Pet Tales: Horse slaughter a needed but unpopular option

When you grow up reading books such as "Black Beauty" and watching television shows like "My Friend Flicka," you don't like to think about 100,000 horses per year being shipped to slaughterhouses. People who love horses generally do not think that slaughterhouses are "good for horses."

I would never knowingly eat horse meat, nor would I knowingly buy any dog food that contains horse meat.

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But the Oct. 18 Pet Tales column about horses did not sit well with The Humane Society of the United States. It included information from a news release from the American Veterinary Medical Association. That organization said the shutdown of the last three U.S. horse slaughter plants "led to increased abandonment and neglect of horses in this country and the inhumane death of horses across the border" in foreign slaughterhouses.

Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society president and chief executive officer, sent me an e-mail and a voice mail asking for equal time to rebut the veterinary association.

Shipping horses to slaughter should never be a solution for horse owners who are unwilling or unable to continue caring for their horses, Mr. Pacelle said. Most of the horses killed for meat are healthy animals, he said, and their owners "should euthanize the horse or send it to a horse sanctuary."

I'd like to give Mr. Pacelle the last word here, but I can't let those statements go unchallenged. Every horse rescue and farm animal rescue that I deal with currently has a "no room in the inn" sign on their barn doors. They all have waiting lists.

"There have always been too few horse rescue" groups, Mr. Pacelle conceded. But he said the Humane Society partners with The Fund for Animals, operator of The Black Beauty Ranch in Texas, which currently cares for 700 horses.

Fifteen to 20 years ago there were eight U.S. slaughterhouses killing 350,000 horses per year, Mr. Pacelle said, so we're making progress on that front.

The Humane Society was one of the animal groups that campaigned to get the last U.S. slaughterhouses closed. Two were in Texas and one was in Illinois. But horse slaughter is not yet banned in the United States, Mr. Pacelle said.

The society and other groups are lobbying Congress for passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. If you support the bill, tell your legislators to vote for House Bill 503 and Senate Bill 311.

Yes, the humane way to dispose of a sick or unwanted horse is to call a veterinarian to put the animal down in its own pasture. But that's an expensive proposition, I discovered when I talked to horse rescuers.

Here's what one rescuer paid to humanely euthanize a horse that was too sick to be saved: a $65 "farm call" fee to get the veterinarian to the farm plus $150 for the euthanasia, which is done with drugs injected into the horse. It cost an additional $100 to get a heavy equipment operator to dig a deep hole, lower the 1,200-pound horse into the grave and cover it with dirt. That's a total of $315. Owners were paid far more than that when they sold their horses, at auction, to the canners that ship horse meat to Europe for human consumption.

If you don't want to bury a dead horse, you can still call a "knacker" -- an ever-decreasing number of tradespeople who haul dead horses to rendering plants, where their bodies are used to make glue, among other things. Western Pennsylvania knackers -- if you can still find one -- charge about $175 to take the horse away, which is more than it would cost to bury the animal.

I also heard from the Animal Welfare Institute, based in Washington, D.C.

Though there are currently no horse slaughter plants in this country, "horse slaughter is still legal in the U.S., which is why we are working to pass the federal American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act," said Christopher J. Hyde, deputy legislative director of the institute. His group in 2001 began the campaign for passage of the bill, he said in an e-mail.

Mr. Hyde's e-mail accuses the American Veterinary Medical Association of being "in favor of horse slaughter." He also said, "I don't know what HSUS is saying" about efforts to ban horse slaughter "but they do very limited work on the issue."

Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at or 412-263-3064.