November 3, 2003
NEWS: Rockford Register Star
Equine lovers are divided on using the animal for meat
MELISSA BIRKS‚ Rockford Register Star
In Belvidere, a 34-year-old mare named Molly folds
to her knees in the shade of a tree and dies. Her owner
feels guilty paying someone $250 to take her carcass away
but at least knows Molly died at home on her terms.
In Colorado, a teenage Appaloosa named Delilah has
proven incorrigible. She’s unruly, even dangerous. Her
owner takes her to an auction knowing that Delilah
probably is headed to a slaughterhouse.
The stories happened years apart, several states apart,
to two horse owners who will never know each other and, if
put together in a room, would consider the other an alien
So it is with the question of what to do with old
Horse lovers are divided: Put the animal out of its
misery? Let it die on its own? Send its body to a
rendering plant where it will be turned into pet food or
cosmetics? Or have it slaughtered for someone’s dinner
Now, the debate has made its presence known in the Rock
River Valley in the form of two 12-by-25-foot billboards,
one on Riverside Boulevard in Loves Park, the other on
Illinois 120 in Woodstock, that decry slaughtering horses
for people to eat.
“Keep America’s Horses In The Stable And Off the
Table!” they read.
The billboards’ sponsor, a Pennsylvania-based group
called the Equine Protection Network, chose the Rockford
area because it’s close to DeKalb, home to one of three
slaughterhouses in the country that sell horse meat
overseas for food.
“If you have love for that animal, how could you send
it” to a slaughterhouse, wonders Amy Walker, who owned
“Guilty as charged,” says Frank Bowman, who owned
Delilah. “I have sold horses knowing full and well
they’re going to slaughter, and they have. You recognize
that fact. It’s a personal choice.”
Illinois has about 200,000 horses, fifth in the nation.
The debate over what to do with animals like Molly and
Delilah has everything to do with culture, companionship,
business and the ancient relationship between man and the
beast that has carried him on its back for centuries.
Even politicians have gotten into the act, with one
U.S. representative and one Illinois state representative
this year floating similar laws that would essentially ban
exporting American horse meat for food. Both proposals
“It’s 100 percent a cultural issue. Americans
don’t slaughter and eat our domestic animals, our pets
and companions,” said Cathleen Doyle, of the
Sheryl King, director of Equine Studies at Southern
Illinois University, said she doesn’t want to debate who
eats what protein in what country.
“What I’m debating is how can we create a system in
the United States where horses are given the best care and
given the best and dignified end,” King said.
The Horsemen’s Council of Illinois, a
Springfield-based lobbying group for the industry, did a
“lot of soul-searching” before it endorsed the sale of
slaughtered horses for meat, said Bowman, its board
“The industry is split 50-50. It’s as divisive to
the horse industry as maybe something like abortion is to
the general society,” Bowman said. “There are two
camps: People who view them as livestock and people who
view them as companion animals.”
‘In the stables’
Children who learned to ride at Walker’s Marquis
Stables loved Molly. She was gentle and put up with kicks
of small leather-booted feet and frenetic tugs of little
hands on the reins.
Walker wasn’t home the Sunday afternoon Molly died.
She came home and, not knowing strict regulations for
burying horses, sent for the rendering service. Walker
would never consider taking a live horse to a
slaughterhouse for meat or anything else.
“It’s not even the death part — it’s going
there. I have seen so many horses be in fear,” Walker
said. “I’ve been in places where horses are in bad
situations. You see the look in their eyes, the fear that
Animals like Molly, you don’t turn into dinner, said
Christine Berry, head of the Equine Protection Network.
An anonymous donor put up the cash for an initial 14
billboards across the country this fall. Since then, new
donations have resulted in four more billboards.
The network wanted to place the Illinois billboards in
DeKalb, but spaces there were taken, so they chose
surrounding cities. The billboards went up in mid-October
and should be there for a month.
Berry hopes the billboards will enlighten millions of
Americans who have no clue that horse flesh is considered
a delicacy in other countries.
Two slaughterhouses that prepare horse meat for human
consumption are in Texas. Cavel International in DeKalb
operated for years before burning down in April 2002. When
it reopens early next year, it will be the third.
France, Belgium and Japan are major consumers. Search
under “horse meat” on the Internet and you can find
enough recipes for Kazakhstan favorites such as Shuzhuk
(uses horse guts) or Zhaya (made of horse’s hip) to fill
“Our culture determines what we eat,” Berry said
from Friedensburg, Pa. “We’re not telling people in
foreign countries what to eat. We just don’t want you
eating our horses.”
Berry’s group borrowed its slogan from a successful
1988 California campaign by HoofPAC to get voter approval
of a referendum prohibiting the slaughter or export of
horses for human consumption.
Doyle, HoofPAC’s founder, said she considered a
similar drive in Illinois but this state does not allow
for referendums to pass laws.
“I feel (Illinois) represents America,” Doyle said
from Sun Valley, Calif. “The location, the culture of
the state, even though it is home of a slaughter plant, I
feel it’s a good, solid state.”
Doyle said her group has polled across the nation.
“Whether you’re in the East, the West Coast, the
Midwest, the numbers don’t vary: 80 percent want our
On the table
James Tucker has been interviewed by enough reporters,
quoted enough, to know that there is no nice way to
describe how horses die at Cavel International.
“It’s humane slaughter, approved by the
government,” said Tucker, who is Cavel’s controller.
Cavel buys horses from so-called “killer buyers,”
who get them at auctions around the country. Horses come
to the block old, blind, lame, tired. They come strong and
healthy, maybe unsuitable for riding. For whatever reason,
the owner has relinquished the animal.
Cavel supporters, such as King from Southern Illinois
University, say they’ve been inside Cavel and, while
it’s not pretty, what happens there is not inhumane.
They also say slaughterhouses serve an ugly reality in
the equine world: owners who are unable, or unwilling, to
pay to keep “Old Blue” alive. They don’t want to —
or can’t — pay a veterinarian to euthanize the animal
or for a rendering service to dispose of it.
So they turn to auctions, getting rid of the horse for
the going per-pound rate.
Take away places like Cavel and “a good number of
people are just going to turn ‘Old Blue’ out to fend
for himself and die a horrible death. I don’t want to
see that happen,” King said.
Bowman agrees. The Horsemen’s Council of Illinois
recently published a position statement on the issue,
saying slaughtering horses for human consumption should be
an option for “the overall health” of the industry.
Bowman’s business is horse breeding. He has 30
horses. For him and other breeders, the issue boils down
Some beasts like Delilah, which Bowman worked with for
years before auctioning, can probably never be sold as
recreational animals. Some mares become infertile and end
up financially draining as they just “sit there and eat
Sometimes, economics and heart find common ground.
Bowman tells the story of Old Glory, a 32-year-old bay
fox trotter that had given him foals for 24 years. She was
tired. She had lost her teeth. Her muscle mass was fading.
To put her through another winter wasn’t fair.
A few weeks ago, Bowman put Old Glory to sleep.
“That’s a hard decision, too,” he said.
“That’s a personal decision, too.”
He buried her right there on the farm because
“she’d been so good to me.”
Copyright Rockford Register Star