I am starting this post in a coffee shop at the airport in Belize City in Central America. Alan and I spent a week hanging out at the beach, scuba diving (only once after 2 cancellations due to wind), and trying to survive the streets of San Pedro in a golf cart. While my mind was clear and I had no obligations, I spent some time processing my four posts about the horse auction/slaughter pipeline. I have done an incredible amount of research, with more interviews yet to come.
I decided this post would be an attempt to summarize and yes, process, what I have learned and what I hope you have learned. Additionally, there are some random facts that I have uncovered that haven’t previously made their way into a post.
As I mentioned in Part One, I embarked on this enlightening, and depressing, journey by accident. I innocently started doing some Continuing Education units to maintain my veterinary license. I was waylaid and have yet to get back to that initial task. What I have learned about the role of veterinarians and the detrimental influence wielded by large, theoretically horse-friendly organizations has opened my previously naive eyes.
The Cliff’s Notes Summary
Part One illuminated the fact that the veterinary profession has little to no oversight on the health, security, humane treatment, and transport of equines in the horse auction/slaughter pipeline. Furthermore, the more research I have done, the more I have learned that the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), and the American Professional Rodeo Association (APRA), among others, are pro-slaughter.
Keith Kleine, Director of Industry Relations at AAEP, has told me that 75% of their members support equine slaughter. However, I have repeatedly asked for more information on that poll. I want to know how it was conducted, how many members responded, and what type of practice those responding members operated. In spite of repeated queries, I have not been given any answers. Why not?
I have spoken to someone at AVMA. Someone higher in the food chain was supposed to call me back. She never did.
Early on, I spoke with Gail Vacca, founder of llinois Equine Humane Center. Gail lives in the same state where the DeKalb horse processing plant operated until it was finally closed down in September of 2007. Gail told me that the first year that the DeKalb plant closed, AQHA registrations plummeted by 60%! Many breeders were wantonly overbreeding and only keeping “the best of the best,” and disposing of their culls in the slaughterhouse.
If registration funds and membership funds dropped precipitously, why wouldn’t AQHA decision-makers fight any attempt to outlaw equine slaughter? As so many of us already understand, the Almighty Dollar usually has the last word. It appears that an organization that most of us would assume stands for the best interests of the horse chooses instead to stand for the best interests of those making money.
Part Two of this series detailed the history of equine slaughter in the United States. The biggest takeaway from that installment is the fact that the number of horses exported to Mexico or Canada for the actual purpose of slaughter has declined significantly in the past 10 years. This is primarily due to a decrease in demand, thanks in large part to the European Union requiring a 6-month quarantine for horses destined for slaughter. Animals’ Angels had much to do with this decision.
The second critical point described in Part Two addresses the belief that deregulating the inspection of horses for slaughter would, in effect, stop horse slaughter in the United States. Perhaps it did stop it on domestic soil, but it most certainly did not stop the practice of slaughtering US horses.
Part Three is, in my opinion, the most critical what-do-you-need-to-know-right-now installment in this series. Remember how I just stated that the number of horses actually exported for slaughter has declined significantly in recent years? Does that fact jive with what you see on your Facebook feed? NO! That is because the horse auction pipeline has largely replaced the horse slaughter pipeline.
The third installment is a comprehensive examination of what happens to horses offered for sale at auction houses across the country. If we are to believe what we see on our Facebook pages, thousands of horses are loaded onto trucks each week and consigned to a horrible death in largely unregulated slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada.
To be sure, every week there are horses that suffer that awful fate. There are horses being slaughtered for consumption, with the majority of the horse meat shipped to Japan, Russia, and Hong Kong. However, does the number of horses represented on our Facebook feeds as absolutely destined for the slaughterhouse unless YOU intervene match up with the actual number of horses exported each week, month, or year? I think not…
Part Four piggybacks on Part Three when it comes to discussing how an individual might discern fact from fiction. When I started writing this series, I knew nothing. I am a trusting person, and I assumed that folks that I perceived to be “rescuing horses” were, in fact, really rescuing horses.
I am a veterinarian. I took an oath that promised that I would be a good steward of animals and that my actions would improve and enhance their lives. That is my frame of reference. It took going down this rabbit hole for my incredibly naïve eyes to be opened. I have learned that there are many, many people and organizations that I would assume were truly helping animals that are absolutely not doing that. We all know what assume stands for… We should keep our asses in the pasture and not let ourselves be turned into one.
Are your eyes open?
One of the many things I have learned as a result of my research is that rescues groups are on a continuum, and many good rescues have some fundamental differences of opinion. Good rescues disagree on whether or not horses should ever be purchased directly from a kill buyer. Part Three described the horse auction pipeline in great detail. Horses that are, in theory, destined for slaughter are often not in danger of that fate at all.
Instead, they are purchased at auction for the express purpose of remarketing online. The marketing ploy is to convince you that they are, indeed, at great risk of being slaughtered. A small percentage might actually be… but most are not. Instead, the “kill buyers” who used to supply the actual slaughterhouses have much less of a quota to fill. However, they are still happy horse flippers because they have the bleeding-heart public to profit from.
One only has to plunk “horse rescue” into the group search on Facebook and you can find enough results to keep you busy for a long while. Join a few of those groups and your feed will be filled with photos of pitiful horses who will die tomorrow if you don’t intervene.
However, join a few different groups and your feed will populate with incredible stories of horses truly rehabilitated and on their way to a much better life. This is also true of the dog rescue world. I am a member of Doberman, Border collie, and all-breed rescue groups. On a constant basis, I can see posts about the progress and rehabilitation of previously scared, broken, emaciated, and neglected dogs.
If you learn only one thing from this post and the previous four in the series, let it be this…
If you can’t follow the progress of an individual horse from RESCUE to REHABILITATION to REHOMING (or SANCTUARY,) then you are probably not following a truly legitimate rescue operation.
Another thought… any rescue that you support should allow you to follow their horses, and not be showing you photos and providing updates on animals rescued by other organizations. There is a great deal of time and money invested in rehabilitating an abused horse, so there should be no lack of photographic evidence of the good work a group is doing with their own horses. An organization that is putting the needs of their animals first will be excited to share with you what a difference they are making directly.
There shouldn’t be excessive drama associated with a healthy, legitimate organization. Employees and volunteers are all committed to the same goal. While there will always be varying opinions about how to handle many aspects of rescue and follow-up care, the end result is the same… what results in a happier and healthier horse?
I started a support group for families parenting children with attachment issues. It became a national nonprofit. I cherished my volunteers. I was always interested in their feedback and I was totally open to a different way of doing something as long as it improved the lives of the families we served. Rather than experiencing conflict, we had the utmost appreciation and respect for each other.
Regulations and Realities
All legitimate rescues should have nonprofit status, and this is a first step in determining if an organization is one you want to support financially. However, just because a rescue does have that status doesn’t mean that your homework is done. Read Part Four to learn ways that you can further evaluate the legitimacy and true mission of a rescue organization.
Keep in mind that nonprofit means exactly what it says. While it is legitimate for a nonprofit organization to make enough money to pay employees and support the operation, no one is getting rich. In my nonprofit, I put in a ridiculous amount of hours building and supporting it. I never made a dime. In fact, I subsidized it. Many of the incredible people that I have met who are running equally incredible operations are doing so because they have a job that is supporting their rescue work.
Even stellar, legitimate rescues will need to occasionally euthanize a horse they tried to rehabilitate. I have mentioned refeeding syndrome in previous posts. Not all starved horses can safely and successfully restart their damaged intestinal tracts. However, the euthanasia rate for a good rescue is very, very low. Furthermore, you can still follow the journey of that individual horse and learn what happened to it after leaving the auction facility. There is total transparency.
Final thoughts and what’s to come…
I have mentioned and linked to many organizations and rescue operations in this series. As I have stated repeatedly, my understanding of what is really happening has soared. When you know better, do better. I am pleading with anyone reading this series… please stop and think about if what you are seeing on Facebook is truly accurate. Just because you saw it on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true. Be suspicious! Do research! Look for transparency! Ask questions and demand answers! That applies to any charitable organization you intend to support. Do your due diligence!
There are many, many really awesome rescues out there doing amazing things. You can support a rescue in the Gili Islands, or a Thoroughbred rescue, or an Arabian rescue, or just about any breed you choose. It is very similar to the dog rescue world. I really didn’t understand before I started this series that there are truly some amazing horses available through rescue groups. For whatever reason, I wasn’t afraid to adopt a messed-up dog, but I was reluctant to climb on to a messed-up horse. I now understand that the really good rescues are truly rehabilitating and training some wonderful horses. My next horse will be from a rescue.
So what’s next? I have an interview scheduled with Craig Downer, author of The Wild Horse Conspiracy. You can learn more about him at his website. We will discuss both sides of the Mustang issue, not the least of which is the debate about sending Mustangs to slaughter. I will also be talking to Temple Grandin. Although I haven’t heard it directly from her, she is apparently pro-slaughter, and she believes that a humane slaughter procedure can be developed for horses. Again, those two tidbits of information came to me second hand, so I look forward to talking with Dr. Grandin.
Stay tuned, there is much more to come!