Horse rescuer faces questions about selling animals to meat buyers

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SALEM, Ohio – A Cleveland television station report has uncovered allegations that a horse rescue operation conducted by Louis Simboli may actually be selling the unwanted horses for horse meat at a local auction.

The report said Simboli allegedly takes the horses to an auction in Sugarcreek, Ohio, and sells them to meat buyers for slaughterhouses. During this time, the station claims Simboli tells the previous owners that the horse is going to be, or already has been, adopted.

Simboli’s attorney, who asked not to be named, said no formal charges have been filed.

There is no demand for horse meat in the United States, but horses are processed for human consumption and the meat exported abroad, primarily France, Belgium, Holland, Mexico and Japan, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

Ownership surrendered. Simboli’s second chance ads have run in papers throughout Ohio and Pittsburgh. His operation is in northeastern Ohio.

“All the people who he takes a horse from sign an agreement that they surrender absolute ownership to him,” Simboli’s attorney told Farm and Dairy.

These people know ahead of time that they are losing control of their animal, he said. Simboli pays the owner a nominal fee when he takes the unwanted horses.

Easy prey? Jane Smith (not her real name) claims Simboli targets people with a “backyard horse” – people who are not familiar with horses and the rescue process.

“People were trying to do the right thing with their horses so they wouldn’t go to auction and that’s exactly what he ended up doing with them,” said Smith, a member of other horse rescue projects.

Occasionally Simboli has to rescue more horses than he can keep, so they go to an auction, his attorney said. However, he said they are not being sold for meat.

In regards to an allegation that a horse Simboli purchased was reportedly found in a pen with horses being sold for meat, his attorney said Simboli had given the horse to someone to evaluate before it was sold. He said the horse was not intended to be sold for meat.

Explanation. Simboli’s attorney said his client keeps records of where each horse is placed after a rescue. The problem is that they are often either sold or moved from the adopted home and Simboli has no way of tracking the animal.

“Some [of the problem] is due to miscommunication, and some is due to people expecting more than can be hoped for,” Simboli’s attorney said.

There are also different interpretations of the horse’s health. Many times horse owners say the horse is healthy, however after Simboli examines the animal, he finds that it isn’t nearly as healthy as the owner said. His attorney said Simboli then realizes he cannot do everything that he originally promised the owners.

Simboli and his companion have also been accused of allegedly selling sick puppies through Guardian Angel Puppy Rescue in Macedonia, Ohio.

Simboli has a prior conviction of theft by deception. His attorney said Simboli pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for marketing an herbal product as Viagra.

References. Jerry Brandt, who has given a “tremendous” number of references on behalf of Simboli, said he was shocked when he saw a television report alleging Simboli ran an illegitimate operation.

However, since speaking with Simboli, Brandt said he still trusts him and does not think the allegations are true.

Brandt, a blacksmith, said they have been friends for years and he trims Simboli’s horses’ feet. He has been to Simboli’s farm many times and never thought anything seemed illegitimate about the business, he said.

“I’ve given references for him for years and he said he would never take [a horse] to the killers – never take one to the killers,” Brandt said.

Brandt said he feels comfortable continuing to give references on Simboli’s behalf.

“His program is so [slaughtering horses] doesn’t happen,” said Judy Wong, who has been involved with Simboli’s rescue operation. “That is what his program is all about – a second chance.”

Wong has donated animals to Simboli’s rescue program and has also received horses and ponies from the program. She said she is confident that Simboli’s program is legitimate and that he would never sell an animal to a meat buyer.

Wong answered one of Simboli’s second chance ads when she had a pony and horse that she wanted to donate to a rescue program. Before donating her animals, she said she talked and met with Simboli and was confident that her horses would be in good hands.

Three months later, she decided that she wanted to raise horses again and took in two ponies that Simboli had rescued from Pennsylvania, Wong said.

Wong said she has seen the pony she donated to Simboli and it is doing well.

Owner responsibility. Mitch Witherell, Lorain County humane officer, said part of the problem with questionable rescue practices is that horse owners are not being responsible.

“With a little bit of work and some phone calls, they know where the horse goes,” Witherell said. “It’s out of impatience or haste [that horses end up with illegitimate rescuers].”

Simboli’s attorney agrees that part of the problem is the irresponsibility of some horse owners. They want to get rid of their sick horse. However, they know it is cheaper to have a rescue get the horse than it is for a vet to come and put the animal to sleep and then pay to haul the horse away, Simboli’s attorney said.

Like Simboli, Witherell’s rescue program is also called Second Chance. Witherell founded the Second Chance Horse Rescue Foundation six years ago in North Ridgeville, Ohio.

The most difficult thing, Witherell said, is that illegitimate rescuers can get away with it because of Ohio’s lax laws.

“If Ohio would step up to the plate and change the laws and make it [animal cruelty] a felony, half of this would stop,” he said.

Rescue advocate Smith said her goal is to find other people who feel they have been scammed by Simboli and get them to file a lawsuit against him for fraud.

Witherell said he often goes to shows just to buy the horses selling for lower prices, to be sure that others aren’t buying them for meat purposes. He then nurses the animals back to health.

By the book. When Witherell receives a call about a horse being neglected, he travels to the premises with a veterinarian who determines whether or not the horse is endangered. If a veterinarian finds the horse is neglected, a sheriff is called to approve the seizure.

Witherell then seizes the horse and takes it either to his farm or to an approved foster home.

People also surrender their horses to his rescue organization if they no longer want the horse. In this situation, Witherell picks up the horse and prepares it for adoption.

Many of the horses initially go to foster homes and then end up being adopted by the home, Witherell said.

Although many of the unwanted horses are older or have a minor physical problem, such as calcified ankles, they are perfect for beginners or older people who do not want a young, wild horse, he said.

Witherell said he also donates the animals to be used as therapy horses for people with disabilities.

(You can contact Kristy Alger at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 23, or by e-mail at kalger@farmanddairy.com.)


Checking out legitimate horse rescue operations

SALEM, Ohio – Mitch Witherell, Lorain County humane officer, recommends the following tips for choosing a horse rescue program:

* Get names and reference information of past owners whose horses have been rescued by the company. Then be sure to follow up on each reference.

* Call the police or sheriff’s department. The authorities are usually required to be present when a horse is seized from a location because of neglect or other similar circumstances. This means the police should be familiar with rescuers and their practices.

* Talk with area veterinarians. They are also usually present during seizures.

* Contact other horse owners and businesses in the area, including stables and feed shops. Horse people operate like a separate community, sharing information. If one person has heard about a shady horse rescuer, chances are everyone else in the horse community has also heard.

* Call the secretary of state. Legitimate rescue operations should be registered.

* Be cautious of newspaper ads wanting to give horses a second chance. A legitimate operation usually does not advertise wanting horses.

* Find out the number of years the rescuer has been in business. Go with an established, experienced business.

* Find out where the horse is likely to go after the rescue. Ask if you can visit the horse the next day or next week. The rescuer should not have any reason why you can’t come and see the horse.

* Ask if you can come to the rescuer’s farm where the horse will initially go. This way you can look at the operation and be sure that it looks like a legitimate business.

* Go with your gut feeling. If the rescuer comes to get the horse, he or she should not be in a hurry to leave. They should give you ample time for saying good-bye to your horse and understand that this may be a difficult time for the family.

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