won, yet war rages on
By JAY HOVDEY
It should have been a day of great celebration, of cheering the TV
screen and champagne toasts. But John Hettinger, the heart and soul of
the forces battling the slaughter of horses in the United States,
couldn't bear to watch.
"I did all that I could for the cause," said Hettinger from his
Akindale Farm near Pawling, N.Y. "But I'm not in as good health as I
used to be, and I decided it would be too upsetting. So I got on my
horse, went for a ride, then had a couple glasses of wine and went to
bed. The miracle is that I was able to sleep."
When he awoke, it was to the news that the House of
Representatives had passed HR 503 - better known as the Horse Slaughter
Prevention Act - by a vote of 263-146, after three hours of debate and
more than four years of backroom political wrangling. Hettinger
described his reaction to the House vote as "guarded."
"As long as anything is up for consideration in Washington, D.C.,
you can be sure that it will be decided on any basis except merit,"
Hettinger said. "I know that if it gets to the floor of the Senate, it
will pass. I know that if it does not get to the floor of the Senate, it
will be because the usual suspects are at work. They got their head
handed to them yesterday, so it's about time they gave democracy a chance."
The "usual suspects" on Hettinger's list of those opposing an end
to the slaughter of American horses includes the American Association of
Equine Practitioners, the American Quarter Horse Association, and the
National Cattlemen's Beef Association.
"I was thinking of running an ad in the Form," Hettinger said,
"directed to the AAEP and the American Quarter Horse Association, saying
'Look, as far as we're concerned the success of HR 503 yesterday means
there are no winners or losers - except for the horse. And we wish you
would come aboard. By the same token, we know that if this does not come
up for a vote in the Senate, it will be because of machinations by you
people, and the cattlemen.' "
Hettinger was right about one thing. Some of the opposition raised
to HR 503 during the House floor debate would have raised his blood
pressure to dangerous heights. The same talking points were heard - over
and over - that the 90,000 or so "unwanted" horses slaughtered each year
would become a burden. That slaughter provided a "humane" alternative
for owners who needed to rid themselves of their animals. And that the
bill was an attack on "property rights" that would lead down a slippery
slope. The possible effects of ending horse slaughter were passionately
described by Rep. Mac Thornberry, a Republican from Texas, where two of
the three slaughterhouses are located.
"If anyone thinks there's any reason for Congress to stop with a
regulation of how we govern horses and not go right ahead and say what
owners ought to do to their pigs and their cattle, or their dogs and
their cats, or their fish in the aquarium, then you haven't realized the
consequences of this bill," Thornberry said. With a straight face.
John Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, waxed emotionally about
his family ties to horses, through four generations of ranchers, before
insisting that HR 503 "would have very serious consequences on our
"What will happen when I'm out riding, rounding up my cattle, and
my horse falls into a prairie dog hole and breaks his leg?" Salazar
wondered. "Will I not be able to send him to some rendering facility?
What is the next step? Will people take away our right to be able to go
out and hunt elk?"
Goldfish and elk aside, the supporters of HR 503 had any number of
advocates to refute such specious claims, including bill sponsors Ed
Whitfield (R-Kentucky) and John Sweeney (R-New York), who yielded a few
minutes of his time to Christoper Shays, his Republican colleague from
"It does not remove the rights of owners to do what they want with
their horses," Shays said. "Under HR 503, owners can humanely euthanize
sick, dangerous, or old horses. Horses can continue to be kept by their
owners, can be sold to new homes, or placed in one of the many horse
sanctuaries located across the country. The way a society treats its
animals, particularly horses, speaks to the core values and priorities
of its citizens. Horses are not just companions and recreational
animals. They are a vital part of our nation's culture and history."
"Now we lay the groundwork to see if we can swiftly move it
through the Senate," said Chris Heyde of the National Horse Protection
Coalition. "The support is there."
John Hettinger can be forgiven, though, if he waits to believe it
until he sees it. And yet, even if something goes awry, Hettinger will
not give up fighting those who oppose an end to the slaughter of horses
on American soil.
"If this isn't ended by the time I go out, I have provided in my
will for them to have no peace," the 72-year-old Hettinger vowed. "And I
mean that. That's the only thing I'm in a position to guarantee - they
will have no peace."