This week, I had the privilege of appearing on The Pet Show with Dr. Katy to talk about the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund, and about how my beloved late husband Greg inspired me to continue with the racehorse rescue work he and I started together shortly before he died. ~Alysoun
Dr. Katy: A New York Times 2012 investigation found that 24 horses were breaking down and dying every week on American racetracks, and that the number of such deaths was increasing annually. Coming up, we’re going to talk to a woman who makes it her mission to make sure these beautiful animals live their best lives….
….With the Preakness and the Kentucky Derby right around the corner, it’s time to stop and think about the damage that this might do to the horses that are racing. Here with some tips on how we can fight to make sure that horses’ rights are heard is Alysoun Mahoney. Welcome to The Pet Show.
Alysoun: Thank you very much, Dr. Katy.
Dr. Katy: This is a topic that is obviously very, very close to your heart. So talk to me about where your love for horses started, and how you got down this path to being the activist that you are for protecting these creatures.
Alysoun: So…my paid career was in international education and diplomacy, but animals were an increasingly important part of my life, so at one point it became clear to me that a logical next step going from promoting international understanding was to promote interspecies understanding.
And my late husband had a very busy career in finance, but we didn’t have kids – we didn’t have human kids – so our furry kids became the focus of our life, and we adopted over 20 rescued animals during our life together. We were mostly urban people – mostly adopted cats and dogs – and they were mostly sick or elderly or behaviorally challenged animals that no-one else would want.
But then, by 2014, we had moved out to the country, and we were in a position where we could begin to adopt larger animals. We had long been supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and that spring they had just rescued from an abandonment and starvation case two horses – one turned out to have been an ex-racehorse named Henry, and there was his girlfriend Caroline, and we don’t know anything about her background. So, PETA asked us if we would take these horses – and my first thought was ‘oh my goodness, we don’t have horse experience – too steep a learning curve for us.”
Dr. Katy: But you had the facility.
Alysoun: We had the facility.
Dr. Katy: I mean, that’s usually step number one for ‘can I adopt a horse?’.
Alysoun: Yes, we had a stable and we had lots of grass. (Laughter) …. So, my husband was always up for a new challenge, and he said “this is our thing, we’ve always taken in animals who no-one else wants, so lets do it.” So we did. We took classes, we talked to everyone we knew, he learned to drive a tractor, he learned to drive our pickup with the horse trailer behind – and in June of 2014, we brought Henry and Caroline home to our then property in Middleburg Virginia. And miraculously it worked out, and they’re wonderfully happy and healthy horses to this day.
Dr. Katy: I’ll be darned. Now, but this has inspired you to really look further down into this worm hole. I mean this is something that, as you just said, you didn’t know a ton about horses, especially horse rescue – so how has this now become more of a passion for you? We’ll talk more about racing in our next block – Alysoun’s going to stick around and talk to us in our second block as well – but there’s some very specific things that happened with you in the past few years that really made this more of a passion for you.
Alysoun: So … my husband actually died in an accident in 2015, and one of the first decisions I made after that was to establish a memorial fund in his honor – the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund – and I decided to make animal protection in general a focus of the fund – and specifically animal rescue, and most specifically horse rescue, because this was something he had very courageously decided that we were going to do.
Dr. Katy: I mean, he learned how to drive a tractor, for Pete’s sake. (Laughter) That’s dedication. Alright, well like I said, we’re going to come back and we’re going to talk further about this, but I really do want to learn a little bit more about what you’re doing with this Fund, and how you’re planning to help these racehorses that we indicated are facing what they face when they’re retiring or even while they’re still out on the race track.
Dr. Katy: And welcome back everybody. We are continuing our conversation now with Alysoun Mahoney of Charlie’s Quest. And – we haven’t even talked about who Charlie is.
Alysoun: We haven’t – and I’d love to tell his story.
Dr. Katy: So let’s talk about Charlie.
Alysoun: So, he is a descendant of Secretariat – and he earned more than $200,000 in his racing career. Last summer, PETA approached me about taking him in, and at the time I had only been on my own for about nine months, and my initial reaction again was ‘oh boy, am I ready to take on a new responsibility?’
Dr. Katy: And you still have Henry and Caroline.
Alysoun: I still have Henry and Caroline. Absolutely! And dogs and cats as well. (Laughter)
Dr. Katy: So we’re going for a three-fer here.
Alysoun: So, yeah, but I thought about what my husband would want me to do and it immediately became clear to me that he would want me to take in this horse. PETA was just in process of rescuing him fresh off the track – this was July of last year – and PETA had been following him for years. Back in 2014 they had done an undercover investigation of the stable of Steve Asmussen which was where Charlie pretty much started his racing career – and in 2014 PETA had found that Charlie along with a number of other horses was being administered medications to prevent him from feeling pain and forcing him to continue racing even though he was injured.
Dr. Katy: And that’s the picture that we’re seeing here. That’s his hock, terribly swollen here.
Alysoun: Yes, yes. So – with the results of this investigation, the New York State Gaming Commission conducted their own investigation, and on that basis, they fined Asmussen, the owner and trainer of Charlie at that time, and also, they proceeded further and just in January of this year, they introduced a whole set of new regulations that limit the use of drugs in horses in the racing industry in New York, and also impose stricter reporting requirements for stables that have race horses.
So anyway, Charlie had then been sold off by the time this all transpired, and passed through a series of hands, and his new owners were continuing to race him multiple times a week, not letting him recuperate, and PETA was finding that he was pretty much losing every race, which was a pretty clear sign that his injuries were not healing – and so at that point, they stepped in and arranged to purchase him so he could come to me.
Dr. Katy: So how is Charlie’s life these days? Racing to the trough and back? (Laughter)
Alysoun: Yeah, so, he runs when he wants to run today. Um…when I initially looked at adopting him, my primary concern was would he get along with Henry and Caroline. And so I consulted with friends who knew more about horses than I did – and they assured me that horses being herd animals, that the likelihood of them getting along was high….
Dr. Katy: Last 30 seconds, how is it that people can help Charlie’s Quest and your foundation?
Alysoun: Absolutely. I would be delighted if people would like to donate to the Gregory J. Reiter Memorial Fund. But – helping horses in general – please don’t attend races, don’t watch races on TV, and ask your Congresspeople to support the SAFE Act – the Safeguard American Food Exports Act, H.R. 113, which prevents horses from being sent to slaughter in Mexico and Canada.
Dr. Katy: You guys should all be familiar with that. We talked with Nancy Perry about that not too long ago, from ASPCA Government Relations. So, you can find out more information about all of this here at the gregoryreiterfund.org, and we thank you so much, Alysoun, for your passion, for opening your doors and your barn doors to these rescued animals – and we hope more people out there do the same.