The escalating mood in the country as Congress's anti-slaughter bill nears voting time is fascinating to watch. The bill has been amended to include strict restrictions on transporting horses intended for slaughter.
The American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), which has taken a bold pro-slaughter position on the issue, sent an "action alert" email to its membership, urging them to contact their Congressional representatives. The email suggests the transport restrictions may affect the freedom on AQHA members to move their own horses.
From the AQHA email:
"TRANSPORTING ANY HORSE FOR ANY ACTIVITY MAY BE AT RISK!
"This bill may have far-reaching effects on our members and their ability to buy and sell horses. Members may sell horses unaware of the buyer's intent with the animal and to where it may be transported, possibly resulting in legal ramifications for the seller. This legislation is vague and ambiguous and its passage could have far-reaching consequences. We urge you to contact the senators of your state and voice your opposition to this legislation and the funding to enact it...."
Meanwhile, not to be outdone, the organization Veterinarians for Equine Welfare (VEW), lead by animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, visited Washington and issued a press release criticizing the American Veterinary Medical Association's affiliation with meat-packing interest.
To a mere observer of the whole slaughter issue, I think the larger point here is that these organizations (including VEW) are establishing policy that is based on politics, and little is being done to present the pros and cons of the issue to their members or to the public. It's a lot like a national organization or labor union (think: police chiefs, teachers, miners, doctors) endorsing a candidate for US President: did they poll their members? No. A committee evaluated the candidates' position statements and decided which one would support that organization's political agenda. That's how politics works, but it is unsettling to see this at work in the horse world, where horse ownership is such an emotional issue and where people voluntarily become members of breed and sport organizations.
Organizations like the AQHA have members all over the country and from all backgrounds; a blanket opposition policy seems unproductive in light of what the largest breed organization could bring to the table in terms of brain power, resources, and influence to affect a compromise or at least an alternative policy.
Like the VEW, I can see through "news" that is reported in national newspapers and web sites that is obviously placed to present an image of America's horse economy being in a state of panic because of over-supply and "unwanted" horses and that these problems would otherwise just go away if slaughter was retarted.
Someone recently told me a rumor that huge factory ships are anchored off the west coast of the USA. They are floating slaughterhouses for horses that cannot be legally slaughtered in California. The entrails are thrown to the sharks, no doubt. No proof that these ships exist, of course.
Likewise, if you wanted to cross the border into Mexico or Canada this fall, you wouldn't be able to get through because the traffic is backed up behind convoys of trucks full of horses headed to slaughter. Just rumors, of course...started by whom?
Is the Congressional bill the answer? Sadly, I think not, because even if it passes, politics will make sure that there is no money to enforce it, or some other political tactic will be employed to hold it up in court.
We don't need more lawsuits, we need a solution, and it starts with educating horse owners of their responsibilities to their horses and discouraging the "recreational" breeding of backyard horses ("The kids could raise a foal! What fun!") and over-breeding of potential race and show horses for (possible) profit that is approaching "puppy mill" status.
I know that veterinarians profit from vanity and spec-profit breeding but I think that educating owners to take better care of the horses they already have might balance things out. Shifting racing and showing rewards to events for mature horses might extend showing and racing careers and increase the value of older horses, too, as would publicity for the usefulness of middle-aged and "senior" horses for recreational use.
What are your ideas for solutions? Please don't tell me you are "pro" or "anti" slaughter. Tell me what can be done to bring the American horse industry back together instead of splitting it apart.