Before You Click ‘Donate,’ What Do You Know About That Horse Rescue?

In this social media-driven age, it’s easier than ever for ordinary people to lend their voices or their cash to a cause they care about. For many in the equine welfare world, this is good news – it’s now cheaper to get their message out to the public, and faster for their supporters to PayPal a donation or send supplies through Amazon. Many of those organizations are bracing for (or have already experienced) a huge hit in donations and an increase in demand for their services due to COVID-19.

Unfortunately, in times of disaster it’s not uncommon for bad actors to appear, seeing an opportunity to exploit the public’s generosity. Veterinarians say it’s also increasingly common for people to behave as an equine rescue and then become overwhelmed by the need for their services, leaving bills unpaid and ultimately struggling to properly care for animals.

Nobody wants to think, when they share a call for donations or donate to a rescue themselves, that they are contributing to a situation that will ultimately leave horses in dire straits. Certainly, no one who’s putting effort into rehoming a horse wants to send that horse to a group that won’t take care of it. Unfortunately, there’s no centralized government authority that monitors conditions and finances at animal rescues, so it is up to you to donate and promote responsibly.

Who are they?

The first and easiest thing to check is whether an organization has 501c3 tax-exempt status. The first step in attaining this status is for the organization to be recognized by state government as a corporation, a trust, or an association. You can check with the Secretary of State in the state where the organization is based to verify if it taken this initial step. From there, the operator would get a federal employer identification number and submit a number of documents to the IRS for approval.

Most charities want to be tax-exempt through the IRS because they won’t pay taxes on their income or purchases. (There are different types of tax exemption, but for animal rescues, 501c3 is the most common type.) In exchange, however, they are subject to increased scrutiny by the IRS and are required to make year-end tax documents showing income and expenditure available to the public.

You should be able to look up an organization’s 990 year-end tax forms online if they are indeed 501c3s. GuideStar is one of the best-known private websites to collect and publish these forms, but you can also check an organization’s tax exempt status and view forms via the IRS website here.

“I think what happens all the time is people start rescuing horses without any of those things, and they call themselves ‘not for profit’ or something, because they think if they say ‘I’m not doing this for profit’ then they’re a non-profit,” said Stacie Clark, operations consultant for the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.

It’s possible of course that the head of a rescue could put all donations or profits back into the rescue operations and therefore state they don’t work for a profit – but unless they have that status with the IRS, you’re taking them at their word.

A 501c3’s 990 can give you an idea of its legitimacy. It will show you income and expenditures broken down into basic categories. For Clark, a quick look at the most recent 990 compared with fundraising goals or marketing can verify consistency.

“Most organizations are spending almost everything on their horses, but it’s important to see they have a healthy fiduciary responsibility,” she said. “I think if you see an organization that is asking for $50,000 for something where they’ve [previously] budgeted $20,000 that would be a red flag.”

Transparency about a rescue’s inner workings is also important. A list of board members should be readily available on its website along with basic information about the staff. It’s reasonable to expect organizations to provide updates on a sick horse’s condition or celebrate when that horse is adopted.

TRF Blackburn Correctional Facility. The TRF is TAA-accredited and operates partly as a sanctuary

A sanctuary, where animals live out their years in retirement, would be expected to provide less frequent updates, but should be able to answer questions about a particular animal if asked. If the organization is an adoption facility but doesn’t seem to do many adoptions, it’s worth wondering about whether their resources are being stretched thin.

Word of mouth

Whether you’re looking at donating a horse or donating money, you’ll want to speak with people familiar with the group who aren’t on its payroll. Facebook or Google reviews can sometimes show cracks and are particularly helpful because they’re time stamped. It’s important to keep in mind though that many organizations may ask their supporters for positive reviews to boost SEO, and so it can be valuable to do some additional research. Clark suggests checking with the local horsemen’s group or track operators to see what others know about the group.

Dr. Kate Papp, president/treasurer of Pennsylvania Racehorse Rehoming, Rehabilitation and Rescue (PARR), suggests speaking with a volunteer who has spent time on the rescue’s property, or better yet, speak to their veterinarian.

“I think the best way to check up on a rescue is to call their reference vet,” she said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called the vet for a rescue and they say ‘Oh I don’t know why they have my name, I haven’t seen any of their horses in years.’”

For those looking to donate a horse, Papp suggests a little more familiarity with an organization’s policies. How long do they expect a horse to stay before being adopted? Are horses traced after adoption? What happens with Jockey Club papers? (If the idea is the horse shouldn’t run again, the adopter either shouldn’t have the papers, or should have a copy of the papers marked by The Jockey Club showing the horse has been “Retired From Racing.”) Does the organization require references from adopters? What does the adoption contract look like? What about a contract for people fostering horses? Do they follow American Veterinary Medical Association guidelines for rescues?

“Out of how many years you’ve been in business, how many animals have you placed?” said Papp. “Do you know what they’re doing now? And a reasonable question would be ‘How many do you euthanize a year?’ Some horses you’ll take, thinking they’ll get better and they don’t.”

Racing has already created its own solution

Of course, donor confidence and equine welfare were the primary drivers for the foundation of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) in 2012. One of the TAA’s core tasks is accrediting aftercare organizations, which means taking a long, hard look at their financials, physical facilities, horse care protocols, and insurance.

Clark estimates the initial application process for TAA accreditation requires more than 40 documents, and is then followed by a site inspection. If a facility is accredited, it will be subject to routine site visits to maintain its accreditation. TAA staff look at everything from an organization’s finances, budgets, insurance, volunteer to staff ratio, horse care programs, policies, social media and advertising usage, legal registration, insurance and more.

“It’s probably, ironically, the most vetted part of the industry in my mind,” said Clark. “No one’s aware of a racetrack’s finances or a farm’s finances, that’s all private. But because they’re charities, the oversight and scrutiny of these organizations that are accredited far exceeds any other aspect of horse racing.”

The accreditation process is free to the applying organization. The organization must have completed the initial step toward becoming a nonprofit – registering with their state as a business – a minimum of three years prior to accreditation, must be a non-profit in good standing, and must deal primarily or significantly with Thoroughbreds.

There are also other groups that accredit rescue groups, including the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. GuideStar also offers different statuses for charities listed there, although that does not require an on-site inspection and is not specific to animal charities.

Of course, that means younger organizations and those that aren’t breed limited aren’t candidates for accreditation. Clark says that’s ok – she gets numerous calls from people wanting to vet out a non-accredited organization. Chances are, she’s heard of it or knows someone who has, and she says she’s willing to be a straight shooter.

Even if an organization is TAA accredited, Papp’s mantra is trust, but verify.

“I would confirm with TAA that they truly are accredited,” said Papp. “People will say a lot of things that aren’t true.”

The post Before You Click ‘Donate,’ What Do You Know About That Horse Rescue? appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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