UPDATED by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane February 8, 2012; originally published by Julie Hall and Sarah Lane February 4, 2012
[Read our followup interview with Sam Milbredt here.]
When Inside Bainbridge was informed on February 3, 2012, that a pony named Durango in the Eastern Washington town of Zillah needed immediate intervention or he would be sent to a slaughterhouse, we quickly turned to our community to find him a home (and to your credit, many of you stepped up right away with concern, compassion, and generous offers). Normally we do research before posting anything, but time was of the essence, we had been told.
With more time to investigate the circumstances, we discovered that the pony Durango was only the latest in a long line of horses temporarily housed at Gary Seals Livestock, a Zillah-based feedlot owned by Chuck Walker. Bonnie Hammond, Development Director and Co-Founder of the horse rescue organization Save a Forgotten Equine (SAFE) explained to us that “kill buyers” purchase unwanted horses for sometimes as little as $25 or $50 at auction and then sell them to feedlots, including Walker’s, where they are fattened up and sent on to slaugherhouses in Canada for a sizable profit. Horse meat is sold for human consumption in some countries.
Rebels Equine Feedlot Sales (REFS), an organization that works with Walker’s Gary Seals Livestock, routinely sends out email alerts to animal adoption websites and Craigslist featuring photos and descriptions of healthy, highly adoptable horses (like Durango) at the feedlot, with a plea for intervention to prevent their imminent slaughter. Samantha Milbredt’s phone number and the website url for REFS are listed as the contacts for people interested in rescuing the horses. REFS states on their website that the animals they list for rescue “have been purchased by the feedlot owner for the purpose of re-sale to the Bovary Slaughterhouse in Canada,” where horse slaughter has been legal for years. It explains that Mildredt “has been given permission by the feedlot owner to assess and advertise the horses in the hope of seeing them safe in the hands of new owners.” What it doesn’t say is that the horses on the feedlot offered for “rescue” are sold to horse-loving buyers at significantly higher prices than Walker purchases them for from the kill buyers, often $600 or $700 each.
According to one horse advocacy source too frightened of retaliation to be named, who broke down in tears of despair and frustration, the healthy horses featured for sale in the photos often get sent on to slaughter because they return a higher profit for their meat. Some of the well-intentioned horse purchasers, who usually pay by cashier’s check or cash up front are presented with a different horse once they arrive to pick up the one they thought they were rescuing. Once buyers show up, they may be told that the horse they thought they were buying was kicked or hurt in some way and therefore sent to slaughter due to lameness, and they are offered another horse also “lined up for imminent slaughter.” Typically the horse they are offered turns out to be old and/or diseased and therefore not worth a good slaughterhouse price. According to our source, these horses are sometimes shot up with steroids to appear temporarily healthier and younger than they are.
Samantha Panayotopulos Milbredt is one of three people who run the website Rebels Equine Feedlot Sales (http://rebelsequinefeedlotsales.org/). There is no registered business in the State of Washington with that name. Milbredt is the registered owner of the Washington for-profit corporation Camelot Farms Inc., a boarding facility, and she is the sole proprietor of Columbia Basin Equine Rescue, also a for-profit business.
She also was formerly on the Board of Sleepy Hollow, a 501(c)(3) that was shut down in 2005 by the Lincoln County District Attorney for animal abuse. In a letter to the Lincoln County DA, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) described the conditions at Sleepy Hollow as “horrifically cruel” and called for its closure. Numerous photos of the former “rescue shelter” posted on its now seized website reveal sick and starving horses living in filthy inhumane conditions, as well as a dead goat lying in a pen with horses with a blanket haphazardly thrown over its body.
On Milbredt’s current website for Rebels Equine Feedlot Sales, she says that the animals she lists as feedlot horses “have been purchased by the feedlot owner for the purpose of re-sale to the Bovary Slaughterhouse in Canada.” She says her company “has been given permission by the feedlot owner to assess and advertise the horses in the hope of seeing them safe in the hands of new owners.”
Barbara Brooks-Worrell, a Washington horse lover, contacted Milbredt’s Columbia Basin Equine Rescue (CBER) about a bay gelding she had seen advertised as being (like Durango) in “immediate need” of rescue. In the process, she decided to adopt another horse, a bay mare, as well. The day the two horses were to be moved to pre-adoption quarantine, Milbredt called Brooks-Worrell, saying that she had the bay mare and a different horse than the bay gelding in the trailer ready for adoption. Milbredt told Brooks-Worrell that the bay gelding “had been kicked by another horse,” his leg was hurt, and he had been shipped out for slaughter because he was no longer fit for adoption. Brooks-Worrell said, “I was horrified.”
Milbredt then told Brooks-Worrell she could have a 10-year-old mare instead of the gelding for the same price. She told Brooks-Worrell that the mare was going to be slaughtered the next day if not adopted. Brooks-Worrell paid $1,500 for the two mares. When she went to pick them up, Milbredt was nowhere to be found, and a man claiming to know nothing about the purchase arrangement helped Brooks-Worrell load the horses into her trailer.
Bonnie Hammond of SAFE, which was voted #3 Best Local Charity in 2011 by King-5 Evening Magazine, told us she worked with Mildredt at CBER, doing basically what REFS is doing now. She explained that she got involved to save horses but left after about six months because she was disillusioned with the system between Milbredt and feedlot owner Chuck Walker and the fact that for expediency Milbredt sent horses to buyers with no questions asked. “I know of at least one case where we found out later that a buyer CBER sold two horses to was arrested for animal abuse. The horses were starved, and there was bestiality involved,” said Hammond.
Hammond explained that after leaving CBER she and other horse advocates founded SAFE with the intention of creating “the opposite model” for saving horses. According to Hammond, “While Sam focused on pushing as many horses through as possible with little or no regard for who they were going to, we decided to put our energy into both the rehabilitation of starved and injured horses and the development of a much better procedure for screening potential adopters.” As a rescue organization, SAFE provides complete transparency about its horses and finances. According to Hammond, they focus on rehabilitating sick and injured horses, doing extensive interviewing of adopters, and checking up on the well-being of their horses after adoption with followup visits to their new homes.
Hammond and many other horse advocates have been questioning Milbredt’s practices for years. There is a series of questions posed to CBER on alexbrownracing.com, a horse advocacy site. One questioner asks about a horse named Sonya who was being sponsored at CBER. Apparently, Sonya’s sponsor requested, in response to information about the horse’s poor condition, that Sonya be put down rather than shipped for slaughter. But Sonya was returned to Gary Seals Livestock feedlot for transportation to slaughter.
An unnamed CBER representative responds to the question this way: “These are very serious allegations. Please provide evidence that the statements you are making are, in fact, true. Once you provide this documentation, we will attempt to answer your question. Until then, your allegations are completely speculative.”
The questioner from the horse advocacy website responds to CBER’s anonymous representative by quoting Sonya’s sponsor:
“Back in Feb of 2005, I started looking at their website and the horses at the feedlot. I saw many that I wanted to adopt. Then in March, I saw a crippled horse named Mishia on the Feedlot Efforts page. My heart sank, imagining the horrific ordeal she would go thru to get to the slaughterhouse. CBER was trying to come up with funds to put her down. I emailed and asked if she appeared to be in any pain. They said no. I went down to Yakima 1.5 weeks later and picked her up.
“While I was there I saw another horse. Her name was Sonya and she was lying down. When she did get up she was limping and appeared to be in quite a bit of pain. I inquired about her and CBER said she had been kicked at the feedlot and had foundered. The next day I sent $400 and my friend sent $200 to CBER to have her sponsored. Her meat price was $600. My request to them was if she was not able to heal from her injuries and was in pain that she be humanely put down. She was put in foster care and seemed to be doing fine. I went to Texas for a short trip and when I got back I found out thru my friend that Sonya was sent back to the feedlot by CBER and traded for another horse! The excuse was that she was acting aggressive at the foster home and trying to strike at different people.”
To these allegations by the sponsor, the CBER representative provided no response, leaving the answer space blank.
Columbia Basin Equine Rescue, which in an earlier incarnation was a nonprofit, has been the target of many other angry accusations on the Internet. In 2008, Milbredt was accused of having shot two horses in the head that were CBER “rescues.” Milbredt wrote this in response (her remarks appeared on the alexbrownracing.com site):
“Yes, Lavendar [sic] and Meadow were put down by a bullet to the head with the support from most of the CBER BOD. There [sic] were not shot in front of one another. They were both tranquilized because they would freak out if they were separated. Meadow was taken first as she would react more violent [sic] when separated, so it was decieded [sic] to put her down first before the drugs wore off. She was hauled out to a grassy field on a friend’s 350 acre ranch and was put down while drousily [sic] eating grain. Lavendar [sic] was taken to another part of his property and put down in the same manner.
“Why a bullet? I prefer this method for my own horses. I take all the horses in my care seriously. While death is not a fun topic it is part of life and what is importatnt [sic] to me is that the horse has no fear, does not suffer and rests in a digified [sic] place.”
The moderator of the Horse Rescue and Information Network has reposted Milbredt’s comments on her network. The moderator claims the horses were not actually shot but were shipped for profit to slaughter in Canada. She shows on her website photos of the horses days before they were allegedly shot, in which they appear to be healthy.
A post on RipoffReport.com says about CBER, “Columbia Basin Equine Rescue is not a rescue. It is a horse dealership that has no concern for where the horses wind up after the ‘bail’ is paid and refuses to even cover the cost of caring for their own horses in foster care.”
The website FuglyBlog.com has this to say about “Sam” Milbredt: “$am and friends marked up horses far beyond kill price, splitting the profits with Chuck Walker, who owns the feedlot, and laughing all the way to the bank. They misrepresented age, soundness, and condition to sell horses, and frequently sent desperately ill horses off to new homes at which they either died or infected otherwise healthy horses.”
In another post, FuglyBlog.com writes, “The intention behind ‘The Truck is Coming!’ and many other scare tactics was to push potential well-intentioned marks, I mean buyers, into rushing to “rescue” a horse from CBER, which would otherwise end up Mexico bound. In reality, the horses had usually been picked up at the auction for pennies, and then offered up as an urgent rescue, at a much higher price of course, sometimes within hours of purchase.”
We asked Hammond if she thinks Fugly is a reputable source of information, and she responded by saying that she personally knows many of the statements made on Fugly to be true.
A legal advocate for horses we spoke with pointed out that it is not illegal to trade in horses. She also said that not every horse should be saved. There are horses who are dangerous or ill, and it is too hard to find homes for them. She added that they frequently don’t live that long after adoption, and she cautioned people not to be duped by the kind of pleas that are made on the REFS website. She concluded by saying that supporting feedlot operations is not a good way to help horses.
We wonder, if you want to save homeless horses from slaughter, why go through REFS? Why not go directly to the auctions and pay much less, thereby possibly saving many more horses and depriving people like Chuck Walker, who will keep selling horses to slaughter anyway, of the extra cash?
Read our followup interview with Sam Milbredt here.
Featured photos shows Chuck Walker’s Gary Seals Livestock feedlot. Sleepy Hollow Farms photos from its seized website. Photo of Samantha Milbredt from the alexbrownracing.com wiki page on CBER.