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Posts Tagged ‘Bastrop kill lot’

There were some great races (San Felipe, the fabulous Tough Sunday, Justify, etc.) the weekend of March 10, 2018 in the USA. But for me, THE story of that weekend had nothing to do with horse races.

(NOTE: No graphic images or footage of horse slaughter in this article.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

On March 9, shortly after she posted this video (above), I picked up a tweet from Dina Alborano of http://www.icareihelp.com that 15 thoroughbreds had arrived at the Thompson kill lot in Louisiana, shipping in from Delta Downs with the order to “direct ship” to Mexico, according to the individual you hear speaking in the second video, below. (“Direct ship” means that they would not go to auction but ship straight to slaughter. I would add that in the information given by the Thompson spokesman, there was absolutely no information to suggest that these horses had been bought at auction or privately, or even that they might not all have come from Delta Downs.) At least seven were “fresh off the track,” according to the Thompson spokesperson, who wanted to sell them as a lot at $875 USD a head, or roughly $20k USD before expenses like shipping and quarantine are added.

That they all allegedly came from Delta Downs was no shock to me. Shipments from this track are all too frequent, arriving with a horrible punctuality throughout their racing season. This “herd” of thoroughbreds had shown up on the final days of the flat racing season at Delta Downs. Seemingly no coincidence there.

By March 10, the true number dispatched to Thompson was revealed to be 24 thoroughbreds, aka “The 24.”

 

 

 

 

 

I am not naïve: I know that horse slaughter didn’t begin in the last decade. I have rescued horses, written to the Prime Minister of Canada and the Canadian Minister of Agriculture about the slaughter of horses in Canada, protested at one of Quebec’s three horse slaughter plants, and publicized the fact that, since 2015, any horses destined for slaughter whose meat is exported to the European Union (EU) must be resident in the country where they are to be slaughtered for a minimum of 6 months before they die.

This has resulted in a 38% drop in the production of horse meat in Canada since this EU directive came into effect.

The argument used with great success, first by organizations like the Canadian Horse Defense Coalitiom (a nonprofit that has battled the issue on the frontlines for many years) was to inform horse meat consumers worldwide that the thoroughbreds and standardbreds they were eating were rife with chemicals harmful to human beings. Humane arguments didn’t get the job done. Threatening the health of human beings did. The response from the EU was so emphatic that one of Quebec’s slaughter houses hasn’t rendered a horse for consumption since April 2017, principally because they have no interest in feeding and caring for horses for 6 months before they render them into meat.

But despite the efforts of huge numbers of rescues and individuals, horses — from the wild mustang to the child’s pony — remain under attack. However, the presence of social media also means that the flagrant abuse and practice of sending horses to slaughter has gone public for all to see:

BEAR WITNESS (Skip Away ex. Lady’s Secret by Secretariat) at auction in 2015. I would have thought that any horse with these bloodlines would have been safe. But I was wrong: “BEAR” was purchased by a young couple and, despite their valiant efforts, died of the abuses he had sustained.

 

Before I read Dina’s post, I had had a few weeks of optimism about the plight of thoroughbreds who end up in the slaughter chain.

Rick Porter, owner of superstars like Songbird, Havre de Grace, Hard Spun and Eight Belles, had announced the formation of the National Thoroughbred Welfare Organization (NTWO), an organization he initiated to resolve the issue of thoroughbred slaughter by working proactively with racetracks, trainers and owners. As well, the NTWO intended to set up a national information and help hotline. A central goal was to work cooperatively with rescue groups and individuals to plug the flow of thoroughbreds that end up in kill pens on their way to Mexico or Canada.

The announcement brought me to tears.

I have been a “horse nut” my whole life and come from a family that owned champion horses and ponies. My father, who was a British Commando during WWII and later trained to be a veterinarian, raised us with the understanding that when you own an animal you take responsibility for it — from the beginning to the end of your time together. It was a cardinal rule in our family, never to be broken.

Finally, here was a key figure from the sport who held the principle of responsible ownership to be paramount. A man who had the courage to step up and give thoroughbreds — and so many people like myself — a voice.

On February 28, 2018, in The Blood-Horse, Rick Porter was interviewed by eminent senior journalist and HOFer, Steve Haskin, himself a proponent of responsible ownership and thoroughbred aftercare:

“…Through the efforts of the NTWO, Porter says the solution to the “feedlot extortion” problem is to secure discarded horses before they end up in the hands of feedlot owners and slaughter buyers. In the short term, this may require watching over the small auctions where these horses are funnelled, and outbidding slaughter buyers. The long-term solution is to stop the pipeline flow at the source, which is at the track.

‘No track should knowingly allow or turn a blind eye to trainers on their grounds who are turning over horses to potential slaughter,” Porter said. “The tracks who allow this are doing a great disservice to the sport.’ ” (Steve Haskin interview with Rick Porter, The Blood-Horse, February 28, 2018)

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“Feedlot extortion” is nothing new. Kill buyers know all the tricks to appeal to rescue groups and individuals, from lies to misinformation to factual misrepresentation. And they continue to make a huge personal income from such “extortions” all over North America.

It is this sad reality that fuels the argument of the many thoroughbred and horse rescues in the USA and Canada that the place to rescue horses bound for slaughter is before they reach the kill lots. Their reasoning is that by funding kill buyers, enough capital is generated to allow these same buyers to purchase still more thoroughbreds, standardbreds and horses of all types, as well as ponies and burros, for slaughter. Too, kill buyers can often afford to outbid rescue teams and individuals at auctions when they have been handsomely paid at the other end, i.e. by those pulling horses out of their pens at places like Thompson’s.

By the time they arrive in kill lots, the prices set on their heads are far in excess of what any horse, pony or burro would bring at auction or sell for to slaughter houses. This trend makes the argument of rescues a sensible one that should, in theory at least, be effective in taking on the kill buyer conduit of the slaughter industry.

But the problem here is that some owners, race tracks and trainers don’t play by the rules, as the 24 thoroughbreds filmed in the Thompson kill lot, marked “direct ship,” attest. In their specific case, it is fair to speculate that at least one individual on the Delta Downs backstretch, with the support of owners and trainers and the collusion of Delta Downs, is prepared to get thoroughbreds off the track and out of the country without a single thought to their rehabilitation and re-homing.

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However, for “The 24” in a kill lot in Louisiana on March 9, 2018, none of these arguments mattered. Many were youngsters and most were terrified. Some just hung their heads, sensing that something new and not very good was happening to them.

For a nascent organization like NTWO, news of their arrival at the Thompson kill pens had to be as deeply disturbing, as it was for the warriors that work with rescuers like Dina Alborano. There was little that NTWO could do while in the midst of setting up an organizational structure that should, in the long run, make a difference for many thoroughbreds at-risk. And although it is tempting to believe that “saying it makes it so” this is a misconception. Important work requires that solid structures are put into place — and this takes time.

Time that “The 24” didn’t have.

 

 

 

 

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Even Dina Alborano herself was overcome by the amount it would take to get the thoroughbreds out. But, like those standing with her, she shored up her courage and marched on.

And so it began.

All weekend, people from as far away as Great Britain stepped up to help save “The 24.”

Dina sounded the charge, but the vast majority of her warriors were not made up of wealthy horse owners or breeding farms or trainers. Instead, they were people of modest means, many of whom could only afford a donation of $10 or $20 dollars. Some were unemployed, some were retirees on fixed incomes, others were working at jobs where they weren’t bringing home as much as the thoroughbreds they wanted so fervently to save were going to cost. Those with little financial means began a Twitter storm, getting the word out to more and more people.

It was an interminable weekend, with each and every one of those determined to save “The 24” watching, re-tweeting and sending out words of encouragement that lit up the darkness.

Shortly before midnight, on March 11, came the words we were all waiting for:

 

 

 

All of us watching and waiting were also “literally in tears.”  A band of modest means, with the help of those like Colorado Avalanche’s Erik Johnson and thoroughbred owner, Michael Cannon, had raised 30k in a little less than 3 days. Also contributing were  “anonymous” donors from the sport/industray.

This was arguably the most dramatic but not the first rescue by Dina’s warriors. Some in the thoroughbred community had already provided vital financial support that saw several other thoroughbreds escape slaughter, among them the Zayat family, the Graham Motion family, jockey Gary Stevens and his wife, jockey Mike Smith, XBTV host, Zoe Cadman, and members of the handicapping community.

But I can only imagine what so many gave up to save 24 horses they didn’t own –and hadn’t profited from at the track — and would never even meet face-to-face. And, for this writer, the determination, sacrifice and commitment of this community will stay with me forever, just as do memories of other rescues and individuals who have overcome huge obstacles to pull thoroughbreds, standardbreds, BLM mustangs, wild burros, draft horses and minis from slaughter lots. Not to mention those sanctuaries, havens and OTTB organizations who have provided homes and new careers for unwanted and captured horses, such as the wild mustang.

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It was bizarre experience to read Twitter posts during the campaign to save “The 24”: sports racing correspondents twittered on, seemingly oblivious, while farms posted thoroughbred foals struggling to take their first steps. All this sandwiched between news of the drive to pull “The 24” out of a certain, terrifying death.

The late John Berger observed that there is a kind of “quiet insanity” in our culture – the kind that allows us to watch 24 thoroughbreds on their way to slaughter, juxtaposed with a video of the running of the San Felipe, and not bat an eyelash. Perhaps that’s because this type of juxtaposition has become so much a part of our daily lives that we’ve adapted by snuffing out our obligation to question, numbing ourselves to a seemingly endless barrage of horrendous events.

Consigned to slaughter “…because her hooves needed trimming.” From the blog of the CANADIAN HORSE DEFENSE COALITION.

Make no mistake: events like the perilous journey from stall to kill lot of “The 24” are horrendous. For one thing, there is no connection between euthanasia and slaughter. Like thousands before them, the imminent death of “The 24” would be merciless. But even this appears to have no impact on those owners, trainers and race venues like Delta Downs which routinely engage in the practice of shipping thoroughbreds to slaughter.

A mare and her foal at a slaughter house. Shortly after this photograph was taken, they were “disposed of.”

 

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Laws make it easy to dump a horse, or a pony, or a burro into a kill lot.

In most countries around the world, not only do equines fall outside the laws that govern the slaughter of animals raised for human consumption, but they are also viewed as “property” under the law. Like a sofa, or a pair of shoes, animals are essentially characterized as objects, i.e. void of feeling, consciousness or any of the other qualities that distinguish the living from the inanimate.

And, as objects, their owners can do what they like to them with impunity.

American horses held in export pens before being sent to slaughter.

Under the conventions of the EU all animals are regarded as sentient beings rather than property: “Animals are not things. They are sentient beings and have biological needs.” There are inspectors to supervise and fines levied for the mistreatment of any animal. In Great Britain, there is a law essentially saying the same thing and plans are now underway to monitor slaughter plants with CCTV. In Canada, the province of Quebec has declared animals to be sentient beings even though three of of five Canadian horse slaughter plants are in that province. What it means for horses slaughtered in Quebec is that how this is being done is now open to supervision (together with the six months boarding demanded by the EU). But the fact that, in Quebec, being sentient does little to protect horses from slaughter points out that even this progressive step can’t singlehandedly stop the practice itself.

Horse meat coming from Mexico was banned by the EU in 2015. It also appears that the majority of Mexicans have little interest in eating horses. So why is Mexico quickly becoming the preferred destination for American horses going to slaughter?

In its 2015 ban, the EU pointed out that one deep concern was that The U.S. Department of Agriculture “does not take responsibility for the reliability of affidavits issued for horses originating in the U.S., and the FVO audit team found very many affidavits which were invalid or of questionable validity, but were nonetheless accepted.” Mexico has adapted to losing EU business — with the exception of Belgium which is, ironically, the capital of the EU — by attracting markets in Russia, Japan, Hong Kong, Egypt, Kazakhstan and Vietnam, among others. The meat is exported from Mexico as “top grade” and consumed by people in these countries looking for a “delicacy” dish.

It should be noted as well that Alberta and Manitoba, in Canada, are busily exporting large numbers of draft horses that are shipped live to Japan, where they are slaughtered. There can be little question that the Japanese have more confidence in the “high grade” of Canadian horses than that of those coming from Mexico.

(NOTE: No slaughter images in video below.) Produced by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC):

 

 

 

Since there is absolutely no evidence to support the practice of placing horses who are likely filled with drugs harmful to humans in quarantine in Mexico, it cannot be assumed that Mexican horse meat is safe for human consumption. It would be an important initiative to inform countries importing horse meat from Mexico about what they are encouraging their citizens to consume. Such communication might very well result in an EU-type ban by countries importing Mexican horse meat.

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This is the point where I’d normally be writing a conclusion, except there is no end in sight on this one.

Instead, I will conclude by thanking the many rescues, sanctuaries, havens and individuals, including donors and supporters, who have given so much of themselves in this struggle to save horses, ponies and wild burros from slaughter, captivity and abuse. And to Mr. Rick Porter and Mr. Steve Haskin, both of whom have had the courage to speak out against the kind of practice seen here at Delta Downs and elsewhere, thank you for your courage and for speaking out for thoroughbreds who have no hope of a safe future.

As Maya Angelou has said, “YOU are enough.” 

“Enough” to bring change and to make a difference, through your voices, your commitment and perseverance, and your love.

“Untitled,” by Abigail Anderson. Property of the artist.

POST SCRIPT

Of “The 24” who arrived at Hal Parker’s farm, we now only have 23.

Charlee’s Maid, an 8 year-old grandaughter of Pulpit, stepped off the van and collapsed. When Dr. Odom, who checks all the thoroughbreds Dina rescues, arrived early on the morning of the next day, it became clear that she could not be saved. Surrounded by Hal and his family — who had stayed with her all night long — Charlee’s Maid was humanely euthanized.

CHARLEE’S MAID, pictured at Hal Parker’s farm. THe grandaughter of Pulpit, who carried names like SEATTLE SLEW, CADILLACING, MR. PROSPECTOR and DANZIG in her pedigree, was humanely euthanized as a result of injuries sustained and never attended to in time.

As well, a filly who is also part of “The 24” arrived with a wound so severe that the bone was showing through. She is now in a veterinary hospital and we hope that she will make it.

Severely injured filly was sent off to slaughter with a terrible wound in her hind leg. Had she made it to Mexico, she would have been euthanized.

 

The filly’s hind leg. The white is bone.

BONUS FEATURES

Background on Japanese slaughter houses, giving addresses and URL of these facilities. (NOTE: No images of actual slaughter). Produced by the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition (CHDC):

 

 

 

 

Anna Sewell wrote about cruelty in a book that has become a Classic:

 

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