During my watch as Executive Director of the Livestock Board, I and our inspectors were directly engaged in numerous cases involving starved, neglected, abandoned and otherwise abused horses. It was always disturbing and often heartbreaking.
It was also clear to me that seizure and criminal prosecution, however appropriate, cannot on its own provide sufficient response to the real problem.
There is an accumulation in the United States of more than 100,000 unwanted horses each year. Because processing plants in the United States were closed several years ago, most now end up in slaughter plants either in Mexico or Canada, where the United States has no regulatory control or oversight.
In addition, the “captive market” situation has caused values to be very low to virtually zero for unwanted horses. Over the last several years, especially because of the weak economy and widespread drought, many horses have been abandoned, neglected and otherwise left to starve, and there is nothing right about that.
If slaughter plants are banned in this country and export to foreign slaughter plants is stopped, there will be no way to deal with the numbers. Rescue and adoption are noble endeavors, but offer a woefully insufficient solution in the face of the problem’s overwhelming scope.
Euthanasia and disposal of that many horses, absent processing facilities, is an utter practical and economic impossibility.
When it comes to livestock, and for that matter all domestic animals under our stewardship, death is an inevitability subject to the control and moral responsibility of us humans, a responsibility that cannot be shirked without cruel and devastating consequences. There are, therefore, only two possible ends – a good death or a bad death.
Starvation and neglect lead to a bad death, yet veterinary euthanasia and disposal of so many unwanted horses is absurdly impossible. With these realities in mind, the availability of well-regulated processing facilities operating under good humane practices do much more to offer the prospects of a good death and the only economical, decent end for horses with no other alternative.
I grew up on a ranch that raised and used a lot of good horses. The exceptional cowponies we retained were looked upon as partners and workmates, and many ultimately lived out their days there in retirement.
When their time came, they deserved and received the respect of a good death. I never sent a horse to slaughter, nor would I have; but not many owners, or horses, have that luxury, and for them there must be practical, economic and humane alternatives.
It is complicit and immoral on the part of this society and its leaders to allow horses to die the bad deaths of starvation and abuse, simply to indulge irrational emotions. Genuine compassion demands more of us than that.