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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Rescuing Horses in the Internet Age; Separating the Bad from the Good

So you want to rescue a horse.  Congratulations.  Fortunately for you, the Internet,  has made it much easier for individuals to get involved thanks to social media, like Facebook as well as quick payment systems such as Paypal and Google Wallet.  The bad news is the Internet has made it easier for people to scam good natured people.

The purpose of this article is not to tell people to donate to horse rescues.  It certainly is not to tell you that you shouldn't donate to horse rescues.  It is to tell you what to look for when you decide to spend your hard earned money on horse rescue.

Before we go further, let's talk about the various avenues available for rescuing horses; horses of all types and even donkeys.

The simplest program is the programs that deal with the unpleasantness of the grade auctions and buy their horses directly, often for less than $100 or obtain their horses from owner surrenders.  They then go through the expense of quarantine and will evaluate the horse and begin training the horse for another career if possible.  When offered to the public, they are offered for adoption with a contract with a nominal fee, a fee to allow the rescue to continue their work and they will take the horse back if the adoption doesn't work out.  When they look for donations, they generally look for donations to help cover their expenses and continue their work.

Then there are those groups who basically market horses which went through auctions and were purchased by an auction operator, supposedly for slaughter .  In this case, the owner doesn't care which way he make his money; either selling to you for a profit or selling it to the kill-buyer.  Often these operators welcome the assistance of others to work with them in getting the horses placed.  Potential buyers are welcome to the feed lot to see the horse.  Some object to this type of arrangement as at times these owners will buy horses from other auctions and run them through their own auction to inflate the prices.  Some object to this type of operation because it allows the auction operator to buy more horses because he/she can make a profit selling the horses to the public, playing on their emotions.  Regardless of what you feel about this method, you will typically end up with the horse you have saved.

Then there are the most controversial programs, the Broker-Owned sales.  Here, rescues will work with a kill-buyer and seek to get horses sold before 'the truck arrives'.  They will often help by facilitating the raising of bail money to save a horse.  Sometimes you don't know the horse is owned by a kill-buyer.  Opponents have a problem with a 'rescue' being in bed with a kill buyer.  They also have a problem with them claiming the truck is coming for them when often it isn't because the horse is likely not a candidate for slaughter due to pregnancy or low weight.  The best horses generally are not offered for sale as they are the ones the slaughterhouses want.  Once again, allowing a broker to make a profit will allow them to buy more horses; horses which may not have a chance to be offered for rescue.  It should be noted that some people have claimed the horse they thought they were buying is not the horse offered to them when they show up and/or they end up with a lot more work to get the horse in good shape than they thought they were getting into.  If you go this root, you will almost certainly be paying a premium.

I will leave it to you to decide which type of rescue you should use or support.  Some will argue a horse saved is a horse saved no matter how it is done.  Others are willing to let a horse go to slaughter instead of enriching the kill-buyer.  All I will say is do your research and decide which way you want to go.  If things go wrong, complain; but make sure you complain for the right reason.  Were your expectations realistic? 

Earlier, I mentioned the Internet has made it possible for questionable groups to scam people, taking advantage of their sentimentality and desire to save a horse from slaughter.  Of course, there are groups who legitimately are working to save horses and find social networks like Facebook are low-cost methods to fund raise.  As a potential downer, it unfortunately is up to you to do your research because law enforcement typically have bigger problems to deal with. 

Here are some rules and things you should look for when making donations.

  1. A 501(c)(3) organization is not an endorsement.  All it means is a group may collect donations that are tax-deductible to the donor .  A 501(c)(3) organization is a non-profit, meaning there are no retained earnings.
  2. A 501(c)(3) status can be abused.  It takes time for the government to revoke the status and in the meanwhile, a group can take advantage of this 'seal of approval'.  Look at a site like and check on the status of a 501(c)(3). 
  3. While a website is not a guarantee of legitimacy, if there is no website, it is a warning sign.
  4. If a horse is being sold, that is a problem.  Horses should be adopted out with a contract which specifies the rescue will take the horse back if anything goes wrong or is not well maintained by the adopter.  A horse should not be allowed to breed.  A rescue should require at least once a year a report from a veterinarian on the status of the horse.  A rescue that lets a horse go without a contract is a seller of horses, not a rescue.
  5. Is the rescue accredited?  It should be on their website.  Don't take their word.  Check with the accrediting agency and make sure they are still members in good standing. 
  6. On the website, it should list the current officers of the charity and their primary occupation.
  7. Check the latest Form 990 (which ideally should be posted on the rescue's website or failing that on Guidestar) and make sure the officers are volunteers.  If they make a salary it could be a warning sign.  Look for other expenses on their report and do they seem out of wack or expenses which seem extravagant (conventions, etc.)?  Rescues should be working on saving horses, not enjoying themselves on the donors' dime.  Read the entire form 990.  No, you don't need to read every single thing but you want the form to pass the smell test.  
  8. All non-profits must make their latest Form 990 available to the public either on their website, through a third-party website or in person or by mail.  A non-profit may charge $1 for the first page and $0.15 per page after that.  If making request by mail, they have 30 days to complete your request.
  9. Remember, there may be a delay in posting their 990.  If you don't see 2012's form 990 on their website or on (or other site) that is okay in the early part of 2013.  However, if you don't see the 2011 form out there, it should be a warning sign.
  10. Note Guidestar is a voluntary service.  If you can't find a rescue on Guidestar, look elsewhere such as Foundation Center. 
  11. Beware of the 'truck is coming' story.  You know horses can be going to slaughter.  When a group uses this angle, they are tugging on your emotions and hoping you take out your credit card or checkbook. 
  12. Do your research.  Check the web for complaints.  Any group can have some detractors; you can't please everyone but there comes a point where the complaints are too many to ignore.  Where there is smoke, there usually is fire.
  13. If the rescue is close enough, consider visiting them.  Just realize you may not be able to just show up and visit, you may need to make arrangements to visit.  A big warning is when they try to seriously discourage visits or refuse to allow you to visit.

The point of this article is not to tell you to avoid horse rescues.  There are some real good horse rescues out there but unfortunately, there are those who are more concerned with your money than actually rescuing horses.  The cause is good.  Good enough that it is worth doing the work to make sure the rescue is legitimate. 

Do you think I missed something here?  Let me know and I will share your thoughts.

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