At this time of year, the appeals for donations picks up. Some from very legitimate charities, some not so legitimate. Unfortunately, this problem also occurs with people claiminng to be involved with the horse rescue movement. Yesterday, the Star Ledger had an article about a case of an equine rescue group not being legitimate. At the present time, the State of New Jersey has launched a civil suit against the alleged horse rescue group claiming amongst other things, the group used the funds for their own personal uses.
There are many legitimate horse rescue groups out there (as a matter of disclosure I am involved with Horse Rescue United, Inc. and a donor to SRF). Some are well established in the industry as SRF (Standardbred Retirement Foundation), others such as HRU (Horse Rescue United) are relatively new; while registered in the State of New Jersey as a non-profit is still in the process of receiving their 501(c)3 status from the IRS. What these groups have in common are their legitimacy and the need to compete against the few illegitimate groups seeking to take advantage of the sentiment of horse lovers from all over.
The key to seeking out a group to donate to is transparency. Now depending on the type of rescue, the level of transparency needed is different A group like SRF, which primarily deals with surrendered horses will not be making appeals to raise funds for saving horses. A group like HRU and others that purchase horses through auctions, getting horses out of the slaughter pipeline need to raise funds to purchase these horses. Sometimes they get the horses, sometimes they don't. What does the charity do when they are unable to get the horse? Do they keep the money raised, or do they refund the funds to those who donated for the expressed purposes of rescuing horses? Do they they provide updates on the status of the horses rescued or do they seem to disappear? Do they tell you if people don't donate funds to them, the killer's truck is coming?
There is nothing wrong with a horse rescue telling you like it is. It's another story to harp about it. People interested in horse rescue in the first place are well aware of what the future holds for un-rescued horses. Do they spend as much time on getting the horses adopted as they do rescuing them? Rescuing a horse is the easy part. Getting a horse a new home takes a lot of work. The rescue should spend as much time if not more on getting their horses adopted as they do rescuing them.
Not familiar with a rescue group? Here are some questions to ask which come courtesy of Jo Deiebel, head of Angel Acres Horse Heaven Rescue:
1) Where are you located? Different areas of the country have different setups for horses.
2) How long have you been operating? Are they brand spanking new or been at it awhile?
3) What kinds of horses do you rescue? All breed or breed specific?
4) What are you rescuing them from? Abused, neglected or slaughter bound, or some of each?
5) What is your greatest need? Don't be surprised if they say "monetary donations" it is a legitimate and important need in rescue. However, many will also need blankets, hay, feed, equipment, etc.
6) Do you allow visitors? Any good rescue should be able to allow a visit within a few days if they do not already have visiting hours in place.
7) Do you have non volunteer references I can call? (BE SURE TO CALL THEM!) Vets, farriers, other rescues, professional horse people etc!!!!
8) How many horses are you placing (if they adopt out) each week/month? Point of reference - NO ONE is placing 30 to 40 horses weekly / 120 horses monthly - into good, solid, inspected, application approved homes. If the claims are that high, ask to speak to adopters - if they balk, send your hard earned money elsewhere.
9) Ask how they find homes for their horses? Are they screaming the truck is coming and dumping them wherever they can or are they spending time matching horse with adopter? Advertising on horse website is acceptable.
10) General rule of thumb - if you are not digging the vibe you are getting when asking these questions, thank them and move on. Any good rescue will be receptive to your questions and answer them willingly, many rescuers are happy to talk about their rescue as it is their passion. If you catch them at a busy time, ask if you can set up an appointment to chat about their program.
If the rescue person refuses to answer questions or gets defensive that should be a HUGE red flag. See #10 above!
Horse rescue groups need your help more than ever. These few bad ones should not keep you from contributiong; you just need to do your homework.