There is a deep dark secret in the equine industry -- illegal horse "rescues" and the shady auctions that have sprung up in the vacuum created by the the confluence of three events: the slaughter ban, the Great Recession and the worst drought the West has seen in decades. Even though the ban was lifted, the damage has been done. The slaughter ban is an excellent example of how a good idea gets totally perverted by our representatives in Congress. The thousands of horses that have died horrific, long, grueling deaths haunt me.
The hard honest truth is this -- only Equine Professionals -- licensed and/or bonded trainers, rescue specialists, farriers and vets know how to save horses safely. These are the same people Congress should have talked to before writing the slaughter ban bill. Had they done so, thousands of horses would have been spared horrific deaths through starvation brought about by the actions of good hearted well intended but uninformed every day Americans.
Only professionals know and understand the long-term financial, emotional and liability commitments horse ownership entails. When horse rescues are not handled professionally horses and humans are endangered.
Horses are not dogs or motorcycles; they are 900-plus pounds of solid muscle with minds, hearts and souls of their own. They must be placed with owners that are appropriate for the type of Equine they adopt.
A fit horse, who is then not fed properly, takes at least two to six months to die. Some can suffer in a zombie-like state of malnutrition for a year if not longer.
Starvation is not like the movies. It's slow, agonizing and horrific to see. Good-hearted, caring animal lovers tried to do something wonderful by pushing through the ban, however it had the opposing unintended effect.
Please check out the GAO report on the effect of the slaughter ban; every trainer I asked about it, agreed with the report wholeheartedly.
Without a cheap, humane, government-inspected slaughterhouse, people who couldn't afford to feed their kids had no way to put sick, crippled or dying horses down.
Some poor families simply couldn't afford the hay; due to the drought and brush fires over the last five years, hay prices have gone from $7 a bale to $12 to $20 per bale today.
When the slaughterhouses were shut down, most of the lower price range auctions shut down also, thus eliminating the only sale option many low income horse owners had.
I've heard people say, "well they shouldn't have a horse if they can't afford it." The fact of the matter is, before the drought and recession, they could afford to be backyard horse owners and had done so for generations.
So, parents were faced with this decision -- spend $350 and up for a vet to humanely put down their beloved horse/pony/family member plus another $100 to $200 to have someone dig a hole with a tractor or back-hoe (that is if one has a place to dig the hole). Or try to find a humane slaughterhouse -- often hundreds of miles away and at the cost of hundreds of dollars -- and ship your horse to an unknown fate. In such a case you'd be praying your horse doesn't end up crammed with 30 other horses to be shipped to Mexico or Canada.
The last and most horrific option: shoot your family member yourself. That's what some horses become especially to the middle-class hardworking backyard horse owner. Their horses become an integral part of their family.
Most people shoot horses in the wrong place because they don't know equine anatomy, so even a head shot isn't necessarily quick or humane. Thank God I've never had to make that decision.
The fact of the matter is all animals, whether a beloved pet or a valuable piece of livestock, get old and sick. Many lower and limited income rural families have been squeezed from every side with the Great Recession and the drought. There absolutely must be a humane safe USDA run euthanasia option for these families.
Horses cannot be only the bailiwick of the multimillionaire race horse owners, Hollywood producers' kids 100 grand hunters and $500,000 futurity horses. Horses ownership has always crossed all socioeconomic classes; the backyard owner has been the backbone of Equine America.
I believe I've come up with a way. Yes, the plan includes the re-opening of USDA-inspected slaughter houses, but also euthanasia clinics sponsored by responsible non-profit organizations like PETA, CanterCa or the ASPCA. These are run by licensed vets and trainer volunteers to give every horse owner, nationwide, rich or poor, amateur weekend-warrior trail riders to million dollar cutting horse trainers, options when it comes to equine end of life care.
I know legitimate owners, trainers, vets and farriers at all levels of the industry and have not had a single negative response to this plan.
This way sick, old and crippled horses can die with honor and without financially crippling the families that loved them. Also, more importantly, by having trainers and vets there, no healthy horses will die needlessly. They will place them in appropriately licensed rescues and if rescues are full, find clients or trainers who will pay fair market prices for useful animals.
Sick and old horses die with dignity, families who can't afford their horses anymore get a few bucks and the horses are used humanely in whatever Equine discipline they fit into. Win-win-win!
Also, dangerous situations can be avoided. For example, a trainer would never give a child a racehorse right off the track or give an older couple an untrained 12-year-old stallion. Horses have to be placed appropriately and licensed rescues and trainers do that, good-hearted amateurs do not always do that.
Then and only then, when no other option is available, if the horse is not sound, the owners will have the choice of euthanasia by vet at low cost or by sending horses to safe, humane slaughterhouses so their meat is put to use feeding other animals rather than just rotting and stinking at a garbage dump.
These animals devote their lives to us, too, and they deserve a dignified honorable death. I hope to help bring that about sooner rather than later.
KELLY MOLLOY-MCDANIEL is a Tehachapi-based trainer. Please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @SpitCreekRanch #SpitCreekelly.