Thursday, December 29, 2011

An anti-horse-slaughter screed

Hey, c'mere. I want to show you something.

See this piece of paper, here? It's an export health certificate. There are a million different types of these. This particular one is for exporting multiple horses from the US to Canada for slaughter.

There's a horse-trader in town. What you'd call the kill buyer. They ship 30 horses to Canada, every week without fail. Each shipment must be inspected by a veternarian, and the health certificate must be typed up by that vet's office. Guess who gets to type them up.

There's not a lot that goes into it. There is an ID number and brief description of each horse (provided by the shipper). All we do is have a vet inspect the horses and then put his signiture on a list of requirements that each animal must pass before they are able to cross the border. Here are the requirements and my comments:

1) Be 6 months of age or older. (Most kill buyers only want larger, therefore fully adult, horses so this usually isn't an issue - I believe this statement is on there so that mares aren't sent with nursing foals. But in theory, a robust 4 month old could easily be mistaken for a 6 month old. It's not like anyone's checking papers, here.)
2) Be able to stand and walk.
3) Not be pregnant enough to give birth during transport or on the slaughterhouse floor (This is difficult, even for a vet, to judge from simply glancing at a mare. How many people have bought a mare and had a "surprise" foal show up a week later because no one noticed she was pregnant? It's not like the vet is doing an ultrasound, here.)
4) Show no evidence of "communicable disease" (which translates to: "no obvious runny nose or cough"; the vet is not required to take temperatures, or test fecal samples, or anything else besides look for snot.)
5) Not be blind in both eyes. (This could easily be missed unless there is extreme cloudyiness in both eyes or both eyes are atrophied or missing)
6) Have resided in the US or Canada since birth. (I have no idea how the trader or the vet would know this, since the vast majority of these horses are purchased at auction days or weeks before being shipped with potentially zero known history)
7) The horses must not have set hoof in Texas or New Mexico in the last 21 days. Again, see my point at number 5.
8) Must not have any condition that could be made worse by shipping that would cause the animal to suffer. This is quite vague, and open to a lot of interpretation.

Basically, except for the "being able to walk" part, these are all either unenforceable with the current record-keeping requirements (basically none), inspection requirements (small), or very vague. I suspect, what the USDA's being all, "sheesh, calm down about those isolated incidents, guyz, here we'll put in some language that will magically make transportation of slaughter-bound horses humane."

Now, before I go any further, let me just get a couple things out of the way. Being a veterinary technician at a large animal vet in a rural, mostly conservative, town means I've had the privelege of standing quietly in the background while horse owners chat or rant with each other or the doctors about all kinds of subjects, including horses slaughter. Each and every person with a pro-slaughter slant seems to think those of us who are against it are stupid, sentimental blubber-heads who don't know what it's like in "the real (horse) world".

"Stupid" is too subjective to quantify. But I am not, by any measure, sentimental. I have nothing against killing horses per se. I have nothing against the consumption of horse meat per se. Under the right circumstances, I'd be happy to eat horse meat myself. I'm a big-game hunter. I have no problem shooting large animals, cleaning the carcuss, butchering and eating the meat.

So anyone who'd like to dismiss my opinions on that basis, let us just move on to the facts.

(I fully admit that many who are anti-slaughter are very sentimental. That doesn't mean they're wrong.)

Horse slaughter advocates are only in it for the money. They try to distract from their main motivation by talking about "high quality meat" that could "feed the hungry", but it's all really about making a few bucks. They even admit it, to a certain degree: The United Organizations of the Horse, a political organization primarily focused on lobbying to make horse slaughter easier, says they support "the right of others to market their horses in a way that provides financial return, and a valuable commodity, high quality meat, that is welcomed by a worldwide market. " (emphasis mine)

Financial return is really the only benefit for the current model of horse slaughter. A horse owner can make a few bucks from their horse instead of having to spend money to train; or market; or feed for a few more years; or humanely euthanize and ship to a zoo or large cat sanctuary; or send to a rendering plant; or rent a bulldozer to dig a hole in the back pasture, etc.

Of course, there are many "unwanted" (or just unmarketed or unlucky) horses that can't be sold for slaughter, either legally, or because even the kill buyer doesn't want them. If the horse is  too old, too lame, sick, injured, too pregnant, too skinny, etc, then the owner still has to find an alternative to slaughter. Kill buyers are looking for fat, healthy horses because they bring more money per shipment. Any argument about how slaughter helps people dispose of "Old Lame Nessy" is pure BS.

The "environmental cost" of not being able to slaughter horses is BS, too. Something between 90%-99% of the total population of horses that die every year in the US do so without going through a slaughter plant. Why not the other 10%? Not to mention that pro-slaughter people regularly forget that rendering plants are still alive and well and plentiful and LEGAL in in the US. They probably forget about them because, you just don't make much money, if any, from sending your horses remains there.

Horse slaughter is not humane in its current form. Now, the CAFO's (beef, pork, and poultry industries) have their own humane issues to deal with, but that's an issue for another day. Because horse slaughter is very different from other types of meat production, and you can, in fact, deal with them separately. (For the record, I'm not a fan of farmed elk, either).

Horse slaughter is most closely modeled after cattle, but they're two very different creatures. Horses are naturally more flighty, nervous, and prone to panic than any of the popular meat animals. They have a long, upright neck and longer legs. No one would dream of putting a horse in a head-catch, yet somehow it's ok to put them through slaughter plants designed for cattle? In theory, it's probably possible to build a slaughter facility that is humane for mass slaughter of horses, but I doubt anyone will bother building it.

Speaking of cattle, let me show you something else from work:

The first is a label from a cattle drug. It has been extensively tested and you know exactly how long to wait before the animal can safely be slaughtered for human consumption. The second is a relatively common drug used in horses. It's just one of many equine products not meant for meat animals.

 I think I've seen one or two drugs that have actual withdrawl times for horses, and if I remember what they are I'll photograph them, but the majority don't. Think of phenylbutazone, which every horse owner knows affectionately as "bute". Most horse owners keep a few tubs of powder or tubes of paste on hand and give it out like candy. Who even keeps track of who got some 'bute, anyway? It doesn't matter, since no one is keeping track of drug or other contamination in horse meat. In the cattle, pork, poultry industry, it's much more tightly controlled. There are records on every animal. The meat, milk, and eggs are tested periodically by the USDA.

Much of it comes down to this: Some animals are bred and raised to be eaten. Horses are not (at least not in the US or Canada).

And as far as us anti-slaughter advocates not "living in the real world": that's rich coming from people who are basically freaking out that they can't make a living breeding horses in the 21st century. To them I say: cry me a river. Things change, time marches on, technology moves on. Horses are a luxury item now. Start treating them as such instead of cheap, throw-away items to be slaughtered by the thousands. Maybe you'd get better prices for them.

Also check out the recent discussion on this topic at Fugly Horse of the Day:

Monday, December 19, 2011



I've noticed something interesting since I started fostering Holly; black dogs are easy to see in the dark, but tan dogs are invisible after dusk. It seems counter intuitive (a lighter color should reflect more light, right?), until you go on a night walk (a necessity right now since it's dark long before I get out of work). If you're anywhere near a town, there is more than enough light pollution to see just fine after a few minutes without a flashlight. Once your eyes have adjusted, you can see that the night isn't that dark. The coal-black of a border collie's coat stands out against everything except the deepest shadow. Holly is impossible to spot until she's about 20 feet away. Sometimes you can see her white chest and tail tip moving, eerily independent of any other obvious form.

The place I go walking now adays is on some vacant land near a dry canal. Mostly we walk on the old, weed-infested service road that follows along the banks of the canal. I haven't lived here long enough to know if it will run with water come summer. Every year there are more and more abandoned canals; they're being replaced with underground pipes. Less leakage. Suits me fine. I like to walk down in the middle of the canal sometimes. It's darker and harder to see. The risk from a twisted angle is greater as there are a lot of loose rocks. But it provide amazing protection from the wind, which this time of year feels like someone pressing handfuls of ice cubes against the sides of my face even when I'm wearing a hat.

I use to do a lot of night hikes as a teenager. Sometimes with a friend, but usually by myself and the dog. I grew up was in the middle of the Oregon coastal rain forest and had miles of logging road at my disposal. I'd bring a flashlight but rarely turn it on. Even out there, with no light pollution and a heavy canopy of 40 year old Douglas fir overhead, there was usually enough light to hike with as long as you stayed on a road. Gravel actually reflects quite a bit of light and is a smooth enough surface to allow you to see obstacles, even if they are little more than dark blobs. If the path went through an area of particular blackness, I'd grab onto the dog's collar and and let him lead me.

I've never felt afraid of the dark. The opposite, in fact. When you're out in the night, and you stay quiet and don't shine a light, you become part of it. If there is any other person out there, you can hear and see them coming long before they'd see you. Darkness is camouflage and anonymity. For a shy, instinctively reclusive person like me, these are qualities you crave, deep down.

There's also the mystery that night lends to every-day objects. Two nights ago, halfway through our walk, I called the dogs over for a periotic check-in and Sammy had something dark and baseball-sized in her mouth. She refused to drop it, even for a treat. Without thinking, I reached in and pulled it from her mouth and discovered it was a half-rotted cat head.

I have a trick when I want to distract the dogs from something disgusting on the trail. In this case, I gently set the head on the ground (silently congratulating myself for suppressing the urge to throw it. I do not want to get into a game of fetch with a rotting head), grabbed two dogs by the scruffs, and run in the opposite direction. Zelda is very easy to convince to run with you, and once she's started the two younger dogs will usually follow. Thus was a cat head forgotten and neither rolled on nor eaten.