This article is not about the controversy over Facebook’s kill pen broker pages, but it’s impossible to deny they’ve had an impact on horse rescue. That’s not a criticism or an opinion. It’s a fact.
Until recently, rescues could intercept a horse at auction for $300-$500. The rescue could invest $500 into rehabilitating the horse and recoup much of the expense with an adoption fee under $1,000.
With Facebook, kill buyers have created a whole new category of horse trading, where that very same unwanted horse a rescue could have intercepted for pennies on the dollar, now rallies Facebook saviors to bail it for two or three times its value in meat – regardless of the horse’s health, training, pedigree or soundness.
Horse shoppers can buy a horse for $1,000 on Craigslist, or pay $1,000 to a kill buyer’s broker on Facebook and feel like they’re saving a horse from slaughter. They’re aware the horse could be sick or lame, but saving a horse’s life is worth the risk. That’s the Facebook Effect. It now costs rescues more to pull horses to safety than we could ever hope to make back in adoption fees, and that’s before investing a penny in rehabilitation and training.
A quick look at one auction’s prices for “loose horses” over time shows horses selling for more than twice their price in 2015. “Loose horses” are the ones auctions trot into the ring without a rider and without fanfare. Not much is known about them, so they don’t attract much interest – except from kill buyers. As a result, loose horses are the ones that most often find their way to foreign slaughter. As worthless as they’ve been to humans throughout their lives, they’re suddenly worth at least double their weight in meat.
Has the price of horse meat doubled? No. What has changed in that time? The first kill pen broker pages cropped up on Facebook in 2012, and the equine “Me Too” movement spawned one for every kill buyer with thumbs in the years to follow.
The greatest benefit of the Facebook Effect is the spotlight it’s shone on the travesty of American horse slaughter. Today, more people than ever are aware of the issue, and anyone can experience the joy of horse rescue, regardless of whether they ever see or touch a horse.
The Equine Assistance Project analyzed the price of horses “bailed” on kill pen pages over time. All those emojis and desperate pleas for help boosted the price of horses by nearly 20 percent on average between 2015 and 2016, and the prices have quadrupled since then.
Are horses more valuable or in greater demand today than they were in 2015? No. The truth is, soft-hearted people will pay $1,200 for a $400 horse if they believe they’re saving the horse’s life.
The horse is safe. Now what?
What many people don’t understand is that once a horse leaves a kill pen, the cost of rescuing it has only just begun. As the donor crowd rushes on to the next horse with an execution deadline, the just-bailed horse is still stuck in the slaughter pipeline, still at the mercy of people who might exploit or abuse them. The horse still has to make it through hauling, quarantine and/or hubbing before it can truly be considered safe. All of those steps on the journey to sanctuary cost money, and each step is a new opportunity for the horse to be betrayed, neglected and abused by criminals who stalk the pipeline searching for fresh meat.
Experienced horse people may have the wherewithal to get started with a kill pen horse at minimal cost; but new owners need to understand, the bail is only half the expense of getting it home and settled. So before you start thinking about “saving a horse from slaughter”, grab your calculator and start ciphering the real cost, from the kill pen home.
Adopt from a reputable rescue
Why should you adopt from a rescue? The expense of getting a horse from a kill pen to sanctuary and the risk of being victimized by charlatans and opportunists is beyond the wildest imagination of those with limited experience.
The calculations above don’t even take training into consideration. Most kill pen horses are sick, many are lame, and all of them are traumatized after surviving the slaughter pipeline. Most require at least a tune-up; but some require start-to-finish professional training. Cha-ching.
The majority of kill pen horses we’ve saved require some level of special care in their first 30 days – whether it be feed, supplements, farrier, vet or training. Special care is expensive.
Thanks to generous donors, established rescues have the networks and donors to absorb much of the cost of transportation, quarantine, boarding, feeding, vetting, training and other mandatory care for the horse, which saves adopters hundreds of dollars in initial expenses.
At the same time, rescues pay their bills with donations and adoption fees, so the rising cost of bailing horses will have some impact on adopters.
When you adopt a horse from a reputable rescue, you generally know what you’re getting. The horse has been evaluated and vetted, and good rescues will provide adopters with health records and other reliable information to ensure your success. When you adopt a horse, you have the benefit of the rescue’s experience and expertise throughout the life of the horse, as well as a built-in support network when things get overwhelming.
Rescues have the benefit of donors and volunteers who help ensure kill pen horses receive the quality care they need, for as long as they need it. Individuals are on their own once they bail a horse from a kill pen.
When you adopt a horse, you help the rescue save and rehabilitate even more horses, and spread the word about responsible ownership. Together, we can slowly choke off the slaughter pipeline, so no horse ever has to endure the terror, cruelty and inhumanity of the journey to hell.