Horse racing is a much-loved pastime in San Diego, but many racing fans fail to stop and think about what happens to thoroughbreds once they cross the finish line for the last time.
Dawn Mellen, of Carmel Valley, knows firsthand what happens to these fleet-footed competitors: They go up for auction, sometimes ending up in slaughterhouses, or - if lucky - they are adopted by rescue organizations that strive to find retirement ranches for the horses or groom the animals for a useful existence.
"I was at the races and saw an ad for a horse rescue," Mellen said. "I went home and I got on the Web site, and I was shocked that I didn't know this was happening. I just didn't think that slaughter was something that happened to these beautiful horses."
For almost a decade Mellen has been volunteering her time and energy to at equine rescue organizations across the United States to save thoroughbred racehorses and brood mares. She realized early on that funding was one of the biggest challenges for rescue groups, limiting the animals they could foster and care for.
"I wanted to do something more," Mellen said, so last October she founded After the Finish Line, a 501(C)(3) funding non-profit.
"We collect donations, and we then disperse the donations to rescue organizations in California and across the United States that care for thoroughbred horses," she said. "On a yearly basis we give out grants, and on a monthly basis we give out what we call emergency funds. Every day a horse needs our help."
The United Pegasus Foundation is one such group.
"Just last week Dawn donated $500 for hay," said Helen Meredith, the organization's president and founder."
Meredith, who has been operating the United Pegasus Foundation since 1994, said non-profits struggle to maintain financial support, but in trying economic times, groups such as hers are hit with a double whammy: Not only does monetary support fall off, but there is an increase in horse owners who can no longer afford to care for their animals.
"It just takes so much to do what we're doing," Meredith said. "It's a struggle."
A native of Connecticut who relocated to San Diego in 2002, Mellen felt her professional background in business and advertising would lend itself to the mission of After the Finish Line.
"I believe people want to held the thoroughbreds yet don't know how or who to donate to," she said.
Mellen said some estimates put the number of slaughtered thoroughbreds in the thousands. With the right resources, racehorses and brood mares can be trained as hunter/jumpers, dressage, trail or companion horses.
After the Finish Line will host its inaugural fund-raiser at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 19 at the Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. The luncheon event includes silent and live auctions, as well as a presentation by Mellen. Advance tickets are $100; at the door tickets will be $125.
After the Finish Line is currently accepting donations of services, retail items, gift certificates or goody baskets to include in the auctions.
Mellen said her goal is to develop a following of loyal supporters who appreciate the significance of rescuing, rehabilitation and retiring thoroughbred horses.
"I can't tell you the overwhelming response I've been getting," she said. "It's wonderful to know we can make a difference in the lives of these horses. We can be a voice for them.
To purchase tickets or learn more about After the Finish Line, visit
or call Dawn Mellen at (858) 945-1371.