Monday, April 13, 2009

The Homes for Horses Coalition Conference

Last week I attended the Homes for Horses Coalition Conference in Las Vegas and, although I didn't make it for the whole event, I wanted to report back on what I did see - especially for those who say the anti-slaughter side "doesn't have a plan." This entire conference was about discussing our plans, sharing ideas and getting input from others about what works and what doesn't.

I missed the panels on working with law enforcement on animal cases, finding homes for adoptable horses, and euthanasia. I understand the latter was particularly excellent and that most participants showed a willingness to be realistic about the fact that some horses will need to be euthanized.

I got there in time to attend a seminar from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, which is going to start accrediting horse sanctuaries this year. They will be sending out two trained investigators. One focuses on animal care - one focuses on the business end. The goal is to ensure that a sanctuary is both taking good care of its animals and keeping good records/financially stable. It will do a lot toward giving the public a way to know that donated dollars are going to a reputable operation (not Dancing Star or the HASScienda). You've all said that there should be a way to regulate these operations - well, now there is. Participation is voluntary but accreditation will mean that a sanctuary has passed an all-day site visit. The site visit repeats every three years but can be stepped up if there are complaints or questions about a sanctuary. While their guidelines are still in the process of being developed, I agreed with many of them and was pleased to see that they took firm stands on barbed wire (not okay) and gelding (a must unless the vet says no).

The next day started out with a panel on how to seek grants and funds. This was pretty funny - Jacque Schultz from the ASPCA sounded an awful lot like me as she advised that grant applications full of misspellings, poor grammar, and hyper-emotional stories about how your husband left you are not the way to show that you are a professional rescue organization that will make good use of grant money! Basically, if you want to get a grant, you need to be realistic about what you are asking for (if the grant range goes up to $4,000, asking for $20K will probably get you...nothing), clear about what you are asking for, professional in your request and polite no matter which way the decision goes. Sounds simple, right? Of course there'd be nothing to talk about if she didn't get long diatribes about health problems, family problems and angry calls from people that she dares not to throw money at. Sheesh, people. Save that crap for the ABR board.

They also discussed all the resources most rescues don't even try to avail themselves of. For example, is a great place to find grants for new computers and software for your rescue, therapeutic center or other nonprofit. They recommended trying to sell ad space on your truck and trailer to local businesses, or put a billboard in your front field if you are on a major road. You should ask yourself how what you do may benefit a group that doesn't neigh - for example, if you can show you are helping human beings, you may get a grant from an org like United Way. (i.e. if you have a hay program for people who have become unemployed) Another recommended site was Here's a new one - did you know that indian casinos may fund your Thoroughbred rescue? You bet - they're pro-gambling and racing is gambling, so they want to "give back" just like any business. Got a new seizure of more than three horses? Try Petsmart Charities for a quick dose of cash.

This was followed by a panel on disaster preparedness. Very interesting, since people were there from such different parts of the country. Jerry Finch from Habitat for Horses talked about the hurricanes in Texas (and yes, I did speak to him and thank him on everybody's behalf for Naysa's miraculous rehab - apparently she is super happy and loved and dirtbag horse dealer has not gone to trial yet and is still dealing horses. I told him if he ever needs letters to the prosecutors, tell me, 'cause you guys will be happy to write them!). Others talked about floods, fires and the question of whether to stay or go in the event of a natural disaster (evacuation isn't always the right call). Habitat for Horses had some GREAT materials including what items should make up your horses' emergency kit and I believe those will be posted on the web site in the future.

The next panel covered how to work with the community. Floss Blackburn of Denkai Animal Sanctuary made some really good points about how to work with communities that are not normally rescue-friendly. She noted that it is hard to convince an old cowboy that we should feed 30 year old horses. (I suggested my usual retort - which is, hey, it's good for the economy! I'm supporting the hay producers, grain producers, farriers, etc. by keeping my horses alive as long as possible!) Joey Osborn from Luv Shack and Beth DeCaprio from The Grace Foundation went into all of the ways you can involve the community in your rescue efforts. The main thing that jumped out at me? All of these ladies are professional. They simply do not come off as highly emotional "rescue crazies," even though rescue is the focal point of their lives. I can't emphasize this enough. Nobody gets anywhere crying and getting angry and looking like they forgot to take their Prozac. I do not care how upset you are about abuse, neglect and slaughter - learn to put that aside, or let someone else speak for your rescue.

The speakers recommended ideas like making friends with your local Chamber of Commerce and any business groups and attending their meetings, and involving the community in various ways like having a school class "adopt" a particular horse or have a contest to name a new rescue horse.

Next there was a discussion on volunteer management. It was interesting to hear everybody's strategies for keeping volunteers energized and interested. Some rescues had very strict policies about what volunteers could or could not do - so strict that I was surprised they get volunteers at all. However, I understand being safety conscious in our litigious society. Shiloh seems like a super fun place to volunteer for those in the Vegas area - Jill Curtis was there and showed lots of pics. She has dozens of volunteers of all ages and they do grooming, baths, riding - whatever needs to be done. They are supervised and placed with horses appropriate for them to handle. She has a pasture full of "gummies" - old mush-eaters who are perfect for little kid grooming practice.

The final discussion was on how to promote owner and breeder responsibility, and I was one of the speakers for that, so I talked about how we need to step up communications. So often, a horse is lost that HAD a home merely because we can't ID him in time. (Just last weekend - gelding named Slewpyooo - if I could have ID'd him on Sunday, I'd have outbid Ron and he'd be back home with his trainer. I found out too late who he had been, and the horse is gone as far as we can find out.) I talked about HorseReunions and how I'd like to see it expand including obtaining the tattoo databases from JC and AQHA so that we can ID horses on a Sunday afternoon at the auction - when we need to. I also discussed the breeder's list and my belief that the longer it gets, the more it will become the social norm to take responsibility for what you have bred. Jane Heath from the Montana Horse Sanctuary followed me and talked about her fight to prevent slaughter from being legalized in Montana. I was really impressed by how she pulled a very organized grassroots effort together in a short period of time and has even convinced many former slaughter supporters to change their allegiances. By the way, Jane has a situation developing with over 200 QH's and TB's from a 90+ year old man, so if you're horse-shopping, by all means shoot Jane an e-mail!

A final fun note for the COTH'ers here...remember Erin, the ex-moderator of the COTH board? She has written a Complete Guide to Horse Care for the HSUS. I read it on the plane home and loved it. It's a good, solid, basic beginner horse book with a twist - ethics. Erin's book will tell you slaughter isn't ok, nor is barbed wire, nor is competing a lame horse because you are running for year-end awards. She isn't preachy about it - she's matter of fact. This book would make a perfect gift for a new horse owner or someone who has just started to take lessons. (I LMAO, there is some subtle snark in there on various guys will pick up on all of it and enjoy) Click below to learn more about Erin's book.

It's Monday but I have a bit of a rescue crisis. If you are in the Seattle area and are an experienced horseperson who likes Arabians, there is an 11 year old stallion who is going to get euthed this week if he can't find a home. He is only halter broke - expect loading to be interesting and bring a stock trailer. However, he is kind and not aggressive - you can groom him and he likes people but will be a project in all other ways. Bloodlines are Polish/Crabbet but nothing special - he absolutely should be gelded. Registered name Here Before Dawn. His owner passed away. If you are serious about giving this guy a chance, you can e-mail Jason, who is trying to help him. There is also a 25 year old gelding named Skye Prince who would be suitable for little kids/companion life and a 17 year old mare named KB Fancy Myss who was broke and ridden but has not been ridden in some time.