Crimes Against Horse-manity
Although the House and Senate have both passed legislation by wide margins intended to stop the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas, and state legislatures have banned horse slaughter and shuttered the remaining U.S.-based plants, American horses are still being exported to Canada and Mexico to be butchered for their meat. The transport distances are long and the slaughter methods are clumsy and harsh. An investigation by The Humane Society of the United States at a Mexican slaughter plant revealed that the preferred method of killing the horses was to stab them in the spine with a short knife.
Federal legislation that would finally put an end to these cruel exports, H.R. 503 and S. 311, has been bottled up in Congress by leaders of the House Agriculture Committee and by some western senators. But new hope for horses is on the horizon, as House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Representative Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have introduced a new bill—H.R. 6598, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008—which would make it a crime to sell or transport horses across state or national borders for the purpose of slaughter. Chairman Conyers’ committee has jurisdiction over the bill, and will hold a hearing tomorrow morning.
The horse slaughter industry will try to make the same tired argument that there are too many unwanted horses and nowhere for them to go. But there is a network of horse sanctuaries and rescuers who stand at the ready to help. In fact, we have heard time and time again from these dedicated folks who try to rescue horses or purchase them at auctions, only to be outbid by the “killer buyers” who can make a buck by taking their pound of flesh. This is an opportunistic industry, and when people can make a few hundred dollars by shipping a horse to Mexico, all personal responsibility is thrown out the window.
We’ve received testimonials from some of the horse rescuers, and I’ve reprinted a selection of them below. You can support the work of these dedicated people by telling your members of Congress to support and cosponsor H.R. 6598. It’s time to protect America’s horses and close our borders to this ugly practice.
My name is Mary Jones and I am the founder of two horse rescues…the IERN in Iowa and RIDE of Rochester, Minn. I have witnessed thousands of instances where killers have bid against families and fellow rescuers at Kalona, Iowa and many other sales in Minn. and Iowa…I gave the bidding card to my 10-year-old daughter…she climbed up on the panels surrounding the ring with the card and I said, “I want everyone to see who they are bidding against.” The auctioneer repeated what I said on the microphone and all but one killer turned away. That one sat down, put his feet on the chair in front of him and said, “Let’s go Li’l Missy!” The creep bid the horse up to $650 before he would stop…which was close to our limit…I have hundreds of stories like this if you care to listen.—Mary Jones, Rochester, Minn.
We run a large rescue operation in Washington State. We attend the Enumclaw Sales Pavilion Auction on the first Sunday of each month. We regularly battle with not only the kill buyer…but with…the owner of the auction—both purchase for slaughter. Several rescues attend the auction and try to outbid them. There are times when we are bidding and completely overlooked with the horse going to [the killer buyer]. He will later sell you the horse if he likes you out back at a $50 or $100 profit. This happens on a regular basis.—Thoroughbred Rescue & Rescues Only, Kent, Wash.
Shiloh [Horse Rescue] has been outbid by the killers many times. When we first started rescuing from slaughter auctions, the killer would just keep on bidding, running up the prices that we had to pay. A horse we should have gotten for around $150 would go up to $400, sometimes higher, which was too high for us to pay. We would have to let the horse go, which was horrible for all of us. They bid purely out of spite because we were a rescue, they knew we wanted the horse, but they did not care.—Jill Curtis, Shiloh Horse Rescue, Las Vegas, Nev.
Depending on the per pound price at the time, kill buyers can outbid a safe home and the America born and raised horse ends up as food for foreigners…We are enabling irresponsible people to breed, and dump horses by supplying slaughter to a few slaughterhouses and kill buyers.—Cheryl Flanagan, Cumming, Ga.
As a rescue, we do not budget funds for purchasing horses, therefore the money used to save these horses come from my own personal funds or those of my volunteers who then donate the horses to the rescue to find them approved homes. Due to the heavier weight ... which drives the price beyond the reach of myself or any individual wishing to purchase a healthy, sound horse for their own use…I kept records of the horses going through this auction for several months and have detailed Excel spreadsheets recording the weight, price per pound, and buyer ID which support the fact that the killers are getting the majority of the horses 900 pounds and over.—Tamie M. Semler, Angel Horse Rescue, Inola, Okla.
These men regularly outbid private individuals and have outbid us hundreds of times on horses that would otherwise find refuge at our shelter or in private homes. They also outbid horse brokers that buy and sell horses to private homes for a living…My pockets just are not as deep as the kill buyer’s pockets…I have had the bid run up on me several times, and I believe it is because I purchase more horses than the average person who is not either a broker or a kill buyer, and I am not down in the arena pits with the kill buyers when the bidding happens.—Kristy Heidorn, The Best Little Horse House in Hastings, Inc., Hastings, Neb.
It is very clear that the kill buyers have the financial means to purchase horses that could easily have been placed in good homes or rehabilitated and adopted out. Most recently, at an auction on June 25, a local kill buyer upped the bids on six horses that I bid on. On July 26, this same kill buyer upped bids on three horses that one of my adoption/training coordinators bid for on behalf of Front Range Equine Rescue. These are just two recent examples, replicated over the years, of our experiences with kill buyers.—Hilary T. Wood, Front Range Equine Rescue, Larkspur, Colo.
I have seen and I have been outbid on by many kill buyers this year. Also when I have tried to buy horses off the kill buyers at the end of the sale, many of them have jacked the price up by $150. I work with a rescue in Fla. by the name of Pure Thoughts Horse and Foal Rescue. I have been getting horses out of Sugarcreek [Livestock Auction, Ohio] for them for a few years now. These horses that are at auction…are young, healthy, wanted horses. Once they reach Fla. they are adopted out to loving homes.—Diane Neugebauer, Pure Thoughts Horse and Foal Rescue, Loxahatchee, Fla.
If these guys weren’t at the auction, organizations like Wildhorse Ranch Rescue would have a chance to purchase horses, retrain and rehabilitate them and find them wonderful homes with families. I have witnessed families trying to buy horses for their children and the killers outbid them, too.—Kimberly Meagher, Wildhorse Ranch Rescue, Gilbert, Ariz.
At the Shipshewana, Ind. Horse Auction on March 23, 2008—Good Friday—our rescue wanted to buy a team of Belgian draft horses. They went to auction beautifully groomed and obviously had been well loved and cared for. They were protecting each other from other terrified horses squeezed into the direct-to-slaughter pen. It was obvious that the meat buyer wanted them for their muscle and weight. We wanted them to become part of our 100% totally volunteer rescue. They would have had permanent homes with us and been loved and cared for—not resold. We could not beat the price of the meat buyer.—Nancy Brent, Broken Road Rescue, Bath, Mich.
[The killer buyer] has occasionally sold horses housed at his feedlot to a rescue, but only after increasing the price two to three times. Called to Account, the last horse Colorado Thoroughbred Rescue bought from [him], was a registered racehorse stallion. [He] insisted that he paid $500 for the horse, and offered the horse to the rescue for the price of $600. After the horse’s paperwork was received by the rescue and the last owner was contacted, the seller informed the rescue that he sold Called to Account for $200. The last owner spoke to [the killer buyer] during the sale, and the owner was promised that the horse dealer would provide the stakes-winning stallion with a proper retirement and safe home. The horse was discovered only days later, thousands of miles away at a feedlot, moments away from being loaded into a trailer to a slaughterhouse.—Margaret Desarno, Co-founder, Colorado Thoroughbred Rescue, Wellington, Colo.
I am the executive director of the Illinois affiliate of CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation. Even though the embarrassment of a local horse slaughter facility in DeKalb, Ill. has shut down, “killer” buyers and the shipping of horses to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered there continue to trouble rescues like ours. Every dollar is precious to a rescue, as it provides the means to feed, transport, and provide veterinary care for those horse who come to us…to have to spend desperately needed capital to pay the per-pound price to outbid a killer buyer is devastating to our already overstrained budgets. The incentive to owners to get a few dollars for what is, to them, a “throwaway” horse at slaughter auctions makes them all the less likely to donate horses to rescues, forcing rescues to divert money that could be spent caring for the horses they already have to purchasing otherwise doomed horses. It is hard to enough to try and keep rescues running without having to buy the horses you save.—Denice Pumfrey, CANTER Ill.
I would like to state unequivocally that the presence of slaughter buyers at the racetrack directly interferes with the intake of horses into our adoption program because an uncaring owner or trainer can easily recoup a few hundred dollars “salvage value” from an injured horse rather than donate it. In spite of our policy of accepting horses without requiring any mandatory fee or donation from the owner, the omnipresence of slaughter buyers amounts to unfair competition, and dooms many otherwise useful horses to a cruel and premature death.—Priscilla Clark, President, Tranquility Farm, Tehachapi, Calif.
People who slaughter horses say the horses are unwanted at horse barns and auctions. I will tell you I know first hand this is untrue and further from the truth. What the slaughterhouses don’t tell you is they go to horse auctions and they outbid other people who want to give the horse a loving family. They have the money to go higher on the bidding then the average person. I have rescued horses for many years and I never had any problems finding a loving home for any horse I have rescued. I even charge an adoption fee and still [there is] no issue finding a great home for the horses to have a loving family. It makes me mad my government does not stop this cruelty from happening in the United States. I ask you not to stall on this bill like the United States has on so many others. I support Americans Against Horse Slaughter, and I urge you to search your soul and do what is right and help not us, but the wonderful sweet horses which have been a great part of our history.—Sabrina Fetty, Jamestown, Ky.
I have personally witnessed private homes being ignored at the slaughter auctions when the kill buyers get into “bidding wars.” I have witnessed private buyers being outbid by kill buyers and have myself been bid against and outbid by kill buyers. I would also like you to know that [there are] private holding areas where trainers from racetracks and brokers sell the horses direct to slaughter without allowing them to have the opportunity to be bid on by the general public or rescue organizations in an effort to hide what they are doing, selling directly to slaughter.—Christy Sheidy, Another Chance 4 Horses, Bernville, Pa.
Although the slaughter plants have been closed in the United States, the horrible fate of these horses continues in the slaughter business in even worse conditions in Mexico and Canada. The “kill buyers” are present at feedlots and auctions throughout the country buying the horses specifically for slaughter. GEVA has rescued several horses from such a fate. One such thoroughbred has won nineteen races and almost $200,000 but had no cartilage left in his ankle so was no longer of use to his owner or trainer. Today his ankle has fused and he runs and plays with the other horses, just being a horse. This is an all too common scenario, and far too many horses are not as fortunate and end up being inhumanely slaughtered. Slaughter is the epitome of animal cruelty in every aspect from the uncaring owner, to the inhumane manner of transportation, to the actual act of slaughtering the horse, often while still alive. These noble horses deserve a better fate and it is in our hands to determine that fate.—Pam Berg, GEVA, Glen Ellen, Calif.
I am with Avalon Mist Equine Rescue, a small horse rescue that goes to auctions trying to save horses from the killer buyers to get them into loving homes. I have been there when the kill buyers have outbid us and taken the horses to Mexico and Canada. They just laugh at what we want to do and they have all the money. They outbid us on all the really nice horses that have a chance at a life, and leave us with the skinny neglected ones. The healthy, fat, broke horses go to slaughter because they outbid us. They have a chance at happiness in a home but thanks to the killer buyers, they have NONE.—Lisa Bellinger, Avalon Mist Equine Rescue, Yakima, Wash.