Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Breed Greed--a True Story

One unusual hazy morning here in the suburbs of Minnesota my little girl cries out "Look mommy, there's a horse!" Several thoughts flashed before me which almost caused me whipflash. From the tone of Emma's voice, I knew she saw something. Is there a horse running perpendicular about to cross in front of the car like many tragic deer stories? There were three children in the car and as a mother you think lightening quick! My head performed an Exorcist -the-movie rotation. Simultaneously, I released my foot from the gas peddle.

"Emma where's the horse?" I asked with masked calm. In a typical response by any little five year old who thinks mom is a superhero and can see with eyes behind her head "Over there", responds Emma. Standing in the far distance in a nonpasture of dessicated grass, was a tall, emaciated horse."Mommy why does he look sad?" continued Emma. Then my eldest jumped in "What is a horse doing out here by itself?" Super mom was feeling as lost as the horse. "I don't know Emma," I admitted. "Mom can you rescue him like the dogs and we bring him home?" asked Emma. "He probably has a home and his owner is waiting for him to come home," I guessed.

In the end I placed a few phone calls to friends with ties to the animal community--dogs, cats, sheep. I don't know what happened to the mystery horse. As a volunteer for rescuing stray dogs, the signs surrounding the horse were eerily similar to that of lost or stray dogs. Immediately I did some research. The knot in my stomach turned into gut wrenching news about horses. 170,000 known horses were recorded as abandoned in 2007. Add a few more thousand for "unrecorded" horses and then a guesstimated number for year-to-date 2008 in a suffocating economy for horse owners. Has this always been an epidemic?

It is now.

It's all about the money--breeding. Breeding for the highest bidder. However, breeding horses is a gamble compared to breeding dogs. Unlike dogs where breeding produces a runt of the litter, the number of horses with physical or behavorial faults is greater. Not even suitable for crestfallen second place or step sister domestic duties, the horses in U.S. were once sent to domestic "humane" slaughterhouses for the sale of horse meat to countries like France and Japan, a delicacy in these countries. This is permitted in U.S. since horses are not considered "pets" and we do not eat horsemeat here like cows or chickens.

The anti-horse slaughter movement was galvanized when the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner, Ferdinand, was killed and eaten in Japan. Activism then led to the ban of these "humane" slaughterhouses in the U.S. Supporters included the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Humane Society of the U.S. and PETA. The irony is that this ban in the name of humane treatment, has lead to neglect, abuse or worse, the shipment of horses to countries like Canada or Mexico, where slaughtering is true to its name-- barbaric. On one side, activists for the ban have failed to suggest viable alternatives. While opponents (the American Medical Veterinary Association and the American Quarter Horse Association) have failed to raise funding for rescue facilities and adoption programs. Remember, horses are larger and eat more than your average dog.

In the meantime, the number of unwanted horses is swelling, many of them languishing in grassless pastures, no water, ailing with disease and pain.

We hear of rescue programs for dogs, cats, sea mammals, jungle creatures. How did we miss the horses? Who's going to rescue America's legend? Horses have held an iconic place in America's consciousness: They symbolize the American West and our pioneering spirit. Many people believe such magnificent creatures should be euthanized by a veterinarian when they're unwanted, old , or sick.

What you think?

Emma is pushing me to adopt a horse. We are actually considering it. Maybe for Christmas.


Lauren said...

This really is a big problem. If you've ever seen Animal Cops: Houston, about 20% of the cases are horses that are neglected. Why people can't understand that animals need and deserve care is beyond me. Thanks for talking about these issues! The more people know, the more we can do about it.