Thursday, December 8, 2011

Horse Slaughter-- Is There Another Solution?

I hate the idea of horse slaughter. 
I also can't come up with another solution.

I don't want to hash out the whole horse slaughter debate here. Most people know the main points of both sides already. If you haven't participated in at least one vicious discussion about horse slaughter, you're either new to the horse world or new to the internet. In that case, find a summary at the bottom* of this post. What I'd really like to talk about today is finding a better solution.

Few people want horses to go to slaughter. Even those that support horse slaughter usually don't want their own horses to go through that hell. But how else do you solve the problems of over-population, unwanted racehorses, and a failing horse market?

What we should be doing, of course, is The Right Thing: not over-breeding, not keeping animals we can't afford, and taking responsibility for our senior and injured horses by paying for peaceful euthanasia instead of trying to make a little cash at the auction. I have yelled and ranted and raved about this all over the internet. Doing The Right Thing, however, is something you can't make people do.

 So what kind of programs could we create to cut back the need for horse slaughter?

In the 80s and 90s, a huge movement took hold in America: the "Spay or Neuter Your Pet" movement. Thousands of clever, heart-wrenching and funny advertisements for spaying and neuring pets were broadcast via every media imageinable, by humane societies, vets and other do-gooders. The movement coincided with awareness of human over-population, environmental problems, lab animal testing concerns and government willingness to fund social programs.

Click to enlarge.

The results were fantastic. The number of animals euthanized in pounds across America dropped dramatically. There was less neglect. Vet clinics and the government chipped in to set up low-cost spay and neuter programs for those that had too little money or too many animals. To this day, in many places in the USA you can't have an un-neutered dog without getting some weird looks and curious (or nasty) comments. It's actually rather taboo to admit to breeding a litter or two of puppies. The cat and dogs populations are still larger than they should be, and 3-4 million dogs and cats are still euthanized yearly; but things are much better than they used to be..

Why wouldn't this work for horses?

At least, that had been my first thought.

Gelding: removing balls, adding brains.

There are several reasons why this solution is problematic:
  • you can't "spay" a mare without significant cost and risk; it's not as easy as spaying a cat
  • there would be less support for such a campaign, since there are fewer horse lovers, fewer horse vets, and not enough government support
  • low cost gelding clinics can only work if you can get a whole bunch of stallions in one place at one time-- otherwise it's not cost-efficient enough for a vet to want to do it. And that's hard.
    • safety risk
    • every horse would have to have a Coggins test and rabies vaccine first (cost, risk)
    • not everyone has a trailer
    • not every horse loads well
It doesn't mean that low-cost gelding clinics can't happen. They can, and have, successfully. Look here. And here. California is even launching a state-wide program. Low-cost euthanasia programs have also helped. However, these obstacles do prevent the kind of success we've seen with the dog and cat population problems.

So, what do YOU think? Is there a better solution than slaughter? What is it?

*For newbies to the horse slaughter debate:

Proponents of American horse slaughter say that when domestic horse slaughter was stopped five years ago, it had a negative affect on horses across the country. Since you couldn't even get a hundred or so bucks for a slaughter-bound horse at an auction any more, the bottom fell out of the horse market, devaluing even nice horses and devastating the horse industry in general. Proponents of horse slaughter also say that a lack of domestic slaughter facilities means more horses being left to starve, and those that do go to slaughter face long, awful journeys and more horrific deaths in Mexico and Canada. Finally, horse slaughter would help revive the stagnant economy, providing jobs to many.

Anti-horse-slaughter experts say that the number of horses slaughtered hasn't dropped-- so if there are extra horses being neglected, it's due to the poor economy and increased shipping costs to Mexico and Canada. Whether that's true or not, they argue, neglect was always an issue even when American slaughter plants operated; some nasty people will just mistreat animals no matter what, and building a slaughter plant in every state in America won't change that. The real solution, they say, is to stop over-breeding horses; reducing the population will drive up demand (and thus prices) and reduce cases of neglect. Slaughtering horses is not "American," they claim; no one here wants to eat the horses we care about. It's not humane to the easily-spooked, sensitive horses, and its not safe for consumers to be eating horses contaminated with Bute, steroids, etc.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting to read – I thought about doing a similar piece but I've been on the move this month and I didn't have your research chops on the gelding programmes etc.
    There are two UK horse abattoirs and both are small, family-run and endorsed by World Horse Welfare. In other words, worlds away from the US situation pre-2007. It will take some time to build a US infrastructure that will actually improve the situation. But perhaps it could also be a model for the more humane slaughter of all food animals?
    The only way to ensure a humane end for all horses in a country with no well-run slaughter houses is to have expensive and draconian legislation.