Many of the equine professionals I know always give a sort of wry look when you mention the word, “rescue” and horses in the same sentence. Those who have had dealings with many of these so-called “rescues” have realized what many people on the internet do not – that many times, the word is used to find a way for a pathological horse collector to gain money or sympathy to fund their out-of-control horse habit. These fraudulent actors simply take away from the legitimate equine welfare and rescue operations who need funds to survive and continue the good work they do.
The most egregious people are those who set themselves up as a rescue, then proceed to collect horses to the point where they can no longer afford to keep them healthy and the horses that are supposedly rescued now need to be rescued from the rescuer. The next worst are those who are very savvy internet “sellers”, who collect cash and funds, provide photos and lots of good selling rhetoric online, snag quite a few very gullible people into giving money and set up a literal cash cow with a side business of horse rescue. There is currently a very popular Facebook site that constantly posts photos of horses in a sales yard, and asks for money to “rescue” them from the kill pen, and a lot of horse people who should know better share and like these posts, unknowing that they are really funding a kill buyer’s continual operation and profiting his personal sales business. There’s no rescue going on, only selling.
The point is, do your homework. Once I believed a plea for tack and equipment needed for a so-called rescue who got in a sudden influx of horses from a seizure. I sent a boxful of good quality English tack and nylon halters. I never received an acknowledgement or thank you although both were promised online. Instead, I checked back occasionally and guess what — here’s my tack being sold online to raise funds to pay for a fancy big-name clinician’s fees! I learned my lesson. I am very careful not to give to anything that can’t send me a thank-you note or give me a receipt for the donation for tax purposes. If they cannot do that they don’t deserve to be in business, because those simple acts are just absolute basics of for someone who is asking for donations.
Illegimate rescues have mushroomed with the internet and social media. The danger of this is two-fold. First, the horses do not deserve this. Usually people with good intentions do not have a really good idea what it costs to keep and care for seriously ill, needy, or undernourished horses. If you have kept a few horses for yourself at home for a few years and they’ve been young and healthy, good for you — that doesn’t make you ready to start a rescue. Money usually ends up being the biggest part of rescuing needy horses, and if someone doesn’t go into the rescue business with a pretty substantial budget, they are likely to get into trouble as soon as they reach the 10 to 12 horse threshold. I’ve driven past rescue stables and seen 10 horses out in one half-acre paddock and there’s no horsemanship I know of that considers that a proper way to keep and care for horses. And the reason they were out there was because they did not have enough land for what they were doing. And guess what – they were of course begging online for more land or a a bigger stable! Of course! As soon as they get what they want, it can only be a short time before once again they will be over-horsed.
Second, when poorly organized or illegal rescues exist, it hurts legitimate rescues who now must fight the stigma of untrustworthiness the fraudulent collector has developed. And third, the reason professional horse people don’t like the false rescues is all of the above plus the fact that they often sell horses and use the heartstrings and non-profit status to undercut local horse sales. Of course horse sales are disguised as “adoption fees” when in reality they are a sales price with funds going directly back to the owners to purchase and re-sell more horses. Those fake rescues should not be permitted to sell horses, period, in my opinion. In their case “adoption fees” should be illegal to charge. And the way around this is not to obtain non-profit status, but instead, set up like a regular business with a profit motive to stay viable. Of course, they don’t want to do this — because then they can’t ask for donations! What a racket! And the truly legitimate adoption operations, like Mid Atlantic Horse Rescue in Worton, Maryland, would suffer if they couldn’t “sell” and adopt out horses they are saving on a weekly basis from the kill pen at the horse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania. Changing the rules would hurt a vital group like this from doing what they do in saving horses. They have dedicated their operation to rescuing unwanted racehorses from certain and undeserved death at slaughter. They rehab the horses, retrain them, and provide them for sale to the public with the guarantee of return if the horse ends up unsuitable, but they do such a good job that rarely do new owners return the horses to Mid-Atlantic. I know the fees they charge don’t couldn’t possibly cover the expenses they have on the horses’ care and feeding; they apply for grants and assistance, rely on donations, and have fundraisers to help themselves keep in business. But if the rules aren’t changed, the illegitimate hoarders will continue to exist.
It is a good thing that the current US tax laws require that non-profit status be carefully organized and legally obtained; that’s one thing that stops some people from setting up hoarder/rescue outfits. But they are still everywhere, because there is an ongoing need to keep horses that are starved or neglected from being killed by their criminal owners. Literally anyone can hang out a sign or set up a Facebook page and call themselves a rescue. The SPCA’s that deal with equine rescue must find it horrifying to have to go such a hoarder’s place, and seize starving horses. Rescuing horses from the rescuers should never, ever happen. If equine rescues had to be licensed, inspected, and legally correct, one hopes that would be limited. I am not for government getting into the horse business, but it is time that the rescue outfits get their wings clipped and be licensed if only to prevent the terrible suffering of starved horses in what was supposed to be a good home.