I have recently gotten involved with rescue groups that save horses (of all breeds) that are in the slaughter pipeline; primarily by buying horses out of grade auctions. The process of rescuing horses destined for slaughter is a nasty business. Rescuers are forced to deal with people who look at horses as piece of meat to make money off of whether through selling the horse to a slaughterhouse or a rescuer. Sick and injured horses who go through the auction process (in violation of USDA rules). The perfectly healthy horse who for some reason have ended up in the slaughter pipeline. Playing God deciding who shall live (by being rescued) and who shall die (by not buying). Horse lovers like myself are thankful there are people who do this work.
The problem is in some ways the horse rescue business is like the wild west; especially those groups that acquire their horses through auctions and kill brokers. There are many good legitimate horse rescue groups but unfortunately there are groups out there who may be well intentioned, but bite off more than they can chew and even rescues more interested in personal glory or self enrichment. The problem is there is no national organization which specifically certifies horse rescues. There is the Animal Rescue Association of America, which offers certification but their current code of ethics is geared more toward small animal rescues. There needs to be a national organization which certifies and monitors horse rescue groups. While you can't force rescues to become members of a national organization, if one existed legitimate rescues would become members and donors would be able to look for rescue groups that are members and accredited.
So the question needs to be asked, how do we get such an accreditation group established? The national breed registries for horses such as the AQHA, Jockey Club, USTA, and the other racing and non-racing registries should provide funding to establish and maintain an accreditation organization as they have indirectly contributed to the unwanted horse problem. Either one of the breed registries can take on the accreditation process or a group like the Animal Rescue Association of America can be contracted with to handle the accreditation process as well as handle reports of malfeasance.
In the meanwhile, potential donors need to do their own research and find the rescue group(s) they wish to support. I am not here to tell you which group is good or which group is bad, but here are some screening questions you may want to use to find a rescue which meets your particular interests; some of these questions could be used to accredit rescues in the future. A legitimate rescue should list this information on their website or be willing to answer these questions for you.
- Does the rescue deal with a specific breed of horse or all breeds? This is a matter of personal preference.
- Is the rescue a non-profit corporation or a 501(c)3? Donors need to know a 501(c)3 does not mean legitimacy; to the donor all it means is the donations are tax deductible. There are non-501(c)3 rescues which are just as legitimate as a 501(c)3. Yes, a rescue may have paid employees depending on the size of the rescue. What you want to know is the founder and officers are not enriching themselves.
- Does the rescue have their own facilities or do they rent or lease their facilities? If they rent or lease facilities, does an officer have a financial interest in the arrangement? Once again, an officer should not be enriching themselves.
- Does the rescue buy horses or are all the horses who come in to the rescue surrenders? A point of information.
- If the rescue buys horses destined for slaughter, do they buy them directly through auctions or a kill-broker? What auctions do they buy or intend to buy horses from? Amongst rescues, there is a debate about buying through a kill-broker as they are financially benefiting versus bidding in an auction. In my opinion, it is a matter of personal preference.
- If the rescue buys horses from an auction or a kill broker, do any of the officers or directors stand to gain financially through such business relationships? In my opinion, a yes answer is totally unacceptable.
- If a rescue raises money to bail a specific horse out, do they offer refunds if the horse is not purchased? Another group may purchase the horse. I want to deal with a rescue that at least offers a refund if they can't purchase a horse that they specifically raised funds for. I may tell them to keep the money for another purpose, but it says something of the rescue for offering.
- Who are the vets the rescue uses? Does any of the officers stand to benefit directly or indirectly from using the vet(s) for the rescue? If the vet is an director, officer or partner of same, they better be charging for expenses only.
- Does the rescue pre-screen adopters? An absolute requirement.
- Does the rescue maintain ownership of the horse or does ownership transfer to the adopter? If ownership is transferred, there is a potential for the horse to be at risk at a later time.
- Does the rescue require the horse to be returned to them if the adopter is no longer able or unwilling to take care of the horse? An important requirement for the safety of the horse.
- Does the rescue do home checks and/or require periodic vet reports? At a minimum, the rescue must require periodic vet reports. You want to know how frequently a horse is checked on as sometimes well meaning adopters may run into problems and be too embarassed to say they can't support the horse(s).
- Does the rescue allow adoptees to be used for breeding as a broodmare or stallion? Do I need to explain this one?
- If a 501(c)3 or a registered non-profit, their most recent audited financial statement and/or Form 990 should be available on their website. You need to be comfortable with the percentage of donations being used on the horses versus administrative expenses. Also, a legitimate rescue should have no problem making this information available. Some larger more established groups may also have information available on sites like Charity Navigator.
- What are their metrics (new horses entering the program, horses returned, horses adopted out initially, horses re-adopted) over the past year? You want to know how successful the rescue is and that they are not biting off more than they can chew.
- How many horses that have been in the rescue's control more than thirty days have been euthanized or died within the first year? Too many deaths may indicate the rescue is unable to take care of the horses in their control.
- Does the rescue provide accurate updates to donors on the horses they help? Do they maintain on their website a list (and pictures) of horses available for adoption, horses who are not adoptable and have become wards of the rescue, horses that have been adopted and where they are? A memoriam section on the web of equines that passed through the rescue at one time or another? Nothing like transparency.
By all means, support horse rescue groups but make sure you are comfortable that your support is going to a group that is doing what they say they are and more importantly, doing what you want.