It means a lot to us to have been able to open this discussion and we wanted to thank our local media outlets for covering this story with such ferocity and for the outpouring of support from our friends, supporters and the public.
A Maple Ridge horse-rescue outfit says it's the target of a long-running campaign of online hate and harassment that's threatening to derail its work.
Julie MacMillan started JM Acres Horse Rescue 20 years ago after attending an auction and realizing thousands of horses get sent to slaughter in Canada annually. She acquires unwanted horses, takes them in on her two acre property and tries to find them homes.
"It's important what we do. But with people screwing with it, it's a big ugly shame for these animals," said MacMillan.
The online campaign, which MacMillan says has gone on for about four years, has been stressful for her and her volunteers. MacMillan said the Facebook page called The Truth is also scaring off potential adoptees and deters people from sending their horses to them.
"The biggest problem we have is how it affects the horses. If people won't send their horses to us, they'll send them to auction. If one horse dies because of this, that's one horse too many," she said.
The 681-member The Truth Facebook page contains "bizarre lies," said MacMillan.
It was started in 2012 by a woman identified as Michelle Lori, who used to foster JM horses until the relationship turned sour.
Lori, who didn't want her legal name reported, said she started the Facebook page to expose what she called. JM's questionable treatment of horses and lax adoption procedure. She also accused MacMillan and another of her volunteers of using money donated to the rescue - a non-registered charity - for personal use.
"They use horses for this," she said. "They don't give a s--about the horses." Lori said she hasn't been an administrator of The Truth for over three years.
The Truth page details some members' negative experiences with JM, with accusations that workers are "money-grubbers" who "flip" horses.
Members question why a horse has a fleece blanket rather than a waterproof blanket, why JM's fundraiser involves shirtless cowboys and why MacMillan was riding a horse without a helmet and shoes.
On Wednesday, The Truth Facebook page was pulled down or blocked from public view.
MacMillan said she has contacted police, a lawyer and Facebook, but was told nothing could be done.
JM operates on private donations and adoption fees of $500 per horse. MacMillan, who has a full-time job, said running the rescue isn't easy or fun and certainly not profitable. She said she had contemplated registering JM as a charity in the past, but found the requirements and paperwork too onerous.
"If you guys want to take the horses and you can do a better job, we'll give you the contacts and help you set up," MacMillan has told the Facebook group before.
MacMillan's neighbour Cheryl Stirling said she defended JM on The Truth website a few years ago and received a vicious message from a member of the group.
"I can't explain how horrible the things she said were," said Stirling, who has adopted six horses from JM and has no complaints.
Two other horse rescue groups in the Lower Mainland were contacted, and both said JM does good work. One said they heard from their volunteers, who also spend time at JM, that horses appear happy and healthy.
The SPCA said it had attended JM's farm in the past to respond to complaints, most recently in 2013. Orders were issued and subsequently complied with. It didn't divulge the nature of the allegations, nor who reported them. The SPCA doesn't send horses to JM because it only works with registered non-profits, said Lorie Chortyk.
"We want to work with organizations that are accountable, but it doesn't mean that if they aren't (a registered non-profit) there's something wrong," she said, adding from the SPCA's point of view, the more rescues the better, "as long as the welfare is taken care of and they're responsible."
In regards to the SPCA's comments, JM Coordinator Amy Lizee said they are "not entirely sure where their spokesperson got their information from, but we have helped them out for years with everything from intakes to hauling to providing professional opinions on cases." One example of this, she related, "was the case of a few adorable goats who had nowhere to go." (The story appeared in the TIMES in August of 2013.)
Beyond the issue of what people are saying, lies the bigger problem of what Lizee calls the "horrible, rising trend" of cyberbulling.
"Cyberbullying is way too easy for people to get away with, and it has gotten far too out-of-hand," she added.
"[It] has been made easy by technology and one that causes an inordinate amount of grief to its victims."
This kind of anonymous and unaccountable harassment she continued, "often leads to suicide for those who suffer at its hand, especially for influential teens and members of the LGBT community, and it is disappointingly challenged and prosecuted."
When it comes to what's being said about JM on Facebook, "these few ridiculous and childish individuals have managed to threaten the livelihood of horses who have nowhere else to go, as they continue to try and ruin what little good we are trying to achieve," Lizee said.
"We are fortunate to have found the strength within ourselves and others to deal with their horrible lies and defamation of character, but there are many individuals out there still struggling with the weight of being cyberbullyied and who may feel they have no way out," she added.
"For those individuals and for any other rescues out there dealing with these 'internet trolls', we hope that you find some strength in our unwillingness to give in."
The world has more than enough haters, she concluded, "but it can never have too many do-gooders."
Chortyk said the SPCA doesn't have any ongoing concerns with JM and anyone with allegations against the group should contact the B.C. SPCA instead of posting them on Facebook.