"Please help! 52 thoroughbred horses need homes. Will go to Sugarcreek this Saturday for slaughter.
Gentleman died and his son wants nothing to do with them.
Most broodmares are broke and some are in foal weanling, yearlings, 2 yrs and 3 yrs old most are gelded.
FREE and papered. Friend of the deceased is trying to find homes."
If you have any connection to horses and are on the internet at all, you probably saw some version of this plea in February. It seems to have gone viral around the world. I know it hit my inbox at least half a dozen times and showed up in Facebook posts, as well.
Turns out the “gentleman” referenced was Daniel Stearns, a veterinarian, Thoroughbred breeder and prominent member of the Ohio racing community who died in late January. And Sugarcreek is, indeed, the name of a somewhat notorious salebarn in Ohio.
Several generally reputable horse publications, including The Blood-Horse and The Horse, have run a story quoting a woman who says she was able, through use of social media and email, to place all the horses in new homes in just three days.
But last week there were rumblings on horse-related blogs and message boards that shed some doubt on that story. Some people who claimed connection with the family said the Stearns’ themselves found good homes for all the horses. Others wrote that they actually adopted some of the horses during the three-day blitz. Maybe the woman taking credit for the adoption miracle accomplished just that. Maybe she was a disgruntled employee out to embarrass these people. or just someone seeking her 15 minutes of fame. Any of those scenarios could be true - and happily it seems the nicer version is the truth.
Yes, this story about social networking saving the lives of a bunch of horses is heartwarming. Nothing like the threat of death or abuse to galvanize animal lovers to open their homes and their wallets. That’s a wonderful human response, but unfortunately this propensity also provides an irresistible opportunity for con artists. Remember all the horrific photos of starving cats and dogs in mailings from pseudo-animal-welfare organizations back in the 1980s? Many of those groups spent only a few cents of every donated dollar – if anything – on animal causes. The rest went to “administrative costs,” otherwise known as paying the people sending the letters.
What about the emails that circulate from people you never heard of before who say they need just a few thousand dollars to spring a bunch of horses from a feedlot or salebarn kill pen. Their pleas may get your heart racing and tempt you to click that PayPal button that says “Donate Now,” but do you know the money you send will actually help the horses and not end up in some scam artist’s pocket?
Sometimes you have to step back and ask yourself whether the situation being described is plausible. You have to read between the lines of those circulating emails. Ask yourself whether the claims are reasonable and can be verified by searching out local media or animal control sources. If you find media coverage, is there more than one source quoted?
Don’t rely on a facebook page or professional-looking website – anyone can put those up. If the organization states it’s a non-profit, verify that. (If they claim 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(3) status pending and you have doubts about the organization or individual, you can check on their status using Guide Star or IRS Non-Profit Search.)
The lesson to learn from this type of situation is to take the time to rationally consider the information and do some research before 1) forwarding this type of communication to all your email contacts or 2) donating money to a rescuer or organization you don’t know. When in doubt, consult – any scams that have been around any length of time are likely to show up there. Post a question on your social media outlet asking whether anyone has first-hand knowledge of the situation – chances are you know someone who knows someone who lives and works in the geographical area where the plea for assistance originated.
Yes, there are a whole bunch of wonderful people out there doing amazing work rescuing horses and other animals from abuse, neglect and ignorance. Just remember that not every person who says she rescues animals really does that. It’s not uncommon for hoarders to pass themselves off as rescuers. And it seems that in every situation that might involve money, there are always a few scam artists. This story of a fake veterinarian running a fake rescue(!) gives some good advice about how to check out an organization before you send money.
You might think that some national organization would exist to provide oversight of horse rescues and give the public a list of those they can trust. That’s just not the case. Anyone can build a web presence and call him- or herself a rescue owner/operator.
There is one international organization, the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, that accredits animal rescue/sanctuary organizations of all kinds. But the organization lists just nine horse rescue organizations in North America that have gone through the rigorous accreditation process. That’s a very small number and is certainly not representative of the number of legitimate, well-run and well-meaning U.S. horse rescues that need and deserve public support.
Several states have stepped up to fill the information void by creating some type of screening process for rescue organizations. For example, Arizona has passed legislation to create a registry of state-certified horse rescue groups. And the Minnesota Horse Council certifies rescue facilities that prove non-profit status and meet or exceed the American Association of Equine Practitioners guidelines for equine rescues and retirement facilities. One problem with this approach is that the standards will inevitably vary from state to state, with some doing detailed application and evaluation processes and others just compiling a list of organizations with no verification. Any viable program will require states to allocate considerable fiscal resources to maintain staff and sustain a rigorous on-site evaluation schedule to verify these rescues continue to operate honestly and in the best interest of animals.
Still not sure the available resources will guarantee you can tell a legitimate rescue from a bogus one? Don’t let that keep you from supporting animals in need. The one sure way to know whether a rescue is doing what it should is to see it with your own eyes. Instead of anonymously hitting the “Donate” button on the website for an organization hundreds or thousands of miles away, find a local horse rescue and get to know it. Attend a fund-raiser where you can meet and talk with the staff and volunteers. Donate tack or equipment and arrange to take a tour when you drop it off at the site. Ask horse people in the community – riders, trainers, feed and tack dealers, veterinarians – about the reputation of the people involved. Do your due diligence and then you will be able to support the organization with confidence. And, who knows, maybe you’ll even find a fulfilling pastime as a volunteer or meet the horse of your dreams and take him or her home with you.



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