With all the scrutiny of its financial challenges these days, Ford Motor Co. didn't need to buy dozens of wild mustang horses last month to save them from a Midwest slaughterhouse.
After all, the automaker scarcely needs added publicity for its popular Mustang car.
Yet, in dramatic fashion, Ford stepped up and rescued 52 animals after getting an emergency call from distraught government officials at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
The horses aren't wandering the grounds at Ford headquarters in Dearborn or at work in photo shoots with Mustang cars.
Ford is seeing to it that they're cared for until they can be transferred to a safe place where they can live out their lives.
Wild mustangs roaming the nation's West have held a special place in American folklore for decades. The creatures symbolize freedom, spirit and wide open spaces -- the same attributes Ford officials say are embodied in the Mustang car.
For 34 years, the horses were protected by law from slaughter, but a provision in the federal spending bill passed in December now allows the sale of older, unwanted mustangs.
Had Ford not responded, the animals -- all at least 11 years old - would have been chopped up for meat and exported overseas.
Ford didn't act because market research showed it would help boost vehicle sales. And Ford officials didn't take an opinion poll before quietly joining with land management officials to develop a new program, to be announced later this week, that will help another 1,000-plus wild mustangs.
This is what a responsible, caring company does, even if some 40 years ago, when Ford's Mustang was named -- after a fighter plane, not the horse -- the automaker never imagined it would be called on in such a way.
In today's cutthroat business world, a lot of corporate managers are tempted to view philanthropy as something that matters only in good times.
Ford Chairman Bill Ford Jr., who got letters about the horses, and the company, which received further information from actress and animal rights activist Stefanie Powers, deserve kudos for resisting that notion.
They also deserve praise for moving so quickly -- within a matter of minutes, I'm told -- to respond to what was a very dire situation at the slaughterhouse.
It's obvious that Ford cares about more "than just making cars," said Jeff Rawson of the land management bureau.
The horses are not an isolated example. Through its Jaguar unit, Ford contributes to jaguar cat conservation efforts in Central America -- an initiative now in its third year despite Jaguar's considerable red ink..
Imagine what the big-hearted automaker could do if it had a more secure financial picture.