When Congress shuttered horse slaughter plants across the U.S. in 2007, horse lovers hoped we’d seen an end to horse slaughter.
The reality is that America became the largest exporter of live horses for foreign slaughter in the world. The kill buyers that slaughter opponents hoped to put out of business more than quadrupled their profits from the sale of unwanted horses, thanks in large part to Facebook.
We’ve all seen the emoji-laden emergency appeals for donations for the horse that could “ship at any moment, without notice.” Liberty Valance wrote an excellent blog that details the Facebook kill pen broker arrangement, so I won’t regurgitate those facts here. Suffice it to say, when that much cash is flying around with zero oversight or regulation, someone is getting rich off the backs of abused and neglected horses, and it ain’t legitimate rescues.
Full transparency: It was one of those Facebook posts that launched Swingin’ D Horse Rescue.
It was one of those emergencies we see week after week. I mean, Jake was shipping THAT DAY if someone didn’t step in to pay his bail. I couldn’t stand the thought of this beautiful Aubrey-look-alike shipping to a foreign slaughter plant. Totally ignorant about horse slaughter and kill pens and everything that comes with them, I furiously searched Google for information as Jake’s execution clock ticked away. I grilled the Facebook page with questions: “How do I know this isn’t a scam?” “What’s a bail?” “What’s a fundraiser?” “How do I even know Jake exists?” I know I drove them nuts.
By the end of Jake’s shipping day, I had decided to pay the remaining bail and take my chances of it being a scam. If it was a scam, I decided it would be an expensive lesson learned.
“By the end of 2017, I had paid more than $8500 in bails to the kill pen while listed as an admin on the broker page. I know for a fact I wasn’t getting kickbacks.”
Within a few days, I was paying total strangers to haul, hub and quarantine Jake and float his teeth. Within weeks after that, I was bailing my second horse, Elvis, never giving a second thought to where all that bail money went. Within a few months, I set up a 501(c) 3 and was listed as an admin, helping to answer questions on the kill pen page. By the end of 2017, I had spent more than $18,000 of my savings bailing, transporting and rehabilitating kill pen horses.
I still have horses I’ve been rehabilitating, re-training and starting for more than 2 years. I’ve gelded, paid for veterinary care, training, special feed and supplements. One horse has cost me more than $6,500 of my own money to treat and another has cost me more than $2,500 to train, so I’m no fly-by-night rescuer or flipper. I live and breathe these horses and love them like they’re my own children. Because I always only take the ones no one else wants, I have no doubt we’re saving lives.
Week after week, the kill pen page miraculously saved every single horse that was posted. Skeptics would say it was because the horses were never intended for slaughter. They’d say the kill buyer purchased the horses for the express purpose of selling them on Facebook, and that he and the page administrator set the price, made up a compelling back story, and set an arbitrary (fake) deadline that could change at the whim of the administrator. They’d say the horses didn’t ship because Facebook horses are never intended to ship. According to the skeptics, the kill buyer pays too much for the Facebook horses to make money off their meat.
Supporters would say the kill buyer is acting out of kindness, giving the horse a second chance at life. They’d say those horses would be dead if not for the donors who generously stepped in and poured thousands of dollars into their bail. The’d say, if you shut down kill pen pages – regardless of who’s making money – you take away the ability to rescue horses from the slaughter pipeline; which is brutally abusive and traumatic, whether or not the horse ever ships to slaughter.
In the flurry and joy of saving horse after horse, week after week, Facebook users began accusing the page and its administrators of taking kickbacks from the kill buyer, making money off of the horses we saved. How ridiculous! I was willing to share my PayPal records that showed a torrent of outgoing payments, and not a single payment from the kill pen. I’d never met the kill buyer, never discussed the page or its operations with him, and believed with 100 percent certainty that the other women were also not financially benefiting.
I had nothing to do with setting bail or shipping deadlines, providing information about horses, or any other aspect of operating the kill pen page. I answered questions from my own experience about the bail and rescue process. I never received a penny, and in fact spent more than $8,500 donating to and bailing horses – many of which never came to my rescue.
I would have loved to post those facts on the page, and suggested it, but that was not my call.
A personal struggle consumed my time and attention for several months in the beginning of 2018, so I was detached from Facebook and the kill pen page. When I returned to Facebook, I was so busy with my own rescue and website, I never got back involved.
In my absence, Facebook exploded with the allegations I’d been fielding prior to my departure – that kill buyers pay Facebook administrators anywhere from $50 to $150 per horse, and that the administrators have the power to extend or erase deadlines.
Supporters of these pages probably would have no issue with paying someone a fee to facilitate saving horses. After all, maintaining a kill pen page takes tremendous time and effort, and supporters would argue that the outcome is well worth the cost. But if someone is acting as a broker for a kill buyer – especially if they have the power to change prices or deadlines – now is the time to be transparent; because the critics are gaining momentum and credibility, and they don’t like the thought of donors being urged to scrape their savings accounts to beat some made-up shipping date.
Coming clean may be the only way to take the wind out of the critics’ sails, and brokers may be surprised to find that whether or not they’re in league with the kill buyer makes little difference to their fans.
Along with all those disclaimers about kill pen horses being sold “as is,” why not add whether page administrators get paid to move horses, and if so, how much? If administrators have no power over shipping dates, say so. Tell your followers how many horses you’ve posted and how many you’ve saved from year to year. If your kill buyer is one that ships to slaughter, pin a post to the top of your page featuring photos of all the horses that have shipped (to slaughter); or instead of deleting or ignoring the original post, stamp a big ol’ “SHIPPED” across the photo so your followers can understand what’s at stake.
If you’re running a legitimate rescue page and donating your time out of the goodness of your heart and you have nothing to do with deadlines, shipping and pricing, don’t be lumped in with “all kill pen pages.” Answer the allegations that are flying around out there so your followers will know. If the kill buyer is giving you a cut of bails and donations, just be honest. Your supporters will continue to support you, because their ultimate goal is to save horses from slaughter.
If a Facebook page moves 700 horses a year and the kill buyer pays the administrator $50 to $150 per horse, the administrator stands to make a minimum of $35,000. For $100 per horse, he makes $70,000 a year. If it’s true that the kill buyer pays $150 per horse, the page administrator could be making $100,000 a year.
I know of one woman who literally donated her last $10 for the month to keep a horse from shipping on its deadline, only to watch the deadline extended time and again. I know others who were just as financially strapped, who would never have sacrificed themselves and their families to save horses if the horses were never truly in peril. Yes, it’s their choice how they spend their money, and responsible stewardship of their finances is on them, but there’s a reason for all the emojis and exclamation marks… and that reason is to evoke emotion. When a person acts out of emotion, she’ll give her last $10 if she believes she’s saving a life.
If a broker was making $100 to $150 for posting a horse that was never “doomed to slaughter,” and I unwittingly perpetuated a ruse by sharing the post, and this woman paid her last $10 believing she was saving a life, I’m ashamed and deeply sorry for my role.
I still have faith that not all of the people who devote their time to posting kill pen horses are making money off of them. I want to believe some of those who spend countless hours posting, communicating about and collecting money to rescue horses are doing it strictly out of the kindness of their hearts. But I’m not stupid. Anymore.
Buried in Facebook’s community standards may be the eventual death knell for kill pen broker pages.
Facebook’s commerce policy prohibits the sale of animals. You can call it bail or adoption or a banana split, but when you pay someone money and receive an animal in return, you are buying an animal; and if you are buying an animal, someone else is selling an animal; and that appears to violate Facebook standards. As unfair or harmful as it may feel to some, it’s only a matter of time before Facebook catches on to any kill pen page that promotes the sale or “bail” of horses. (And no, rescues directing people to their websites to adopt horses is not the same as selling a horse on Facebook.) All it takes is a few people sounding the alarm.
Activists labeled “Drama Llamas” are doing just that. They’re calling on Facebook to shutter the pages – often with thousands of followers – based on what they consider violation of the commerce policies; and one by one, they’re getting results.
Kill pen page administrators are telling fans and followers they’ve been reported to Facebook for “selling drugs and guns,” but the commerce policy lumps selling animals into the same batch of no-nos, so I’m not sure why the reporting parties would feel the need to lie. For whatever reason, some of the shuttered pages are back up, with thousands of followers, within days.
I own and operate a legitimate horse rescue that struggles every day to afford the type of quality care our horses deserve. I’m tired of seeing thousands upon thousands of dollars thrown at the latest batch of horses people believe are about to ship to slaughter, week after week after week. We lament the deadlines of one batch of horses, then move on to next week’s doomed batch, never to think about last week’s horses again.
I still have many of last week’s horses, and they’re still in need of compassion, donations and support. But between people not trusting kill buyers or brokers, and bogus rescues starving and killing horses, it’s impossible to inspire donations. So, 99 percent of our expenses are paid out of my rapidly-dwindling savings account.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful the Facebook kill pen page experience led me to where I am. I wouldn’t have a rescue without it, and I wouldn’t know a thing about the plight of America’s unwanted horses. But my focus now is on getting the Safe Act passed. All legitimate rescuers should be wholly devoted to ensuring its passage.
America will still have unwanted horses, and there will always be those who abuse, neglect and exploit animals for profit. But this mass exploitation and pimping of sad creatures under false pretenses, to put them in no better situations than a foreign slaughterhouse, has to end. The pipeline of liars, thieves and abusers must dry up, once and for all.