More Horses, Fewer Donors Challenge Equine Rescue Groups

Two years ago, the directors of Maryland's equine rescue organizations got together to brainstorm ways to polish up their administrative skills and cultivate public support for their work. Back then, the Maryland Association of Rescue Equine Societies (MARES) was an informal coalition. These days, according to Kathleen Schwartz Howe, executive director and founder of Days End Farm Horse Rescue in Woodbine, Md., MARES is an increasingly important alliance for nonprofits with more horses in their care and fewer dollars to maintain them.

"The economy has really hit us hard," said Howe. "So, we're trying to find ways to pool our resources."

Howe said the high cost of hay and other horsekeeping necessities are partially to blame for the rise in the number of horses arriving at her rescue and other facilities in her state, as well as the decline in adoption interest. At the same time, she said, skyrocketing fuel and other living costs are claiming dollars that might have previously gone to nonprofits as charitable contributions.

"So MARES is working on ways to think out of the box when it comes to fundraising and offering incentives for our foster families to adopt the horses in their care," she said.

Howe and her colleagues are not the only ones grappling with the problem. Last July the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), along with the Animal Welfare Institute and several other groups, formed the Homes for Horses Coalition, an effort HSUS Director of Equine Protection Keith Dane said is designed to support equine-focused nonprofits. Within the next year, coalition will create an accreditation program to lend credibility to authentic rescue operations.

"To give them a gold seal, so to speak, saying that this is an organization that donors can trust," Dane explained.

Homes for Horses will also work to engage breed and equestrian associations to support equine industry nonprofits.

"It could be $1 per horse, per event, or $1 per horse registered contribution to a nonprofit support fund, depending upon the organization," Dane said.

Tom Lenz, DVM, chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, sees equine welfare organizations borrowing a page from small animal welfare leagues, too.

"We've seen euthanasia of unwanted healthy dogs and cats for the past 50 years," Lenz said. "I think horse rescues--and horse owners who can no longer care for their animals--are going to have to consider that as an affordable option to slaughter or abandonment."

In the meantime, Jennifer Williams, executive director of the Bluebonnet Equine Humane Society in Rosharon, Texas, has been consulting with Howe about creating a nonprofit alliance in her state. But it's not an easy sell.

"A lot of the rescues in Texas won't talk to one another partly because we're all competing for the same donor dollars," she said. "I'd love to see accreditation on a national level and some kind of organized financial support."

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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