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Thu Mar 15, 2007 Kentucky USA
by Jeffrey McMurray
The bidding for the black pony started at $500, then took a nosedive. There were no takers at $300, $200, even $100. With a high bid of just $75, the auctioneer gave the seller the choice of taking the animal off the auction block. But the seller said no.
"I can't feed a horse," the man said. "I can't even feed myself."
The reason: growing opposition in the
Public backlash and state bans or the threat of them have led to the closure of several slaughterhouses that used to take in horses no longer suitable for racing or work. Auction houses are glutted with horses, and many rescue organizations have run out of room.
There have been reports of horses chained up in eastern
Some people who live near the strip mines in the mountains of impoverished eastern Kentucky say that while horses have long been left to roam free there, the number now may be in the thousands, and they are seeing herds three times bigger than they did just five years ago.
"There's horses over there that's lame, that's blind," said Doug Kidd, who owns
30 horses in Lackey,
It is legal in all states for owners to shoot their unwanted horses, and some Web sites offer instructions on doing it with little pain. But some horse owners do not have the stomach for that.
At the same time, it can cost as much as $150 for a veterinarian to put a horse
down. And disposing of the carcass can be costly, too. Some counties in
The cost is much higher other places, and many places ban the burying of horses altogether because of pollution fears.
Sending horses off to the glue factory is not an option anymore. Adhesives are mostly synthetic formulations nowadays, according to Lawrence Sloan, president of the Adhesive and Sealant Council. And because of public opposition, horse meat is no longer turned into dog food either, said Chris Heyde of the Society for Animal Protective Legislation.
Eventually, anti-slaughter groups insist, the market will sort itself out, and
owners will breed their horses less often, meaning fewer unwanted horses. When
"Once you remove slaughter, you remove a release valve for irresponsibility," Heyde said. "These are animals. They're not a pair of shoes."
Nelson Francis, who raises gaited horses, a rare, brawny breed found in the Appalachian Mountains, said the prices they command are getting so low, he might have to turn some loose. He houses about 57 of them, double his typical number.
"I can't absorb the price," Francis said. "You try to hang on until the price changes, but it looks like it's not going to change. ... What do I do? I've got good quality horses I can't market because of the has-been horse."
"Kill buyers" used to pay pennies a pound for unwanted horses, then pack them
into crowded trucks bound for slaughterhouses that would ship the horse meat to
However, public opposition to the eating of horse meat has caused the number of
horses slaughtered each year by American companies to drop from more than
300,000 in 1990 to around 90,000 in 2005, according to the
"What do you do with them all?" said Lori Neagle, executive director of the new
Federal law prohibits the use of double-decker trucks for transporting horses to slaughter. Many members of Congress have also been pushing a national ban on the butchering of horses for human consumption.
While California is the only state that has expressly banned horse slaughter, in
a 1989 ballot initiative, similar measures are under consideration elsewhere,
including Kentucky, Maryland, New York and Illinois.
A federal court ruled recently that
While the market price for horses has plummeted, the cost of food, lodging and veterinary care has not.
Kathy Schwartz, director of Lisbon, Md.-based Days End Farm Horse Rescue, which adopts abused and neglected horses, said that rescue operations that choose not to euthanize horses are generally full.
"We had one horse we brought in that was a rack of bones in pain both from starvation and parasite infestation and injury," Schwartz said. "His owner thought life was better than going to slaughter. Well, life is if you're going to feed it and take care of it."
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