When, in a dismal economy, it comes to raising money for horses, Dawn Mellen stays positive.
She doesn’t let negative thoughts crowd her head, choosing instead to focus relentlessly on uniting racing industry officials and horse rescues in efforts to support ex-racehorses after their track careers end.
“I think owners and people in the racing industry should really think of giving back to the horses,” says Mellen, president of After the Finish Line, a 501 (c) 3 funding nonprofit.
“They made a choice to come into the sport; and it’s a gamble. It’s a risk. And, if your horse gets injured, there’s still a responsibility there to make sure the horse gets re-homed, or provided for so that they can move forward into another career.”
With those no-nonsense words, coupled with her sunny spirit, Mellen has led the charge up myriad backsides, hobnobbing with some of racing’s most famous figures, and engendering her cause to donors and charities, alike.
In five short years since hanging up a shingle for the all-volunteer After the Finish Line, Mellen has raised tens of thousands in donations from racing officials and elsewhere—one anonymous horse owner donates $1,000 every time his horses win— and has re-distributed the money to hundreds of federally certified equine charities across the country.
“When I started this, I had been working in Thoroughbred racehorse rescue for a decade,” she says. “I wanted to do something more, but, I did not want to be another one of the 400 rescues out there, across the U.S.”
So, instead, she developed something unique.
As one of a small number of funding nonprofits, After the Finish Line operates with zero overhead—nobody takes a salary, and volunteers work from home-offices— to funnel donations to accredited nonprofits.
Money is awarded to applicants through two grant programs. One is a yearly grant given in May, and the other funding opportunity comes through the Monthly Emergency Funds.
In both instances, the funds help fill a funding void in a difficult economy where charities might lag in support.
“With the economy, donations going directly to the rescues have dropped, and they are looking for other funding sources,” she says. “This is where After the Finish Line can step in and help.”
Emergency funding, on the other hand, goes toward charities doing everything from out-right horse rescue from feedlot auctions to emergency surgery and dental care. These funds also pay for feed, hay and supplements, she says.
“Last year, we wrote 70 checks for a combination of emergency funding and grants to rescues in 16 states,” she says. “We helped approximately 300 horses.”
So many horses have been helped since she began this work. Yet, it is the memory of one particular hardship case in Florida that inspires her to keep going. It’s the one case she always goes back to, when she thinks about the importance of her work.
The mare was a half starved and needed medical attention, but the cost was too high for her new owners. So, After the Finish Line stepped in and paid a good portion of the bill.
It was her eyes that Mellen recalls best about the mare.
“When I looked into her eyes, she showed she was still forgiving. She was still wanting to make friends with humans, after all she had been through,” Mellen says. “It’s that one horse who I keep going back to in my mind: She found a wonderful home, regained all her weight, and got what she needed—someone to love her.”
With success stories like this in mind, After the Finish Line is embarking on a year of exciting fundraising events.
The Fifth Annual Tribute to the Majesty of Thoroughbreds, the organization’s biggest affair, will take place July 26th at Del Mar this year. All-time most winning jockey Laffit Pincay, Jr., and his son Laffit Pincay, III, of NBC Sports, will speak at an informal gathering.
“Attendees will have the opportunity to sit down with the Pincays and hear about their lives in the racing industry,” she says. “Rather than having them stand at a lectern, they will be seated in chairs, with the crowd, in a more comfortable atmosphere.”
The event, which includes a dinner, reception and silent auction, will take place at the Hilton across the street from the Del Mar Racetrack.
With events like these, and a growing awareness and participation of the racing industry, Mellen says that dismal economy or no, there’s a lot to feel positive about.
“Just before you called,” Mellen says, “I got a surprise phone call from a Montana organization that wanted to make a donation. As we grow as an organization, there are thousands and thousands of people who know who we are, and want to help.”
People who care about horses, who have never met Mellen, believe in her mission. And, they feel empowered to pick up the phone and pledge what they can.
For the horses.