AZTEC — A new horse rescue fund that appears on state tax forms this year makes it possible for taxpayers to allocate all or part of their refunds to help horse rescue groups around the state.
But horse advocates like Debbie Coburn say the list of beneficiaries includes one prison program that plans to sell the horses to sale barns, which for rescue groups like Coburn's Four Corners Equine Rescue in Aztec, amounts to horse slaughter.
The Horse Shelter Rescue Fund emerged from last year's legislative session, Senate Bill 274, sponsored by state Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, as a win for horse advocacy groups. The fund was started by Coburn.
The fund is now included on the New Mexico Voluntary Contributions Schedule, or 2013 PIT-D, which allows taxpayers to donate all or part of their refunds to charities and nonprofits.
The New Mexico Livestock Board — which oversees the fund and licenses horse rescue organizations like Coburn's — was tasked with vetting and approving organizations to receive the funding.
The board's website lists 10 organizations that are eligible to receive money from the rescue fund.
Coburn believes the list includes the Springer Correctional Facility, in Springer, Ariz., which runs an inmate training program using horses. The prison was licensed by the livestock board as a horse rescue last year, a fact that troubles Coburn.
Not so, said Bill Sauble, livestock board chairman.
"Springer is a licensed rescue but they are not eligible for the rescue funding," Sauble said. "We will use Springer to house horses. We never know when horses are coming to us and we need to have a place to take them at no notice. The Springer (facility) would not be the first choice, but it could be a useful to house horses for us on a short term basis."
Sauble said the New Mexico tax program is "really a positive."
"So far, thanks to tax payer contributions, the fund received just over $2,000 last month," he said.
When Coburn learned Colorado had a similar contribution fund on its tax returns, she said she wanted to bring it to New Mexico.
She traveled to Santa Fe last spring and championed the legislation.
A fact sheet written by Animal Protection Voters spokesman Phil Carter states: "These sanctuaries are responsible for shouldering the burden of the growing needy horse population and rely almost exclusively on volunteers and private donations. A comparable Personal Income Tax voluntary contribution fund for needy horses in Colorado provides nearly $100,000 annually, while other such programs on the New Mexico PIT-D, such as Share with Wildlife, provided over $32,000 in 2010." APV is a social welfare organization that lobbies on behalf of animals in the state.
But Coburn wants to make sure the fund helps support actual horse shelters, not prison programs that benefit inmates.
"Well it's not a horse rescue, pure and simple" Coburn said. "They intend to sell the horses after their use to sale barns, which inevitably leads to those horses going to slaughter. I have an email from the person running the program telling me that's what they intend to do."
On Sunday, Coburn set up a petition at Change.org to gather signatures asking that the livestock board make sure that only groups dedicated to horse rescue make the list. In four days, her petition gathered 985 signatures.
"The expectation of the New Mexico taxpayers that choose to donate money to the Horse Shelter Rescue Fund is that their money will go to support horse rescues that will ensure the safety and lives of horses, not have their money subsidize a prison program where horses exiting their facility are vulnerable to being sold for slaughter at auction houses," Coburn wrote on the petition letter. "To maintain the original intention and integrity of the fund, the only organizations that should be eligible to receive money from the fund should be 501(c)3 horse rescues and sanctuaries, not the Springer Correctional facility or any other government program."
Coburn said she wished the livestock board had allowed the horse rescues greater involvement in the planning process for the fund's administration.
"I just really hate to see this fund that I'm kind of responsible for turned into something I can't really support," Coburn said.