Last Ride Neednít Be to an Ugly End
By JAY HOVDEY
DEL MAR, Calif. - Earlier this week, the big picture in the world of
American horses still being led to slaughter got a little fuzzy for the
folks who profit from the practice. The piece of Congressional legislation
known as HR 503 escaped two separate committees in which it had been held
hostage, and now the supporters of the bill are hopeful that the full House
of Representatives will get a crack at a vote by sometime in September. HR
503, sponsored by Rep. John Sweeney of New York, has the bipartisan support
of 202 co-sponsors, leaving it just 15 shy of an outright majority before it
even hits the floor.
If HR 503 passes, it would be a terrible blow to the two
slaughterhouses in Texas and the one in Illinois that provide tasty holiday
horse meat to their customers abroad, not to mention an economic
inconvenience to the slaughterhouse employees, who will need to find work in
an industry that is not quite so widely reviled by the American public.
Chris Heyde of the National Horse Protection Coalition, one of the
main lobbying groups in support of anti-slaughter legislation, allowed
himself a rare sigh of relief that the issue might finally be closer to
resolution than ever before.
"Obviously, there's a frustration that slaughter hasn't been banned
yet," Heyde said Friday from his Washington office. "But since I first
approached Congress, back in 2001, I think there has been a real boom in
horse rescues, and organizations that put out guidelines on how to run a
sanctuary humanely. The Thoroughbred industry, for one, has really started
to step up."
The lingering opposition to HR 503 - primarily from the American
Quarter Horse Association, the American Veterinary Association and the
American Association of Equine Practitioners - is holding to the line that
without the option of slaughter, each year tens of thousands of horses would
be neglected, abandoned, and otherwise abused.
This is palpable baloney, or worse. There are a growing number of
resources to place horses owned by people who no longer want to bear the
responsibility. And anyway, the process of sales and transport of
slaughter-bound horses is already rife with cruelty, with examples of abuse
available on an almost daily basis.
In Friday's Texarkana Gazette, for instance, there is a report of an
incident at a local gas station involving a tractor-trailer with a flat tire
and a cargo made up of horses who were showing signs of serious injuries.
Animal control officers got into the act, and were told the horses were
bound for a Fort Worth, Texas, slaughterhouse.
According to a spokesman for the Texarkana Police Department, officers
"initially wrote citations for animal abuse but changed their minds when the
United States Department of Agriculture representative said it was possible
the horses could have sustained the injuries as a result of the blowout or
from fighting among themselves. Basically, they said it looked bad, but
these injuries happen to horses all the time."
All the time.
At about the same time that load of doomed horses was sent on its grim
way to Fort Worth, a 5-year-old Thoroughbred stallion by the name of King De
was getting a reprieve from a similar fate.
After a career of 22 starts at Suffolk Downs (one win, $18,336 in
earnings) that ended on July 11 with two bowed tendons, King De was sold
last weekend for $160, supposedly as a stallion prospect. Forty-eight hours
later he was in the killer pens at New Holland, Pa., where the
representatives of Canadian slaughterers regularly shop.
King De got lucky, though. At 17 hands and a striking roan, he stood
out in the sorry crowd. Beverly Strauss of the Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred
Rescue spotted King De, and notified Diana Rigoletto of the Thoroughbred
Retirement Foundation. Rigoletto spent two days trying to track King De's
journey to such a hellish end, and then was told he had been bought for $260
and packed off to Canada with the rest of the load.
"It was heartbreaking, but it happens a lot," she said. "These are not
unwanted horses, like the pro-slaughter people contend. Often these are
horses owned by people who have been lied to - told they were being bought
as riding horses, or potential show horses - when they are really on their
way to the slaughterhouses.
The story of King De has a rare twist. As it turned out, he was left
behind when the slaughter truck departed New Holland for Canada. Rigoletto
found out and with the help of a growing network of support, located the
person who had adopted King De's half-sister. As a result, King De will soon
have a home at a Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation facility in New Jersey.
"Everybody who has seen him this week has said he is the nicest,
kindest horse - hardly a horse who would go unwanted if given the chance,"
Rigoletto said. "But look what had to happen for him to be saved. The truck
was full. There was no room for King De. He was bought late, and a big colt,
and they couldn't stuff him in there with the others. That makes him just
about the luckiest horse alive."
Hopefully, if Congress leads the way, he will soon have a lot more