The Horse Magazine
Across the Fence
Just Say No to HR 857
by: Suzanne Wilcox, DVM
August 2004 Article # 2479
Welcome to the ugly side of veterinary medicine--horse slaughter. Now there is a subject most horse enthusiasts don't want to deal with. But because we don't live in a perfect world, horse slaughter is a necessary evil.
Let me state right now that I am not pro-slaughter. I am pro-horse. I care about the health and well-being of horses; that is why I became a veterinarian. I wish no horse would have to go to slaughter and that all unwanted horses could be lovingly cared for to the end of their days--but that would be in a perfect world, and we are not yet in that world.
So, to be very frank with you, I would rather see an unwanted horse go off to slaughter than suffer a cruel death of slow starvation or abuse that lasts weeks before the animal finally dies.
The proposed HR 857, The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, now in front of Congress could severely limit the ability of horse owners to decide how to deal with horses they no longer want or can't care for. On the surface, stopping horse slaughter may sound like a good idea that is good for our beloved horses, but dig a little deeper into the details of HR 857 and you'll find that, if passed, this legislation could be very bad for the horse industry and, more importantly, very bad for the welfare of our horses.
What happens to old, sick, or unwanted horses when owners are unable or unwilling to provide proper care? If the horses can't be sent to slaughter, how many owners of these animals will try to find alternative shelter and care? Some are too proud or vain to ask for help, others just won't want to. How many will let these animals die a lingering, horrific, and lonely death? And what about the other unwanted horses--those who are broken down or who simply are not serving their owners' purposes any more? How many can be "adopted" and cared for? What happens to horses such as racehorses that aren't fast enough or are injured? Will they be turned out into a lush pasture for 20 years of rest and relaxation? Not in our imperfect world! How many will illegally be packed into transport vehicles and hauled for hours and days only to end up in slaughter plants in Canada or Mexico--plants that are not monitored by the USDA?
HR 857 grossly fails to make adequate provisions for the long-term care and well-being of unwanted horses. The government cannot take care of our pensioner humans, let alone pensioner equines. It is very difficult to place an older horse--or any horse with issues-- especially if they require medications or special treatment. It is often financially impossible to lay that burden on another person as well.
We simply cannot "absorb" these horses into an already saturated system when horses can live 30-plus years and cost the average owner $5 a day to keep a single horse.
If HR 857 passes as written, thousands upon thousands of horses will be left in the hands of owners who no longer want them. What will become of these horses? It doesn't take much imagination to know that the answer is not pretty.
The passage of HR 857, as written, will also encourage illegal transport of horses to slaughter at unregulated processing plants in Mexico and Canada because the bill doesn't provide any specifics on how illegal transport would be stopped or who will do the enforcing. Do you really think people will stop hauling horses to slaughter simply because Congress passed a bill?
Here's another aspect to consider about HR 857 that should just scare you silly. HR 857 proposes to make illegal the transport of horseflesh and live horses for slaughter "and for other purposes." Who defines "other purposes?"
I have been told that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is lurking in the background of this bill. This can only spell trouble with a capital "T." It would not take long for PETA to define "other purposes" as transporting a horse to a show, a rodeo, or a trail ride.
The bottom line: When considering HR 857, decide who will benefit and who will not. Base your decision on fact, not fiction or emotion. On the surface, HR 857 sounds like it will benefit the horse, but as it is written, HR 857 has far more potential for causing our horses great suffering. And horse owners could lose the right to use their horses as they please.
Just say no to HR 857.