A tale of two horses

GirlsHorseClub.com – click

Horses need your help and they need it now. It doesn’t matter if you’re not a “horse person”–you’re an animal person, and this domestic animal needs 10 minutes of your time, my time, our time. More on that in a moment, but first, a tale of two horses. One, a beloved Irish Draught cross thoroughbred, euthanized recently when his old body finally gave out; the other one executed in the prime of his life and butchered as a taunt to animal activists opposed to horse slaughter.

Martin Rose / Eastnews.co.uk – click

Shayne was living the good life at Remus Memorial Horse Sanctuary, near Ingatestone, Essex (Great Britain) when, at 51 years old–120 in human years–his old legs gave out and he collapsed. He was euthanized and cremated and will find his final resting place at the sanctuary where he enjoyed a comfortable retirement (video). Said the founder of the 40-acre sanctuary, “Shayne was a happy horse, a lovely old boy and we are proud to have known him…we shall miss him dearly” (source).

Contrast this–a beloved horse cared for over a very long lifetime and then grieved for–with a two-year-old horse executed in cold blood by a spiteful monster who filmed the deed, first turning toward the camera to say, “To all you animal activists, f**k you.” (Albuquerque news video here(update: pulled from YouTube); the horse’s death is edited out. Unedited version here.)

The killer, an avowed horse-eater and now-former employee of Valley Meat Company in Roswell, NM, had this to say about the “thing” he killed:

Valley Meat Company, a former cattle slaughter plant, is on track to be the nation’s first horse slaughter plant since the last U.S. plants closed in 2007 when an appropriations bill terminated funding for Department of Agriculture (USDA) horse meat inspections. (The prohibition against inspections was removed from the law in 2011.)

Operations at Valley Meat were suspended by the USDA a year ago owing to their “failure to meet regulatory requirements in regards to the humane handling of animals…during slaughter”:

You can make yourself sick, crazy, or both contemplating the terror and pain endured by that bull–all for the fleeting taste of a steak or a hamburger. Next, understand that substantial differences exist between killing cattle and killing horses–while in the above incident a gun was employed, the following pertains to a captive bolt gun–but both require an accurately-placed shot: “Terrified horses have longer necks than cattle, and throw their heads around wildly, trying to avoid being struck by the captive bolt, causing workers to make hurried and repeated blows” (HorseFund.org — scroll past the thumbnail photos. Enlarge them if you dare.)

No matter the target animal or the weapon, the speciesist impulse to slaughter other beings is one of humankind’s uglier characteristics; it’s never good for animals and it’s never “humane” (see HumaneMyth.org).

Click for larger view

Anti-slaughter horse people–they don’t necessarily define themselves as animal rights proponents or vegans–offer many valid reasons to oppose horse slaughter. Among them is the fact that horses aren’t raised as food animals, hence they are given a smorgasbord of drugs, many unsafe for human consumption. Then there’s the idea that horses are more companion than livestock, that we owe them the same loyalty they’ve shown us. You can easily imagine the same thing being said about dogs were dog slaughter to be proposed.

It behooves animal rights activists, vegans, and anti-slaughter horse folks to join forces on this one. Sure, as vegans, we see little difference between the slaughter of pigs and the slaughter of horses–sentient beings, both. Does a pig think and feel less meaningfully than a horse? Love her babies less? Suffer less? But when given the opportunity to keep an entire species out of the slaughter loop, why wouldn’t we grab it?!?

Here’s where those ten minutes for horses come in. The bi-partisan SAFE Act (Safeguarding American Food Exports Act of 2013: Senate version S. 541; House version, H.R. 1094) can shut down–with federal legislation–the states’ movement toward re-instituting slaughter.

On the outside chance that you need help finding your three elected federal officials, here’s a really quick and easy resource: Contacting the Congress.org. It took me less than 30 seconds to come up with message form links and phone numbers for my two senators and one representative. Call ’em, fax ’em, or e-mail ’em. Tell them you oppose horse slaughter anywhere in the U.S., insert your own personal reason if you wish, and ask them to support the bi-partisan Safeguarding American Food Exports Act of 2013 that would ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption in the US and prohibit transporting them to other countries for the purpose of slaughter.

If you’d like to know if either your senators or representative have already signed on to the legislation as co-sponsors, check here for Senate co-sponsors and here for House co-sponsors. If you find their names there, lucky you! Contact them anyhow and let them know you support their effort.

Perhaps you’re familiar with the nauseating manner in which pro-slaughter people discuss this issue–referring to “unwanted horses” for whom there’s no solution but “humane harvest.” If horse breeders would take a look in a mirror, they’d see both the problem and the solution–at least a substantial part of it.

A few years ago, Rocky Mountain Rider asked, in their Horsepeople’s Forum, “What is your opinion on the proposed equine slaughter plant in Wyoming?” One Montana commenter had this to say: “When you run livestock such as horses you cannot keep everyone that is junk. That is loss of profits and runs you out of business….”

You cannot keep everyone that is junk. The availability of horse slaughter enables irresponsible, callous people like that commenter to continue breeding and dumping their “junk” for cash. Let’s shut them down.
Learn more at PopVox.com from organizations endorsing the SAFE Act.
Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Deer-feeding video draws praise, criticism


Biologists ask: Please don’t feed the deer – click image

A man emerges onto his deck in a rural Colorado neighborhood. He whistles and calls, “Who’s hungry? Come on, who’s hungry? Single file!” Like a pack of trained dogs–Pavlov comes to mind–some 20 deer come running for the chow about to be dispensed. Watch it for yourself on Wimp.com (“Meet Mr. Snow White“).

I discovered this video on The Abolitionist Approach to Animal Rights Facebook page (scroll down to one of the January 7, 2014 entries), and while, as a vegan, I largely subscribe to the abolitionist approach, I seem to inhabit a different universe where spectacles like the deer-feeding follies are concerned. I was dismayed.

Before long, I found myself wondering which was more distressing: the misguided feeding of wild animals, or the 125-plus comments from followers of the page–vegans, in other words. It took 34 comments–including hearts, smiley faces, and expressions of awww followed by abundant exclamation points–before someone asked, “How does accustoming deer to men who resemble deer hunters help the deer?” A few others eventually touched on this idea. Down around the 50th comment, someone revealed (having explored a Facebook connection) that the deer-feeder was also a hunter.

Now comments like “love the dude!” “what a kind man,” and “heart of gold” gave way to growing ire and a sense of betrayal. Some were outraged–how can he feed animals on one hand and kill them on the other? Some tried (erroneously, I believe) to make the claim that hunters are somehow “worse” than mere non-vegans, while others maintained that there’s no moral distinction between the two: kill an animal yourself or have a slaughterhouse kill one for you by proxy, the end result is the same. The comments kept coming, and it felt like sinking in the muck of a moral morass.

Because, to my mind, the overarching point was entirely missed: Animals deserve our respect. And respecting wild animals means respecting their wild nature, not bending it to our will–whether for ego (“we’re gonna see how quick the deer run–to get to me” says the video poster) or charitable impulse. If this means admiring them from a distance without inviting interaction, then that’s the “sacrifice” we owe them. Whether or not the deer feeder is vegan, non-vegan, or a hunter is not the point. People who feed wildlife and habituate them to commercial (or, worse yet, human) food and human contact are acting against the animals’ best interests. Yes, their intent is often altruistic, but it’s harmful nonetheless, and we should banish this ignorance.

Unknown-2“A true animal lover would leave food out for them at a distance from humans and let them eat and stay wild and sharp against human predators,” asserted one commenter. But even this is misguided. One who truly respects wild animals also understands that they are fully equipped to make their own way as best they can, and finding their own food is exactly how they “stay wild.” Coming to rely on a handout is how they become domesticated and dependent. Concentrating animals at feeding stations–even one “at a distance from humans”–is fraught with risk. Because it’s so problematic, feeding deer (and other wildlife) is illegal in many states, Colorado included.

An example from my rural, semi-wild neighborhood: People who put salt blocks on their property to attract deer often draw them in unnatural concentrations. This, in turn, draws predators. I once got a call from a neighbor (a note of hysteria in her voice; her children were smaller then) that a mountain lion had been spotted, attracted to the deer gathered at their salt block. Knowing that I often run that direction–sometimes at dusk–she kindly called to let me know.

But plenty of folks–including some in my neighborhood–view any predator’s “intrusion” as a threat and are only too happy to blow the animal away. Artificially attracting wild animals has a ripple effect: it places prey animals at increased risk of predation; it places predators at risk from humans; and it can place companion or other domestic animals–and possibly humans–at risk, which subsequently adds fuel to the fire of predator hatred already burning brightly here in the West.

Perhaps people who live in wilder places are more likely to understand the consequences of unnecessary human intervention. The commenters at The Abolitionist Approach Facebook page are good, compassionate people–they’re vegans who understand that sentient animals–all of us–want basically the same thing: to live our lives freely, pursuing the interests important to us. This is a revolutionary position in a world built on exploitation.


Click image for a sobering story

But what seems largely missing is an understanding that “loving” animals and “respecting” them for who they are aren’t necessarily the same thing. The former is a sentimental expression that, if we’re really honest, is more about human desires to insert ourselves in their lives. The latter is where true altruism lies–in giving animals room to express their own wild natures.

imagesI frequently see a bumper sticker that reads, “A fed bear is a dead bear.” But predators and large ungulates aren’t the only ones who suffer negative consequences from artificial feeding–some communities have outlawed feeding Canada geese and seagulls because of the fallout (ha ha!) from large concentrations of birds. And none of this addresses the nutritional consequences of feeding Unknown-1wildlife unnatural foods. It took me a long time to convince an elderly relative that peanut butter (sugar! additives!) on white bread wasn’t really good for squirrels, though she dearly loved seeing them at her door.

The deer-feeding Facebook post was “liked” by over 1100 and shared by 400. That’s a lot of people getting the wrong message about animal autonomy. The wild ones survived for millennia without our influence and became the marvelous and varied creatures they are today, shaped by the pressures of the natural world: abundance and want (and yes, starvation); climate and fire; predation and disease. Humans didn’t orchestrate or “manage” that evolution, and we’d be wise now to heed the words of naturalist Henry Beston in his call for “another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals”:

While I’m not suggesting that this issue is black or white–California condors are fed by the biologists returning the big birds to the sky–I am suggesting that we need greater depth in our understanding of the wild lives around us. If we ignore Beston’s assessment–that animals are other, separate nations incomparable to us in many ways–we might one day discover that we’ve created a petting zoo of formerly-wild dependents who come running at our beck and call. That would, indeed, be a tragic fate for them…and for us.
*Learn more: PAWS Wildlife Center: The effects of feeding wildlife
*What about birds? Here, here, and here.
*UPDATE, 10/1/15:Here in elderly Montana woman who had been feeding black bears was attacked inside her home; she died from her injuries. Several habituated black bears were subsequently trapped and executed. Story is here.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Spectating at dogfights: Still legal thanks to…rodeo?

Enabled by certain MT legislators

Enabled by certain MT legislators

3/1/15 ALERT:This post was written during the 2013 MT legislature–keep that in mind as you read. A similar bipartisan bill has been introduced again in 2015–HB 378. Already passed by the House Ag committee, it will be voted on by the MT House of Representatives. Contact your representative to vote YES on HB 378 to make attendance at felony dog fights illegal. Find your House legislator here and email him/her or call the Legislative Information Desk at (406) 444-4800 to leave a message for your representative.

Can you think of one animal species with whom you’d willingly trade places? Me neither. It’s a bum rap to be a nonhuman animal in a speciesist world, and here in Montana, brutality toward animals is a way of life. Just ask the bobcat thrashing in a trap, the calf viciously clotheslined by the neck in a rodeo roping event, or any coyote who’s the object of a killing contest. “We’re at your mercy,” they might tell us, “and mercy went missing a long time ago.”

On Valentine’s Day, the 200th wolf was killed in the state-sanctioned slaughter, designed to reduce–by projectile and by trap–a population of 600-some animals, even along national park boundaries. The “Dog Days of Winter Coyote Derby,” held earlier this month in Dillon, was “a fun way to spend a winter weekend and help manage the coyotes in the area,” according to organizers. Most people know by now that killing coyotes doesn’t “manage” their numbers, proving that these folks have some catching-up to do…or that it really IS all about bloodlust. Montana is responsible for shipping to slaughter thousands of America’s last wild bison in deference to the livestock industry. Kids are encouraged to kill and are sometimes celebrated when they do.

Really, though, owing to the Treasure State’s frontier heritage, abundant wildlife, and rural and agricultural nature, brutality here is more a difference of degree than kind. Montana–sadly–isn’t all that different from other places when it comes to speciesism. It’s a human thing.

But in spite of the thousands of traps scattered across our landscapes and the death sentences imposed on beloved national park wildlife species, Montana has found a way to distinguish itself even in this bloody horror show. Just last week, legislators on the House Agriculture committee tabled (killed) House Bill 279, which would have closed a loophole in state statute by making spectating at dogfights a misdemeanor. That’s right, dogfighting. It’s a felony in all 50 states, but Montana is the ONLY one where spectating is still legal–placing it dead last in a ranking of state dogfighting laws.

At the outset of the 40-minute hearing, House Agriculture Committee Chair Lee Randall (R-Broadus) asked for a show of hands from proponents of the bill; when many shot up, he noted the bill’s “overwhelming support.” No hands were raised when he asked for opponents. None.

By my count, 14 supporters stood to speak. They included a representative of the Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (it’s a public safety issue, he emphasized); a Yellowstone County prosecutor; animal control officers–including a cruelty investigator; a representative of the Montana Veterinary Medical Association; ordinary citizens–including one who has rescued a fighting dog and has committed to a grueling retraining program; a Montana representative from the Humane Society of the U.S. (see their dogfighting fact sheet); and three awesome Cadette Girl Scouts and two leaders from Lone Rock School (Stevensville, MT) Troop 3756. “We teach our Scouts to speak out and take action when they see something that needs to be changed,” said their proud leader.

Testimony frequently focused on the criminal element–the drugs, weapons, and gambling–that accompanies dogfighting. Fight organizers “hide” behind spectators when fights are raided, making prosecutions difficult. “Without spectators,” testified one officer, “there would be no sport.” Spectators bring children along, asserted another.

This was not the first attempt at closing the spectator loophole; two years ago, a similar bill attempted to make spectating a felony, but the Senate Agriculture Committee felt that penalty was too stiff and tabled the bill. In this iteration, spectating was a misdemeanor, but the bill was still tabled. Why?

Slides & video - click

Slides & video – click

Montana legislators who serve agricultural interests will sell even “man’s best friend” down the river if they perceive the slightest slippery slope; this is why attempts to regulate puppy mills fail every time. Today it’s dogs–tomorrow it’s sheep. Today it’s dogs–tomorrow it’s rodeo stock. In fact, Rep. Mike Lang (R-Malta) questioned the prosecutor on that very point: “While I don’t support dogfighting, or any animal fighting that way…and this pertains to all animals, I want your legal opinion…if in a rodeo a Brahma bull decides to take on one of the pick-up men’s horses and that becomes an animal fight, what is gonna happen to the rodeo spectators and the rodeo event?” Good grief.

Yes, he really did ask that. In the end, it was Rep. Krayton Kerns (R-Laurel; no longer in the legislature), who moved to table the bill in executive action. “This is the first step down a very slippery slope,” he instructed; “if you just try to argue uh, uh, the grey area of animals used for fighting or animals suffering, uh, let’s say in a rodeo event, uh, we’re there. Uh, we’re there. So I think this is a dangerous direction we don’t want to go and I make a substitute motion to table the bill.”

Understand this: Rep. Kerns is willing to accept a public menace for Montana citizens and criminal brutality and death for fighting dogs just to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck in rodeo roping events. To add insult to injury, Kerns is a veterinarian.

In a 10-7 vote, with all six Democrats on the Ag Committee joined by one Republican in opposing the motion to table, spectating at criminal dogfights remains legal in Montana.

I would like to send Representatives Kerns, Lang, and the other eight Republican legislators responsible for suppressing this humane, common-sense bill a one-way ticket to the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C., where a temporary exhibit on dogfighting– “The Voiceless Victims” –is on display. I’d like our illustrious state legislators to see the tools of the violent, criminal trade they again enabled in Montana–including a “rape stand used to immobilize female dogs for breeding purposes; (and) an electrocution device used to kill dogs who lost a fight or failed to show sufficient aggression toward other dogs.” I would like to insist they watch this 4-minute, 56-second video on dogs rescued from a huge, criminal operation in 2009. I want them to see the suffering–and if they don’t care about suffering (and I suspect they don’t)–I’d like to ask them how hard they think it is to get away with similar felony operations in Montana’s vast, empty spaces. It was easy enough–at least for awhile–in rural Missouri (2-minute video).

Most of all, I would like to see these 10 legislators held fully accountable before the Girl Scouts from Troop 3756–girls who were horrified to learn about dogfighting and the lack of consequences for spectators in Montana; young women who felt so strongly that they traveled 150 miles to Helena to advocate for exploited dogs in the halls of their state government. In what should have been a slam dunk against crime and animal abuse, I want to hear these public servants admit why they chose to accommodate felons and abandon heinously abused dogs: to ensure that business-as-usual animal cruelty continues unimpeded in Montana.
Three additional resources (of many): “Dog fighting detailed discussion” from Michigan State University College of Law; Detroit Dog Fighting Caught on Video – Fox News broadcast video, 7 min., 21 sec.; ASPCA’s Dog Fighting FAQ

Comment on a slight variation of this post atAnimal Blawg.