story by Heather Johnson of the North Platte Telegraph
Voices of Reason Enter Bloody Horse Slaughter Debate
NORTH PLATTE – The idea of reopening horse processing plants is causing controversy across the nation. Finding an agreeable alternative is proving to be difficult.
“In 99 cases out of 100, people have options,” said The Humane Society of the United States president and CEO Wayne Pacelle. “Any time someone gets an animal, they have an ethical responsibility to care for that animal.”
He said if they can’t, then they should try to adopt the animal out. If that doesn’t work, they should try a sanctuary. If that doesn’t work, the next step is euthanasia administered by a veterinarian. He said there are few people in a situation where they can’t find a horse a new home or euthanize it humanely.
“We’re not seeing the people who have been foreclosed upon or lost their jobs driving the debate,” Pacelle said. “The ones driving the debate are those who are profiting from it. Those include killer buyers, breeders or others involved in the agriculture industry with a throw away mentality. That’s an issue of greed and selfishness – not of not having any economic alternatives.”
He said having slaughterhouses as an outlet provides the wrong incentives for breeding. He said education is key to curbing the horse population, but help is needed from the agriculture industry.
“The problem rests with those who continue to churn out horses,” said Pacelle. “No one is putting a gun to anyone’s head and telling them to breed horses. They’re not raised for meat in America. They’re not considered livestock in my family and not by a lot of people I know.”
“That’s not true of horses,” he said. “They’re companion animals until the wrong person buys them.”
Holland said that the problem of excess horses is not caused by a lack of slaughter, because when the U.S. plants closed, slaughter quickly shifted to the borders. He said as many horses are going to slaughter now as there ever were – and at the same price.
Some say economy to blame
Instead, he blamed the influx on the economy and people not being able to afford horses. Holland said the market went down when the economy went down, and said the perfect time to stop transportation across the borders to slaughter will be when things start to rebound.
“Right now breeders are throwing in the towel, but as soon as the economy starts to improve, people will start to breed again,” he said. “Before they do, will be our golden opportunity to call off slaughter.”
Holland offered some alternatives in the meantime. He suggested the American Veterinary Medical Association establish a contingency fund that would provide grants to vets to offset the cost of euthanasia for people who couldn’t afford it.
He said he would also like to see more classes for older horses added to shows to encourage people to keep their horses and continue competing on them.
“We can’t rescue our way out of slaughter, but rescue groups have to be a part of the solution,” said Holland. He said it’s cheaper for rescuers to give a financially struggling owner some hay than to take in another horse.
“Plus, if rescues in place are conducted, then a horse already has a future owner, which is its current owner,” he said.
He said studies show no reliable relationship between slaughter rates and the frequency of abuse and neglect cases.
“When we chase down cases, we find that few horses are actually abandoned,” he said. “If anything, there’s a tendency to leave them in the field to die. Everyone’s trying to put up a smoke screen and pretend they care about the animals’ welfare. No one ever admits they want to breed more horses because they want the money.”
Charles Stenholm, senior policy advisor for Olsson Frank Weeda, P.C., said Pacelle and Holland want to end an industry that gives good jobs to more than 500,000 people. He said it should be up to individuals whether or not they want to send their horses to a processing plant.
“We should be asking the right question of all horse owners,” said Stenholm. “Would they rather receive $500 or more for an unwanted horse or pay $500 or more to euthanize it and dispose of it?”
He said it’s important for non-horse owners to understand that the issue is not humane treatment.
“All of us believe horses and animals should be treated humanely from birth until death,” he said. “Horses are private property. Why does Wayne believe he has the right to speak for every horse owner and not just those who never want their horse to go to a processing plant? Isn’t that what the Constitution has something to say about – private property rights and protection of minority rights with actions governed by the majority? Let’s have a real debate and let the people of our states and nation decide.”
Holland said he would be willing to debate as long as he knew all the rules ahead of time. Pacelle is also up for a debate.
“We’re confident in our beliefs,” said Pacelle. “We feel like the public and science are on our side.”
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