Yesterday, I was in the passenger seat driving by the parched pasture land outside of Lexington, Ky., reading news clips on my laptop on our way to the Kentucky Equine Humane Center in Nicholasville.
I was focused on the news story in the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News by Lisa Sandberg, with photographs by Jerry Lara, about horse slaughter. The story reported on grossly inhumane killing practices at Mexican slaughterhouses, and how the horse slaughter industry is shipping thousands more horses to central Mexico now that all of the U.S. plants have been shuttered.
Some of the horses, also confirmed by an HSUS investigation to be released later this week, are trucked 700 miles into Mexico—a 15-hour leg of the horses’ journey to slaughter. It’s a horror for these animals, who are often killed by repeated stabbings to their spine—a torturous method of killing.
© The HSUS
Pam Rogers, Keith Dane, Jimmy Dunn, Lori Neagle and myself,
from left to right, at the Kentucky Equine Humane Center.
When The HSUS delegation (equine protection director Keith Dane, Kentucky state director Pam Rogers, volunteer extraordinaire Faith Harders and I) arrived at the Kentucky Equine Humane Center, we were greeted by director Lori Neagle and horse caretaker Jimmy Dunn—two tremendously dedicated people who are saviors for horses. The Equine Humane Center, in the heart of America’s thoroughbred industry, was founded with the motto of "Every horse has an owner. Every owner has a responsibility." Realizing that there are unwanted horses, whether there is a slaughter industry or not, these humane advocates created this rescue and adoption operation. More than 30 horses have already been adopted this year to screened applicants. Killer buyers need not apply.
The news story about slaughter in Mexico was running through my mind as we toured the facility, checked out the stalls, patted the horses and fed them treats. These were the lucky ones—the horses whose lives intersected with good people, rather than killer buyers. The rescue advocates have not contributed to the population of unwanted horses, but they stand tall to help out creatures in need.
One horse at the Equine Humane Center, a stunning Paint, brought me back to our recent footage from Mexico. In a particularly heartbreaking moment, our Investigations team captured the slaughter of a horse who looked much like the one standing before me yesterday. Watching our footage from the Mexican kill chute, seeing the horrible death handed upon that handsome horse, it was a vivid reminder that the lives of so many animals hang in the balance.
Horse slaughter advocates have long said that the killing will be worse if we only ban horse slaughter in the United States, but do not stop horses from being shipped to slaughter in Mexico or Canada. At some level, there’s no dispute, and Sandberg’s news story and our own multiple investigations underscore that point. But it’s not so much an analytical argument by slaughter proponents, but an extortionist argument. It’s the same slaughter industry—the same killer buyers, the same truckers, the same foreign-owned companies, working on both sides of our borders. They are the ones who can stop the exports to Mexico, but that would conflict with their opportunism and their interest in making money by treating horses like some inanimate commodity and subjecting them to this torment.
For these very reasons, The HSUS and other anti-horse slaughter advocates have always supported a ban on horse slaughter in the United States and a ban on the export of horses for slaughter. We have been relentless in working in Congress for years to get the job done—precisely because we knew efforts in the states would not be enough. We needed to stop the flow of live horses to other countries, and only Congress has that authority. It was the pro-slaughter forces, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Veterinary Medical Association and others, who have opposed our efforts to ban horse slaughter here and also live export to other countries. We have won every vote on the issue in Congress, but, because of the obstructionist tactics of the opposition, have not been able to deliver a final authorizing bill to the President for signing into law.
With the U.S. horse slaughter plants now closed, it is time for the groups historically aligned with the slaughter industry to reassess their position. It’s now an indefensible stance. The horse slaughter plants are not going to reopen in the United States; the people of California, Illinois, Texas and other states have seen to that. And evidence of ruthless cruelty and inhumane transport is not enough to stop the horse slaughter industry from channeling horses into the export pipeline. Groups opposed to the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, including the AVMA, cannot reasonably defend the continued transport of horses to Mexico where the killing methods are so primitive and the transport distances so long. I know the folks at the AVMA, and they are good people. They must not let historical polarities on this issue set their future course. It’s time for a course correction.
Except for the slaughter industry itself, groups on both sides of this issue must now unite, with the recognition that the bans on horse slaughter in the United States have changed the contours of this debate. Every day we delay, more of our horses are subjected to indescribable suffering. Please, for the sake of these poor creatures, no longer stand in the way of legislation to ban the export of live horses, where the horses meet a terrible fate.