Advocacy group that works to save horses from slaughter being thwarted by surprising foe

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- They were family pets and once race-worthy thoroughbreds and work horses.

But now the horses are being sold at auction, and their future is anything but bright, equine advocate Shelly Dunn told FOX4.

Most horses that end up at auction are being bought by what is known in the industry as "kill buyers," according to Dunn. Kill buyers ship horses to Mexico where they are slaughtered for their meat, which is sold to other countries.

"I know absolutely what goes on, and these horses will go to slaughter," said Dunn, who is a professional dog groomer by day and an animal rights advocate by night.

She said she has personally saved hundreds of horses.

Here's how it works: After a horse goes to auction and is bought by a kill buyer, Dunn and dozens of her horse-loving counterparts from across the country advertise the horse on Facebook hoping to find other horse lovers willing to buy it and save it from slaughter.

The money from that Facebook sale goes back to the kill buyer who then, most likely, uses it to buy more horses at auction. Kill buyers like the arrangement because they make money, and Dunn believes she is saving thousands of horses from an early death.

"I don't get anything," Dunn said. "I just do it to save the horses."

But Dunn worries she won't be able to keep saving horses much longer. Facebook is pulling down the ads, banning pages and even personal profiles. Facebook has been the primary way of reaching people to buy the horses.

"I've heard from so many people across the country who can't post on Facebook anymore," Dunn said.

Among those trying to shut down Dunn and her counterparts is Michelle Braithwood, a horse trainer in Florida. She doesn't think anyone should work with businesses who buy horses for slaughter.

"I'm coming for you all," Braithwood said in one Facebook post. "I'm coming right to your door."

In that same post, she called "anyone who bails a horse from a kill pen" an idiot.

Braithwood isn't alone.

She's joined by dozens of other equine advocates opposed to what Dunn and her advocacy group members are doing -- though Braithwood's Facebook postings are far more confrontational and expletive-filled than most.

Together they regularly report every Facebook page that Dunn and others post trying to find buyers for horses bought at auction.

Braithwood accuses people like Dunn of lining the pockets of kill buyers and driving up the overall cost of horses.

Dunn said that's not true and has appealed to Facebook for help.

"We have repeatedly tried to contact a real person from Facebook and there's no way to do it," Dunn said.

Problem Solvers reached out to Facebook for its side of this whole quagmire. We understand Dunn's frustration.

No one from Facebook ever called us -- although we repeatedly asked to speak to a real person. Facebook emailed us a statement, pointing out that person-to-person horse sales on Facebook violate its community standards.

"As we strive to protect the welfare of animals against illicit trades, we cannot always ensure their safety in a peer-to-peer transaction," Facebook wrote. "We will still allow such sales if posted by brick-and-mortar entities, animal rehoming, and adoption agencies and shelters."

But Dunn can't afford the cost of establishing a brick-and-mortar business. She said at the end of the day the only loser is the horse.

"The ultimate cost is they are costing more horses their lives that could have gotten homes, and that is just an absolute taboo in the advocacy world," Dunn said.

The battle between these two groups of equine advocates puzzles Connie Hendrix who has devoted her life to saving horses.

"It's the reason I get out of bed every morning," said Hendrix who runs Missouri Forget Me Not Horse Rescue and Sanctuary in Southern Missouri.

Although the majority of her horses were abandoned or given to her by people who could no longer care for them, she's not afraid to admit she's also bought from people like Dunn, selling horses via Facebook for kill buyers.

"If that horse is in jeopardy then we want to see what we can do about getting it saved," Hendrix said.

She also wants slaughterhouses shut down, but she knows she can't control that. So she said she focuses on what she can.

Her hope and that of equine advocacy groups on both sides is that a bill in Congress designed to ban the sale of horses to Mexico for slaughter will be enacted into law. The bill, HR 961, has yet to make it out of committee, but has 154 co-sponsors. There is a companion bill in the Senate.

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