Durango Telegraph - Leading a horse to slaughter - American icon faces an ugly fate
Leading a horse to slaughter - American icon faces an ugly fate

In December 2006, a video released by the Humane Society of a horse slaughterhouse in Mexico shows the horrific stabbing death of a fully conscious horse. Soon after, Congress ordered the last horse slaughterhouse in the United States to close its doors.  Now, the Humane Society and others are backing a bill that would prohibit the transportation of horses bound for slaughter across the U.S. border.

Supporters of the bill contend that such instances of cruelty are prolific. Opponents say that when U.S. slaughterhouses were open, federal regulations ensured that humane methods were used to transport and dispatch the animals.

The Humane Society says that the cur

rent USDA guidelines governing animal welfare during transport are “wholly inadequate and allow for extreme suffering.” But according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the U.S. government’s “regulatory authority ends when horses cross the border.” Slaughter advocates cite this as a reason to keep U.S. slaughterhouses open.

Alternatives to slaughter exist, say the bill’s supporters, including humane euthanasia and adoption. However, says the AVMA, “There are simply more unwanted horses in the United States than can be accommodated by these options.”

The Animal Welfare Council (AWC), an

opponent of the bill, contends that the cost of extended care or euthanasia is prohibitively expensive and would lead to increased cases of neglect. Advocates of the bill point to California, where horse slaughter was banned in 1998 with no corresponding increase in neglect. 

Locally, there are just as many mixed feelings about the issue. La Plata County Director of Animal Protection Jon Patla has reported an increase in the number of horses being “dumped” on public lands since the slaughterhouse closures. “It’s easier to unload a trailer than it is to dig a hole,” he says. On the issue of an increase in cases of neglect and abuse, he has observed that “people tend to take

better care of a horse they’re selling to slaughter because it gets more money at the sale barn.”

Diane McCracken, of Spring Creek Horse Rescue, disagrees, saying, “Our numbers have not increased because of the closing of the slaughterhouses. Hay shortages and severe weather have driven our numbers up.”

Meanwhile, a 312-percent increase in the number of horses exported to Mexico points to a systemic problem that both sides are scrambling to address.

For some local residents, Patla says, the issue boils down to this: “Do I feed my kids or do I feed my horse?”

– Anna Thomas