Pet lobby pushes issue too far
 12:01 AM CDT on Friday, May 21, 2004
 By TIMOTHY O'LEARY / The Dallas Morning News 

If you think the gun, senior citizen and Israel lobbies are strong, you haven't seen anything. I present you with the American pet lobby. Believe me, it has politicians jumping through hoops to be attentive.

For years, the pet lobby has successfully advocated for "dog exercise areas" (like the one in my hometown of Alexandria, Va., that used to be a playground) and for animal shelters (like the one that Dallas voters agreed to build in 2003 with $12 million of borrowed money). Now, it's concentrating on preventing Trigger from being roasted, braised and fricasseed for depraved Frenchmen, Belgians and Italians. (Don't those nasty Europeans know that horses are people, too?)

Look, I like pets. My daughters and I have one - Leo, the rabbit. He lives in the back yard, in a hutch that I built for him and his late brother, Bozo. He's a great personality for a rabbit, always hops to be patted and fed.

Would I eat him? Not unless I were starving. Has my affection for him caused me to abjure rabbit as food? Again, no. In fact, I recently enjoyed a succulent rabbit in chocolate sauce at Café Madrid in Dallas.

I put my relationship with Leo in perspective. He's great company, but he isn't my child. I care for him, but I haven't forgotten that he's an animal. I won't eat him, but I don't condemn people who raise rabbits as food, and I won't try to drive them out of business by lobbying Congress to make their industry illegal.

By the same token, I oppose the bills that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption. Mind you, no one eats horses in the United States. The bills' specific design is to forbid the exportation of horsemeat to countries where people do eat it. Supporters of the bills provide lots of justifications, but the essence of their argument is this: Horses are mankind's friends, you don't eat your friends.

"Horses are not like cows and pigs and goats," Jerry Finch of Habitat for Horses told The Christian Science Monitor. "They're like pets, and the idea of eating them is repulsive."

Repulsive to Mr. Finch, repulsive to most Americans perhaps, but not repulsive to many non-Americans - who the last time I checked hadn't been completely overtaken by American culture, thank Pegasus. In many of the lands beyond Fortress America, it is culturally acceptable to eat horsemeat. We shouldn't try to impose our disgust on them any more than France should close its borders to women who shave their armpits. God didn't make the world in the United States' image, and
we shouldn't strain ourselves trying to correct the flaw in his cosmic design.

I've never eaten horsemeat, but European friends tell me that it's tasty. I might like to try it some time, just as I tried crocodile in Cuba and guinea pig in Peru. It doesn't particularly bother me that horsemeat is unavailable in the United States, but I resent the movement, which borders on a crusade, to prevent Americans from selling horsemeat to others.

Horses die, don't they? We have to do something with their carcasses, don't we? I say feed them to Europeans and Japanese, if they're willing to pay. If the United States doesn't, others surely will. They'll get rich, while we have the unremunerative satisfaction of knowing that an American horse didn't become a foreigner's dinner. I'd rather that the United States participate in the trade than cede it to countries that might not slaughter horses as humanely as we would.

But the real problem isn't our strange sensibility toward horses. It's our treatment of pets in general - the proliferation of doggie bakeries, the politicians who tremble in fear of the pet vote and our willingness to spend thousands of dollars on geriatric medicine for Fifi when we wouldn't give a nickel for disadvantaged humans in our own community.

We've gone overboard with pets. We need a healthier balance. To the proposed ban, just say whoa!

Timothy O'Leary is on the editorial board of The Dallas Morning News.