By Victoria Keith
August 29, 2018
Most horse rescues and individuals knowledgeable about rescue believe that it’s generally unwise to purchase or “bail” horses from a kill pen. It doesn’t make those individuals heartless. They detest seeing the horses being extorted on social media, but they know that if they pay the kill buyers then that money will be used to buy and extort the next batch of horses. It’s a vicious and painful cycle for the horses and horse lovers, and big business for kill buyers. The extortion business pays them double, triple, or even quadruple what they are paid by the slaughter plant. Slaughter buyers will never stop extorting horses until their clients stop “bailing” them. In the meantime, legitimate rescues are paying the price. Donations are down, adoptions are down, and the price to outbid slaughter buyers at livestock auctions has increased so high that it’s driven most rescues and private buyers out of the livestock auction market.
Dina Alborano and Hal Parker
Dina Alborano of Trenton, NJ and her organization icareihelp had a meteoric rise in the world of Thoroughbred horse rescue after a Jan. 16, 2018 article was written about her by veteran racing writer Steve Haskin. Alborano and Haskin were friends through co-hosting an internet radio show. Haskin heard from Alborano about the plight of Thoroughbreds standing in kill pens and wrote a beautiful and heartfelt piece about horses Alborano had previously pulled from kill pens. Given Haskin’s stellar reputation, Alborano had instant credibility and her Twitter following jumped to almost 5,000 followers. Donations poured in as Alborano bailed groups of five, eight, and twenty-four Thoroughbreds in a short time post-article, all from Thompson’s Horse Lot in Pitkin, Louisiana, almost half a country away from Alborano’s home.
Soon, though, questions about Alborano and icareihelp started bubbling to the surface. The first was that icareihelp was not a non-profit as stated on its website. More disturbing, however, was that Alborano had chosen as the quarantine and care provider for her organization a man named Hal Parker.
Hal Parker is a former employee of the Stanley Brothers, one of the largest and most notorious kill buyers in the country. Parker defends his work for the Stanleys by saying that he was “saving horses” but the reality is that he made the Stanleys big profits extorting horses for them.
After leaving the Stanleys, Parker continued extorting horses via his Facebook pages for various owners and perhaps himself. He partnered with Alborano in late 2017 and worked almost exclusively for icareihelp until recently when he also started fronting for Thompson’s Horse Lot.
The importance of Parker to Alborano’s operation could not be overestimated, as many were to find out.
Soon after the announcement by Fox Hill Farm on Feb. 28, 2018 of the formation of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization (NTWO), I received a call from Alborano to see if Fox Hill Farm would donate towards the bail of a group of horses. I was honest with Alborano in declining, telling her there were several reasons why we couldn’t donate: icareihelp wasn’t a 501(c)3 and therefore a donation would not tax-deductible; we can’t support kill buyers; and I couldn’t reconcile her choice of a former kill buyer employee as a rescue’s caretaker of its horses. I thought our conversation was pleasant and went well, but I’d learn over the next few days that I was sorely mistaken. NTWO was now squarely in the crosshairs of Alborano as she took to Twitter to call out NTWO for not donating to help bail this group of horses.
I wasn’t the first to question Alborano about Parker. Robbie Coffee of Pine Cliff, Colorado offered to fundraise for Alborano in January. Coffee’s family has been in horse rescue in California since 1959. Her family owned race horses and an uncle was a steward. They’ve successfully fundraised for a number of rescues, including raising $250,000 for the Houston Humane Society in a seizure case. Coffee had several conversations with Alborano leading up to a final conversation on January 13, 2018. Coffee told Alborano that she had two stipulations in order to raise funds for icareihelp: she had to apply for a 501(c)3, and she had to find another resource for caring for the horses other than Hal Parker. She told Alborano that “following a bait and switch scam with the Stanley Brothers in December, 2014, and watching what Hal Parker was doing for them at the Bastrop kill pen,” that she “could not recommend his services for any living animal.”
The stipulations were not well-received. “Dina went into a profanity-laced tirade about my stipulations” says Coffee, as Alborano abruptly ended their relationship.
In March of 2018, another person tried to sway Dina to move the horses to better living accommodations. Mike Whitler, an independent contractor and inspector for the Louisiana Thoroughbred Breeders Association, was asked by authorities to help identify horses from Alborano’s mass bail of two dozen Thoroughbreds. Whitler noted that the horses were without turnout or access to pasture and were mostly kept loose in two chicken barns, and he worried about the extreme heat that would be fast approaching. There was also concern about proper quarantining of multiple groups in only two barns. He set about finding Alborano alternative arrangements that were better for the horses and then presented them to Alborano. Feeling pushback from Alborano about cutting out Parker, Whitler presented her with one facility who would take them under Parker’s direction for the same rate and could include donations of volunteer time and additional resources such as vet, farrier, and more.
Not hearing back from her, Whitler called Alborano to express again his concern for the well-being of the horses. Later that Friday night, Whitler received an email from Alborano stating he was banned from the property, that he should mind his own business, and threatened legal action.
As surprising as that email may’ve been, it wasn’t nearly as surprising as what was to come. The next morning, Whitler received a phone call at home from none other than Jacob Thompson of Thompson’s Horse Lot. Thompson shouldn’t even know that Mike Whitler exists in this world. As Whitler puts it, “Strangely, coincidentally, or ironically, Jacob Thompson called me the next day with a concern that I was interfering with Jacob’s operations.”
Transparency and a 501(c)3
There was an attempt in late January onwards to have icareihelp establish itself as a non-profit or 501(c)3. The attempt was led by two of Alborano’s biggest supporters, Claudia Neal and John Montalbano, both of which had been extremely generous financially, Montalbano to a total of $9,715.
Montalbano, a current member of the CME Group, the world’s largest futures exchange, was elected as Treasurer. Over the next six weeks, Montalbano became frustrated as he was “not allowed to perform my duties.” Despite three conference calls where he kept reminding and speaking of finances, Alborano would agree to stop bailing horses and focus on the ones they had but “then in a few days she would just keep bailing horses and raising money via social media.”
By mid-March, Montalbano had reached his limit with Alborano. “I had three separate phone calls with her regarding my concerns. I demanded to see all related financial documents of icareihelp,” says Montalbano. He demanded the records of the Paypal account and a balance sheet for what icareihelp had collected and paid out. “I told Dina that unless the documents were in my possession by the close of business that day, that I was leaving the board,” Montalbano continued. “She said she understood. I never received any financial information, and have not spoken to Dina since that day.”
Neal also was unable to get icareihelp financial information from Alborano though she tried repeatedly including when she sought to file for 501(c)3 status. In early July, Neal finally brought in a professional thinking that this may be the push they need to get the proper paperwork filed. By August 22, Neal realized that financial information would never be released so she emailed the professional for a final time: “I am no longer with icareihelp,” said Neal, “as I have discovered that Dina does not want to disclose the financial donations made to icareihelp and show where the money has gone. This has caused me concern since I have had difficulty in obtaining this information since March. Her refusal to allow me to work with you to obtain her 501(c)3 indicates to me she has no intentions of making the icareihelp donations public information.”
Another large donor of $8,700, Michael Cannon of Nevada, adopted a total of 8 equines.
“Dina Alborano instructed my office to make $6,600 of the checks out to her personally and the balance to be made out to a company named Equine Altitude,” states Cannon. He also noted that two of his equines (two ponies) came down with strangles within 5 days of being at his ranch.
Strangles, Starvation, and Death
The two Cannon ponies weren’t the only cases of strangles emerging at the Parker chicken barns, nor was strangles the worst that was happening to some horses.
The case of Tumult may’ve been the first public indication that all wasn’t going well at Parker’s facility. Tumult was a horse purchased March 2 off the track (at Delta Downs) by Kerry Couch and was slated to go to a farm in West Chester, PA. Because the trainer asked that the horse leave quickly, Couch reached out to Alborano to see if she could help with vanning and layup. Alborano was happy to have him picked up and taken to Hal Parker’s for a couple weeks while Couch made all the arrangements. Alborano also thought Tumult would be a great fund-raising opportunity, showing she was “saving” horses directly from the track. Couch thought at the time that it seemed okay, but left strict instructions that Tumult was to be kept separated from the rescue horses since he was in excellent health and condition and did not require quarantine.
Winter storms pummeled the East coast, one after another, in March. Shipping of Tumult was postponed but Couch wasn’t concerned as she was assured that Tumult was fine. Tumult was eventually picked up on April 7 to head to Pennsylvania, arriving the next morning. The trainer who received Tumult called Couch immediately, very concerned as Tumult wasn’t just thin but very thin. He was caked in manure and dirt so thick that parts had to be clipped off versus washed. He was missing three of his shoes with the fourth dangling from one nail and an infection in the foot. Tumult was sent to New Bolton for an exam and found to have a body condition score of 3/9 (with 5 being ideal).
Smoken Dancer, Petionville Ridge & EZM Summer Date
Janene Davis had wanted to help icareihelp and its horses but already had “pasture ornaments” and needed for any horses she adopted to be rideable as hunter/jumpers. She also needed the horses to be large, 16 hands or taller, because both she and her daughter are tall. She depended on the photos and videos posted as well as Alborano to advise in which horses to potentially adopt and Smoken, Petionville, and Summer were ultimately chosen. Davis then did her due diligence having them be examined by Dr. Odom for use as hunter/jumpers, and he passed the horses. Davis excitedly welcomed her three new horses on April 15. The excitement didn’t last long as the horses exhibited signs of illness and were sent to Purdue Veterinary Teaching Hospital. One was positive for strangles, and then the other two followed, also being positive for strangles. It took considerable money and time before all three finally were cleared of strangles, the last just being cleared on Aug. 21.
In addition to their illness, their soundness for riding quickly became a concern. Smoken had an old injury to her right hind which caused her to drag her foot. The vet at Purdue has declared her unrideable as both a danger to her rider and herself, and her prognosis is guarded that she can be pasture sound without use of regular medication. Petionville Ridge can only be used for flat work, with a lack of proper flexion in his left ankle. There is hope that of the three, one, Summer Date, will be useable for a hunter/jumper.
“I am disappointed in the misrepresentation from Dina, Hal, and Dr. Odom on the condition of the horses I adopted,” said Davis. “But what am I going to do, send them back? No, I love them, so I’ll keep them and give them a good home.”
Zepper was adopted along with Clever Nott by Sara Draper. Soon after arrival on May 4, Zepper started showing signs of illness which turned out to be another case of strangles from Parker’s barns.
Hip 494 is an 18-year-old unidentified mare who was adopted on June 10 by a vet, Dr. Stephanie Simonson. Named Revielle, her new owner wrote up her findings which included:
Revielle was frail, weak, emaciated, and could hardly walk as she had no strength. She smelled of death and was being eaten alive by flies. They covered her body but she didn’t care. Wounds covered her emaciated body, she had no haircoat and what was present was dead. She was severely dehydrated. No muscles were observed, just skin and bones.
Her face was drawn and revealed swollen, edematous, wounded eyelids, the left was closed shut. She obviously incurred these injuries trying to hold herself up in the trailer hauling to South Carolina. Her left hind leg was edematous, three times its normal size, with deep, granulated wounds painful to palpation, a heart murmur, milky, cloudy odorous urine, odorous manure. Her anus was severely recessed due to her emaciation, therefore manure was falling into her vulva. She was physically and mentally shut down, and reacted severely to any movement around her, connoting recent abuse. She suffered from anhidrosis and starvation. She was wormy and her mouth was filled with sharp teeth, confirmed by oral examination. She was unable to lie down and sleep for two months.
“This mare came to me literally on death’s door,” explained Simonson. “Her appearance was so shocking and horrifying, completely different than the pictures sent originally from icareihelp. She could barely get off the trailer and walk to her stall without collapsing. I gave her IV fluids, IV banamine and a bath. I stayed awake every night for a week checking on her, afraid she would be down, dying.”
“I reached out to the rescue and Claudia Neal talked to me honestly and was the only one concerned about her condition. I asked her how does a horse from a rescue end up like this? Rescuing a horse from a rescue is intolerable. She agreed.”
“Furthermore, I reached out to the owner, Dina, who took a month and a half to talk to me. She sided with the caretaker and the veterinarian involved. As a veterinarian, I would have never let this horse travel for a full 24 hours as well as not inform the adoptee that other horses on the farm had strangles. All Parker said was ‘She’s kind of thin.’”
“I and the other adopters are these horses’ voices. Please shut this group down as I am sorry to say that these horses are better off going to slaughter than going to icareihelp where they are not given food and water.”
On June 8, Wildcat Skier died a slow and agonizing death.
Anna Haber, a volunteer photographer for icareihelp, visited the Parker facility on June 7-8 to take photos of potential adoptees. She brought with her a friend and horsewoman, Katherine Turman, to help with the sessions. When they arrived around 9:00am on June 8, Parker wasn’t there, so they set about their work.
Turman went into the barn where she found Wildcat Skier laying on her side in obvious distress. With tears in her eyes, she reported to Anna what she’d found and they both went to the stricken mare.
“She was on the ground, whinnying, moving her legs, covered with sweat, flies covering her eyes and mouth. The other horses were stepping over and around her,” Turman recalled. “I put water into her mouth with my hand and tried to feed her carrots, and she was interested in both.”
With no cell service there at the barn, Haber’s urgent calls and texts to Parker weren’t getting through. Parker’s employee Jeremy arrived and told them the vet had been out at 6:00am. Haber and Turman continued to try to sooth the mare, putting fly spray on her and even playing music to her on their iPad.
A shaken Haber and Turman went into town. Wildcat Skier was still alive but fading. With cell service restored, Haber’s messages finally went through to Parker. Parker responded and told them that the mare had died. When Haber asked what had been wrong with her, Parker said she died of EPM.
In the meantime, a potential adopter named Brittany Carter arrived at Parker’s to look at horses. She and her child walked in the barn to find the dead horse so made a quick exit.
Parker had arrived at the barn when Haber and Turman returned from lunch. They finished their photo session, and later the mare was buried on the property.
Haber is still haunted by the death of Wildcat Skier.
“If, as I was told by Hal and later that night by Dina, the vet had been there at 6 a.m., why didn’t he come back to check on the horse that morning?” asks Haber. “Why on Earth wasn’t Hal at the barn that entire morning, tending to a critically ill horse placed in his care? This horse laid there suffering for hours—I have no idea how long before we arrived. I’ll never be able to forget this day. It was a complete and utter lack of horsemanship and common decency. It was shocking and disturbing. This mare deserved better at the hands of her ‘rescuers.’”
Haber vowed to end her involvement with icareihelp after doing her best to first adopt out the current horses there. She stayed on as a volunteer until July 28, helping with the adoption of Lucky Pierre, who she had photographed on March 31.
“Dina instructed me to not disclose Wildcat’s death to anyone,” Haber explained, “but since this mare was bought with donations from the public, then the public should know the horse has died. You can’t beg strangers to help but then dismiss their continued interest and concern for these animals.”
The official cause of Wildcat Skier’s death is unknown.
At 7:42am on June 19, Parker texted inquiries to Dina Alborano and Claudia Neal for the identity of tag 42, which was Leapin Emmitt. He reported 15 minutes later that he thought Emmitt had a case of colic, then 30 minutes later that he thought the horse had a twisted gut.
As of 12:53pm, the last time Neal talked to Alborano or Parker while Emmitt was still alive, Emmitt had not been carried to a clinic, nor had a vet come to him. Dr. Odom’s veterinary practice is about 10 minutes away. The only known treatment was that Parker said he gave the horse banamine that morning.
It’s unknown as to what time Leapin Emmitt died. Neal was informed at 6:38pm that he had died. There was no official cause of death.
Very little is known about Tiznberry except that according to Neal he died sometime around July 18-20. He was noted as needing urgent medical attention but there was no indication that the vet was ever called out to tend to him. The cause of death was said to have been strangles according to an icareihelp group message, though there is no known official cause of death.
Lucky Pierre was adopted on Aug. 22, 2018 by Sue Thomas, DVM, of North Carolina. Dr. Thomas was “struck by this handsome bay gelding” as she looked through available horses on the icareihelp Instagram site. Lucky’s photo showed a swollen left knee and she thought that may be the reason that he was still listed in late July though he’d been rescued in late March. She asked about his injury and was told it’d never been radiographed or had his lameness addressed. “I decided right then I’d sponsor a veterinary lameness evaluation including radiographs so that interested potential adopters could see the results and hopefully find a place for Lucky,” Thomas explained.
Thomas was thrilled when icareihelp’s vet Dr. Odom reported clean xrays with no chip fracture or arthritis. She asked for him to send a video so that she could see the horse move. “When I saw the video, I was appalled,” said Thomas. “This appeared to be the same horse based on the star on his forehead, but he was incredibly thin, despondent, and walked and jogged in a weak, loose manner like he could barely make it. His neck was ewed, his eyes were dull and lifeless. His hooves were in bad shape and one hoof had a huge chunk of hoof wall bent upwards at the toe. He walked very loose and wobbly but Dr. Odom said he was not neurological. He dewormed him and apparently kept him at his clinic for almost a week. I knew then and there that Lucky Pierre was the horse I was meant to adopt and save. I knew he wasn’t going to live much longer in the rescue.”
Lucky Pierre was in such poor condition that the shipper stopped in Auburn, Alabama for the horse to layover and be seen by a veterinarian. Eight days after he left icareihelp, he arrived in North Carolina to the following report:
Weak and emaciated, poor hair coat, severe dandruff in his mane, ocular discharge, swollen left foreleg with a deep circular wound directly over the superficial digital tendon, left rear leg swollen from pastern to hock, crust, scabs and purulent draining coming from multiple deep wounds… body score 1.5/9… easily 300 to 400 pounds underweight.
“I sent photos of Lucky to Dina Alborano showing his condition,” explained Thomas. “Her only comment was that he was pretty. I told her she should make a surprise visit to the rescue and see the horses herself. She assured me she sends money to Parker for hay and that she has visited three times and the horses are well fed.”
“I rescued a horse from a rescue!” said an exasperated Thomas. “Lucky Pierre, I hope, is lucky for the other horses… hopefully saving him will help the others. It appears they are being starved, and yet more horses come into the rescue. This has to end… horses are dying there.”
Dr. Thomas is journaling Lucky Pierre’s road to recovery on her Facebook page.
Cindilee & 2 unnamed horses
Randi Collier aided icareihelp in bailing several horses so was a full or part owner on some of the horses that went to Parker’s. On Aug. 15, Collier sent a transporter to pick up three of the horses. Two were unnamed and the third was to be a horse named Capote P. When her transporter arrived at Parker’s had three horses ready to go. When the horses arrived, two were the wrong horses. One was a young horse that was Dina’s, a horse she’d used as a “mascot” of sorts. And in Capote P’s place was a horse named Cindilee.
Seeing the condition of two of the horses and their need for vet care, Collier plans to keep both horses. She isn’t optimistic however about the young horse because his deformity may be causing him to suffer.
Collier sent a van out on Aug. 28 in hopes of picking up Capote P and another horse. Her transporter was not allowed on the property and returned without either horse.
Romeo and Sinatra, two Mustangs adopted by Leah Brandon, left for their new home in Colorado on May 5. Brandon saw the horses after they first came in to Parker’s so was infuriated when they arrived to her less than a month later malnourished.
Claudia Neal adopted in January the pregnant mare named Alice but kept her there at Hal’s facility. It was expected that Alice would give birth in March, so Neal made multiple inquirees about the mare during the month to no response. Parker finally responded on April 2 that he was worried about Alice so he “ran her to Dr. Odom’s and he checked and the foal was dead, she delivered there and Alice is fine, is just something I didn’t want to deal with this past weekend, so just kept this between Dr. Odom and myself.”
Tiger Bill died in late May or early June at his new home after coming down with strangles.
A number of horses’ current whereabouts are unknown and the horses are thought to be missing: Calling Panther, Felonious Friend, Im a Rap Star, Just Too Smart, and Steamy Cry.
Bid My Valentine
This horse was purchased by Randi Collier when she contributed to the icareihelp bail of what was termed the Preakness Thoroughbreds. Collier has been in the process recently of getting horses out of the Parker facility. She said she inquired with Parker on Aug. 15 about picking up Bid My Valentine the following day and Parker told her that the gelding was not there, that he’d been rehomed. Collier’s transporter came and went from Parker’s without ever knowing that Bid My Valentine had not been rehomed but instead was standing inside one of the chicken barns. And he was sick.
Attorney Vickie Coomber’s statement follows:
On or about Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 at 12:26pm (CST), I visited the real property located at 3118 Hwy 549, Marion, Union Parish, Louisiana 71241, leased by Mr. Hal Parker. I was in the area and was aware he had horses for sale that were allegedly rescued from slaughter.
Upon arrival at the property I observed two abandoned and dilapidated chicken houses. Upon further inspection, I determined numerous equines were being housed in these structures
With respect to the conditions I noted the following:
There was no evidence of adequate hay or forage in the two structures containing the horses.
While I noted a water hose that was yellow in color it appeared as though the horses did not have access to clean potable water. This was particularly concerning as the ambient temperature was approximately 100 degrees F.
Multiple horses were emaciated, appeared to be dehydrated and were exhibiting signs of significant respiratory distress evidence by hacking coughs, dyspnea and the presence of thick mucopurulent discharge.
The structures in their current condition were wholly inadequate to house horses.
An emaciated Thoroughbred (grey in color) exhibited evidence of dehydration as well as what appeared to be acute or chronic Streptococcus equi (strangles) infection, as evidenced by the presence of a profuse, thick, mucopurulent discharge emanating from both nostrils. The horse appeared to be in significant respiratory distress and demonstrated a harsh cough.
As a former court-appointed humane investigator for Fairfax and Prince William counties in the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as a third-year veterinary medical student with almost 30 years of experience in the field of equine welfare, the conditions under which Mr. Parker’s property are being kept are disturbing.
That evening after I obtained a viable phone number for Mr. Parker, I sent him a text message at 7:57pm (CST) inquiring about the horses. He has yet to acknowledge my message.
Horses at Risk
In recent days and weeks, Alborano has posted the following photos to her Twitter account:
These photos along with other recent accounts leads NTWO to be concerned about the welfare of the remaining icareihelp horses at Parker’s facility.
It’s been a long, strange trip, these first weeks officially working in Louisiana to bring rehoming resources to the area. One wouldn’t normally expect to battle such a large contingent of kill buyers, fronts for kill buyers, mass bailers, and others whose business interests our existence threatens. The example of icareihelp illustrates why potential donors should tamp down the passionate emotions which come from the sight of a horse supposedly in danger in a kill pen and instead choose the more quiet but solid love for the horses found in hundreds of legitimate rescues across the nation.
NTWO hereby asks Dina Alborano to relinquish immediately the remaining icareihelp equines to the care of NTWO, who with New Vocations and other non-profits and individuals, will come in to care for the horses, get them any vet and farrier treatments need, and place them with other non-profits and in new homes.
Author Victoria Keith is President of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization (NTWO). For more information, including a list of horses believed to still be in icareihelp’s possession, call 859-227-5441 or email to [email protected].