One of the more moronic comparisons I have seen lately is likening horse slaughter to abortion. The standard PSA argument is that some men support abortion, but obviously this doesn’t affect them. This means they can support slaughter even though they wouldn’t choose it for their own horses. Oh really? I suppose that everybody wanting an abortion was raped or accidentally inseminated , because men obviously have nothing to do with pregnancy or have feelings about an unborn fetus they happen to have sired. Maybe you really can get pregnant off a public toilet seat . Who knew? I don’t want to get into the abortion debate here at all. It’s always inflammatory and never gets anywhere. I know where I stand and that’s good enough. I can’t fight every battle nor do I want to. I do know the crux of the issue is the question of when life begins and what is murder. Since PSAs like to compare everything, I would have to say that comparing horse slaughter to abortion is ridiculous. There is no question that the animals involved are very much alive and do suffer. We don’t need scientists and religious leaders to debate this at all.
You see, many of the more vocal PSAs will tell you that they would never slaughter their own horses, but believe there needs to be this option out there for `others’. I would think if slaughter is such a viable and harmless option, they would jump all over it. Why pay out money to have your horse euthanized, when you could get it done for free or even make a couple of dollars? Don’t tell me that this vague and unrealistic qualifier of `minimal’ suffering isn’t good enough for YOUR horse. Maybe they have horses that are more special than the `others’. I know we have one PSA blogger out there that would have you believe her horse was some sort of omniscient being the likes of which can only be found in Greek mythology. The more fantastical the stories are about him, the taller he gets. I’ve seen him listed as everything from 17hh to 17.3hh. From pictures I’ve seen of him, he might have been around 16.2 or 3, and that’s perfectly ok. Good horses come in all shapes, colors and sizes. Surely death in a slaughter-house would never be acceptable for a horse such as this.
This concept of `others’ is something that really disturbs me. Most horse people will tell you about at least one good or special horse they have had. I know I have an old horse I swear has hung the moon and strung the stars. I feel like he really knows and understands me. I don’t suppose anybody else feels that way about him although many people like the old guy. He’s pretty cute. I have worked with lots of horses I didn’t own and I know they all have their own personalities. I remember crying my eyes out when a horse in our barn got claimed and I was the one that had to hand him over to the new connections. I was more upset than his owners were, probably because I was the one that lived with that horse, traveled with that horse and knew him best to that point. I wasn’t sad because I didn’t think he would be treated right, I was sad because I was going to miss HIM. The point is that every horse has the potential to be special to somebody. The sad reality is that many horses will never find their people and we’ll never know their personalities. That does not mean they suffer less in a kill box. Watch some of the footage that has been widely posted of horse slaughter. I will never forget seeing those horses trembling and one of them nickering and reaching out to the shooter and him mocking it. Go ahead and call me over-emotional, but it bothers me.
I’ve held horses to be euthanized. Way more than I ever wanted to. Along with my own, I’ve held other people’s horses that were too emotional to be there and I have held horses on the request from my vet because he knew I would handle it humanely. It’s not a fun thing to do and I’m not going to paint a flowery pic of it. My job was to keep the horse quiet and prevent it from hurting itself when it went down. It’s even worse when it’s your own horse you are holding, but it is some comfort to know they weren’t afraid and there was zero suffering involved. That is never the case in a slaughter plant. Call it harvesting, call it processing, or whatever else you want to make it sound less harsh. The fact remains horses are stunned with the captive bolt and then bled out while they are still alive. Yes, we assume they are stunned senseless, but how do we really know? I’ve come off my gigantic horse and had the wind knocked out of me and been unable to move for a few minutes. Believe me, while I was lying on the ground in a puddle of humility, I still felt EVERYTHING. Many horses need more than one shot on with the gun to even get to the `senseless’ stage. Put your own horse in that situation. Put any living creature in that situation and if you think that’s ok, I don’t think I want to know you. Every single horse has the ability to feel fear and pain, not just the `special’ ones we choose to anthropomorphize. Every single one.
Now that we have got the emotional stuff out of the way, let’s talk numbers. According to the Unwanted Horse Coalition, as of 2007 there was an estimated 170,000 unwanted horses. I’m not sure how much credence this number deserves but since it is the one that Slaughterhouse Sue and her minions like to screech about, we’ll go with it. Existing slaughter plants in Canada claim to be able to process up to 300 horses per day. That would mean they would effectively wipe out the entire unwanted horse population in about a year and a half as long as we stop creating unwanted horses. For our black and white PSA buddies, realize that NOBODY has suggested that we never breed another horse, but if we stopped the indiscriminate breeding of poor quality stock, the number of unwanted horses would be drastically reduced. If we do stop breeding poor quality horses, the rescues will more than be able to handle the `others’ that don’t have a category. They do happen to breed for slaughter in Canada and keep them in feedlots. Of course they are going to do it in the US as well regardless of what you might want to believe. This was NEVER about unwanted horses or horse welfare. It has ALWAYS been about making money for Slaughterhouse Sue and her Belgian buddies.
I have yet to see an actual feasibility study on the cost to retro-fit and run the proposed slaughter plants. If anybody actually has one, please link me. Right now the best estimates average the cost of euthanasia and disposing of a horse to come in around the $400 mark. This means proper disposal with no environmental impact. The average yearly salary of a USDA Inspector is $39k a year. Clearly most slaughter plants will need more than one. Then you need to factor in all the other costs associated with running a slaughter-house (salaries for skilled and unskilled workers, utilities, etc.) Would it not be cheaper to put the same funding towards subsidizing euthanasia and hosting gelding clinics? If you did that for a few years running, it would humanely deal with the majority of the unwanted horse population and you could then phase out those programs. It will never take care of all unwanted horses because we will still have mentally ill people abusing and hoarding them and re-opening slaughter-houses isn’t fix that either. Without regulations, we will never be able to stop everybody from backyard breeding, but if we take away the easy option of slaughter then it will continue to discourage many would-be breeders.
People have been fighting to reopen slaughter houses since the last one closed in 2007. They have gotten louder and nastier as time has gone by. Very few, if any PSAs have ever looked at another option other than fighting to reverse the legislation that effectively brought about the closures and blocking any efforts to move forward. In many ways they are a lot like rats in a maze hunting for their piece of cheese. They will continue to attempt to go the shortest route to their cheese as long as they see a sliver of opportunity. Perhaps it is time to shut down that path once and for all and then maybe they will look at other options that will ultimately be in the best interests for all horses.