and formalize our long-standing commitment to the well-being of all equines in New Mexico.

Now, with the launch of the Horse Shelter Rescue Fund, the Alliance hopes to further engage with people all across the state in equine welfare efforts. This tax season, please consider a donation to this new and creative initiative for our horses, donkeys and mules.

Jennifer Rios is the president of The Horse Shelter of Cerrillos.

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