A week ago, Kelly Young of York, Pa., stood at a horse auction in rural Pennsylvania and eyed a pen filled with 500 horses, most fated for slaughter in the only two places in North America still barbaric enough to kill horses for human consumption: Canada and Texas.
This particular day, Young, who owns a rescue farm and currently cares for 52 horses, surveyed a herd of many thoroughbreds and ordinary work horses, trying to determine how she could save them from the "killer buyers" who work for the slaughterhouses.
But at the end of the day, Young had rescued only two of the 500 including an old, road-weary horse that placed his head on her lap when she went into the pen to look him over.
"I swear that horse had the saddest eyes I've ever seen," Young said. "I knew and the horse knew that I was his very last chance on earth."
That single, sad-eyed horse newly named Porter is now a symbol for me for how we Texans have literally sold our soul to the highest bidder.
Like many Texans, I did not know until recently that Texas has the only two horse slaughter plants left in the United States. I figured if there was any place in the world where Flicka and her friends were safe, it would be Texas. I was wrong.
For years, two foreign-owned slaughterhouses one, Beltex USA, is north of Fort Worth and the other, Dallas Crown in Kaufman County have done a booming business. In these plants, as many as 160 horses a day are slaughtered and the meat is shipped overseas where the French eat it as steak and the Japanese eat it as sashimi.
Pat Dickey is a horse-dealer near Marble Falls who, like Young, has done her part to rescue horses from the slaughterhouses. She watched how horses die in those plants. Here is how Dickey described how Texans kill horses:
"First the horses are run through a chute and restrained. They're frantic and fight hard. Many of them move their heads wildly. They are stunned given a penetrarting bolt that deadens them and then hooked on a chain, hoisted from a rafter, their throats are slit and they bleed to death."
At the start of this year's legislative session, Dickey and others who oppose such slaughter discovered a long-forgotten 1949 Texas law banning the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
"We realized these companies are breaking the law and set about trying to shut 'em down," said Dickey. "But then we got stunned ourselves, just like the horses."
As if to prove the old adage that no one men, women, children and now horses is safe when the Texas Legislature is in session, the two companies convinced state Rep. Betty Brown, R-Terrell, to carry a bill making it legal to slaughter horses in Texas for human consumption outside the United States. Astonishingly, the bill passed the Texas House, 81 to 53. It's now tied up in committee in the Senate.
Brown's bizarre argument, as articulated in a speech on the floor of the Texas House, is as follows: "Do we want the animal rights people to set ag (agricultural) policy for our state from now on?"
Those are fightin' words in Texas, and Dickey, for one, resents being labeled as an "animal rights" person.
"I love a good hamburger and I wear leather," said Dickey, defiantly. "But horses aren't raised for slaughter. Whoever heard of a cow that ran in the Kentucky Derby?"
Years ago, J. Frank Dobie, the legendary Texas folklorist, wrote a poem, The Mustangs, that foreshadowed this sad day. "I see them vanishing, vanishing, vanished," Dobie said of the wild horses. "The seas of grass shriveled to pens of barb-wired property, the wind-racers and wind-drinkers bred into property also."
First, the horses became property. Next thing you know, horse-burgers.
The solution is for the U.S. Congress to pass a bill that would make it illegal even in Texas to export horse meat for human consumption. Some things are beyond politics.
If the French and Japanese want horse meat, let them eat cake and sushi.
Jan Jarboe Russell can be reached at email@example.com.