Look Before You Leap
There have been two relatively recent news stories about horse rescues that were discovered to have starving, neglected animals. In early 2015 in California, Fallen Horses Rescue was the scene of about 34 starving horses, mostly thoroughbreds. Just two weeks ago, in Virginia, Peaceable Farm was raided after neighbors complained about skinny horses and 81 neglected horses, donkeys, and other animals were discovered. It can make people wonder if equine rescues are really doing good things for the animals. Yes, absolutely, the majority of equine rescues and sanctuaries are here to help equines in need and they use your donations wisely. But in this age of online ads and ALL CAPS PLEAS FOR MONEY, you are better off checking things out before opening your wallet.
For people that want to adopt an equine from a rescue or sponsor a sanctuary horse, there are a few simple ways to help you figure out if a rescue or sanctuary is a properly functioning organization that will work to find you the best equine partner, or put your generous donation to proper use to help an aged or injured equine live with dignity.
Plug in the words ‘horse rescue’ and an internet search turns up hundreds of places that sound like horse rescues and sanctuaries, but you need to do some homework. Look on their website or Facebook page, do they clearly say they are a 501c3 nonprofit? If they receive more than $25,000 annually to support their operations they must file a Form 990 with the IRS every year. A copy of their 990 forms should be readily available upon request. You might be able to download them if you register for free with Guidestar.org. The 990 form details what income was generated through donations or fundraising or grants, and what money was spent on care for the animals, including veterinary, farrier and feed. There is also a listing of their Board of Directors. These forms cover from July 1 through June 30 each year. If it is a small rescue or sanctuary and they are not required to file a 990 form, there are other ways to check on them. Look at their website or Facebook or other social media pages. Is the content uptodate? Are there photos of the horses or donkeys under the group’s care or just a bunch of silly or cutesy animal memes and cartoons?
Look under the About tab for a contact email or phone number. Fundraising requests are perfectly fine to post on websites and social media, but if that is all they display and never show any of the horses they are benefitting, it might be a red flag.
Of course, the absolutely best way to find out if a rescue or sanctuary is worthy or your support and donations is to visit them in person. Take a look around. If there are volunteers, ask how long they have been volunteering; why do they like the organization? Look at the animals. Are they being cared for properly? Some may be on a refeed program, but they should also be able to show you ones they have rehabilitated.
Are their feet trimmed? Rescues generally operate on very tight budgets, so do not expect their barns and pastures to look perfect, but they should be generally clean and not have huge piles of manure everywhere. There should be water available for all the horses.
Do not let stories like Peaceable Farm or Fallen Horses Rescue turn you away from supporting equine rescues and sanctuaries. There are hundreds of truly deserving equine rescues and sanctuaries doing their best to undo the horrible things humans have done to horses, mules, and donkeys. We hope you will take some time to find one that resonates with you as a volunteer, adopter, or donor.
(Janey H. is the Resource Editor of Horses Without Homes Magazine)