In December, the Florida Research Institute for Equine Nurturing Development and Safety, a horse rescue ranch in Broward County, Fla., was unable to foot its bills, and as a result, was nearly forced to close its doors.

Thanks in part to several recent donations—including $10,000 from the Florida Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association—the facility has been able to keep afloat in spite of the dismal economy.

FRIENDS serves as a haven for horses diagnosed with equine infectious anemia, a disease that is similar to human hepatitis, but is only dangerous to horses. In operation for more than two decades, FRIENDS received more than $46,000 from private donations after the ranch publically asked for help.

In addition to the Florida HBPA donation, FRIENDS was given anonymous gifts of $15,000 and $10,000, as well as more than 130 checks and 15 PayPal contributions.

According to Debra Beye-Barwick, chief executive officer of FRIENDS, the ranch was able to pay off a $28,000 veterinary bill, settle up its feed balance, and still had a few thousand dollars to store away in an emergency fund.

Though horses with EIA must be quarantined or destroyed, aside from their illness they can still live relatively normal lives. FRIENDS created an alternative to euthanasia for animals suffering from the disease.

FRIENDS, which has no paid employees, survives on personal and corporate contributions. In return, the ranch opens its doors free of charge to several charities, including the Cub Scouts and the Broward Outreach Center. Because of the struggling economy, many former FRIENDS supporters discontinued their contributions in recent months, which left the rescue ranch in a bleak financial situation.

Florida HBPA executive director Kent Stirling read about FRIENDS’ monetary bind in the Miami Herald in mid-December, and suggested that his executive committee make a donation from its charitable funds because the ranch often rescues Thoroughbreds.

“We thought this was a positive thing to do, particularly when they needed $20,000 to pay their vet bills or they were going to close down, which meant the only option for these horses was to be destroyed,” Stirling said. “We really didn’t want to see that happen, and then they got several other large contributions, so now they’re in good shape again.”

Stirling said the Florida HBPA would probably donate to FRIENDS again in the future.

“It’s up to the board, but I think we’ll certainly look into it,” he said.  Some of my board members have also talked to vets on the backside that said they’d be willing to do some pro bono work (at FRIENDS). They might stop by and work for free to cut their vet bills.”

In addition to FRIENDS, the Florida HBPA also supports Florida’s Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation, as well as another small, local equine rescue operation.

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