Do you think horses should be slaughtered in the United States?
(WHAS11) - Horsemen who are applauding the return of horse slaughterhouses in the United States have gained an unlikely ally, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Saying the ban ultimately caused more suffering to horses, the animal rights organization has taken the unusual step to endorse the move.
"There simply aren't enough resources for the kind people and sanctuaries who are willing to take in unwanted horses," said Ashley Byrne, PETA's manager of campaigns.
Nearly five years after the U.S. government effectively banned the slaughterhouses, an Agriculture Appropriations Bill signed into law by President Obama in November restores funding to USDA horse meat inspections.
It's a matter of too many horses and not enough people to take care of them. Horses are expensive to keep and horse neglect cases have risen in recent years.
"We still have people calling our offices this week, saying 'I love my horses. My husband lost his job or I lost my job. I cannot afford to keep them. I haven't been able to sell them,'" said Ginny Grulke, Executive Director of the
Kentucky Horse Council, "'What do I do with them? I cannot afford to feed them.'"
Some horses end up at one of Kentucky's 14 non-profit rescue operations, but those sanctuaries can only do so much.
"All of the rescues registered in the United States can only hold 15,000 horses," explained Dave Duquette, President of United Horsemen, a group leading the slaughterhouse effort, "When you're talking about 9 million horses in the United States, 15,000 horses isn't even a drop in the bucket."
Duquette estimates that three-quarters of the horse industry supports horse slaughterhouses. He says investors are lining up to resume slaughterhouse operations, as much to end horse suffering as to make a profit.
"They are in it for the welfare of horses and the horse industry," Duquette said in a phone interview from his quarter horse business in Oregon.
Duquette says the horsemen warned of dire consequences when the federal government put slaughterhouses out of business five years ago.
"Up until this year, (slaughterhouse opponents) were still living on the thought of, 'well there are no unwanted horses, there's no unwanted horses, where are they?'" Duquette said, "Well, they were being turned loose all over the country and thousands and thousands of horses have starved to death and died."
Duquette said the de facto ban has also "decimated" the horse industry.
Byrne said the ban did not end the slaughter of U.S. horses; it simply prolonged the animals' agony because doomed horses were shipped to Mexico and Canada.
"They are enduring a long miserable journey in the process," Byrne said, "Very often they are shipped in containers where they can't even raise their heads up all the way. They are with unfamiliar horses who bite and kick them. They are standing in their own waste. So, the horses were still going to slaughter, they simply were having to endure a miserable journey first."
Last year alone, 138,000 U.S. horses were exported to foreign slaughterhouses, according to a General Accounting Office (GAO) study. Those facilities exercise different animal euthanasia standards than in the U.S..
"Of course the best option would be to ban slaughter in the U.S. and to ban the export of live horses so that no one is slaughtering America's horses," Byrne said.
Short of that, PETA's next step is to discourage horse overpopulation by discouraging horse breeding.
"As long as industries like the horse racing industry and rodeo industry are breeding horses and simply discarding them when they are no longer considered of use, as long as horses are looked at as commodities by the industries, horse slaughter will exist either here or overseas," Byrne explained.
Michael Blowen, the owner of Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, Kentucky, agrees.
"You can't advertise these horses as great athletes and have people come out to Keeneland, come out to Churchill Downs on Derby Day, come spend all this money at the racetrack, then turn around and throw them out like they were garbage," Blowen said.
"We have to raise more money. We have to find more facilities. We have to be able to do a much better job of providing a retirement for these horses because that's our jobs," Blowen continued.