Friday, March 14, 2008

How Good Intentions Go Bad

I think that I can honestly say that most things people do is because they THINK it's the right thing to do. I think that honestly most public officials enter politics because they really do want to make things better. However, often times things go VERY wrong and the best intentions become the worst thing possible.

We can see this clearly through the Illinois state bill HB 4162. This is the Horse Transportation Bill that would originally outlaw the use of double decker trailers to transport horses in the state of Illinois. The bill was introduced in response to a horrific accident that killed and injured horses and blocked traffic on a highway for hours. The USDA, the AHDF, and many other humane organizations have long known and stated that the transport of horses in double decker trailers, even those modified, is inhumane. The bill was supposed to help protect horses being transported through and within the state of Illinois. What more noble intention is there than to make this state a more humane state?

With all these noble intentions and support for a wonderful bill, why then are we now not supporting the bill? Because somehow the intentions got thwarted and the intent of the bill was changed by a special interest group, specifically the Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau has taken the position that transport in double decker trailers can be made humane and asked that an amendment be added to the bill that would allow double decker usage. However, it also made changes to the current way the law is written. Currently state law requires the transporter to PROVE that their method of transport is humane, the amendment would force the STATE to prove that the method is inhumane. The prosecutor would have to call humane experts, transport experts and equine experts in to testify in EVERY case. This would cause a burden to the prosecutors, a financial burden on the taxpayers and would basically prevent the law from being ever used, rendering the bill completely useless and actually even making it EASIER to use double decker trailers than it is today because it would allow drivers to argue that the trailer was designed for equine. As stated earlier, the USDA, the AHDF and many humane organizations have already determined that the use of double decker trailers is inhumane, EVEN IF THEY ARE MODIFIED. The USDA is even in the process of revising their regulations to ban the transport of horses in double deckers to locations other than a slaughter plant because it is so inhumane and transporters have taken advantage of the loophole in the current regulations.

In other words, the law that started out to protect the horses from inhumane treatment would actually end up hurting them more.

So, unfortunately we here at the AHDF can no longer support the bill. We join a number of other organizations in making that decision. We ask that if you live in Illinois you call your local Representatives and ask that they NOT support the bill and if they are a supporter that they withdraw their support. You can find your legislator by clicking here. It is vitally important that the bill not pass at this point. You can point out that the bill would place an undue burden on the taxpayer, that it would not prevent the inhumane treatment of horses during transport and could actually promote their inhumane treatment.

It is a tragedy that such a wonderful bill with such noble intentions has gone down this road. It is sad that so many people are motivated by a dollar that they cannot do the right thing without it being regulated. However, that is the world we live in and we, those who care about the animals who have no voice, MUST speak for them and protect them. Good intentions are great, but we must be ever vigil that they not be warped by others because it can and does happen.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Off Topic

I just received an interesting email that contained a link I thought people might be interested in.

The link is

Basically, the site will ask you to sign up to participate in an Earth Hour event. They are asking that people turn off their lights for an hour at 8 pm March 29th. The event is sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund.

The site also has some tips to help the environment, so even visiting the site may give you some ideas you can do at home to help reduce our footprint on the environment.

I am signing up and plan on turning off our lights and I hope others will join me.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Donkey's in China needing help

I received an email from a very impassioned lady in Australia who cares deeply about donkeys. She sent me the following information and I thought we have some great folks that read this who would be willing to help, so I am passing along the information.

I would like to note that they are asking for very POLITE letters. I know how horrible the following information is, but let's just remember none of us want to start a diplomatic problem. So, please remain calm and reasonable in your letters, but let's also not let them off the hook for these horrible atrocities.

I wish to draw your attention to two accounts from Animals Asia Foundation operating from Hong Kong (founder Jill Robinson)

The first is from Jill’s blog and relates to the treatment of donkeys at the live animal market in Maoshan

The horrors of Maoshan - part 2

Friday, February 8, 2008, 10:46 PM

The market also doubles as a slaughterhouse - a round metal drum with orange spikes used for "de-furring" the cats and dogs sits just outside a burning cauldron that will be cooking their meat for customers towards lunchtime.

Close by, truck after truck piled high with white goats begin arriving at the market, while donkeys are being dragged out of sheds and loaded into cages, trucked off to be slaughtered elsewhere. Frightened and exhausted, several have no strength to rise to their feet and the traders kick them in the stomachs and beat their backs with metal poles until they can stand the agony no more and rise on shaking legs. Even then, the abuse continues and the traders continue beating them and grabbing their tails, painfully twisting them into knots, and forcing the donkeys to climb up the metal ramps into the cages.

The second relates to the upsurge of the ‘spectator sport’ of horse fighting. Below is the position paper form Animals Asia

Horse fighting

Animals Asia position paper

February 2008: Animals Asia investigators first witnessed the horrific spectacle of “horse-fighting” back in 1997 when we visited Xili Lake Safari Park in Shenzhen, southern China and documented a cruel and astonishing event. Today the practice continues despite our protests to the Government whenever we hear of its re-occurrence in safari parks and zoos across the country.

The practice of horse-fighting originates from a tradition of the Miao minority, who live in southwest China. According to legend, it began about 500 years ago, when two young men fell in love with a beautiful girl. The King of Miao decided to organise a horse-fighting competition so that the winner could then marry the girl in question. Today, especially in the Miao community, horse-fighting has become a regular event to celebrate the Miao New Year during November of each year. However, Animals Asia has found that government officials in Guizhou now actively encourage this cruel event in order to attract tourists, to “help the people to get rid of poverty”. Although not so widespread or popular, it is clear that horse-fighting occurs to entertain the visitors and tourists – and other areas such as Guangdong encourage its existence.

Generally, a mare is induced into season through the injection of hormones. She is led out into a ring that contains two roped and tied stallions and paraded in front of them for several minutes in order for them to pick up her scent. Goaded into sexual excitement the two stallions are then released and begin fighting with each other almost straight away while the mare stands just a few feet away. These fights are clearly occurring daily as evidenced by bruised and bloody wounds each time they are led out into the ring. The fights are allowed to continue for several minutes, with the horses relentlessly kicking and biting each other, until one finally runs from the ring. Other, even more disturbing, stories describe a stallion completely restrained while another kicks it to death.

With the “Green” Olympic Games just around the corner, the practice of horse-fighting is in appalling contrast to the message of living harmoniously with nature. The effect of witnessing such barbarity – particularly on children – is hard to imagine. If we want our children to grow up as caring, compassionate adults surely there are better ways of teaching them than this.

This is a repulsive spectacle by any stretch of the imagination and we urge supporters of Animals Asia to write swiftly to their local Chinese Embassy decrying such a cruel form of so-called entertainment. Embassy addresses can be found at:

Re the donkeys I have been in contact with a number of agencies and in addition to long term projects being run in China all encourage the writing of polite letters to the government.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

DC Trip

I have heard from several folks who were able to make it to DC for the large gathering in support of the Horse Slaughter ban. I have heard nothing but excellent reviews and most were VERY happy they went. They all seem pleased that they were able to help the horses, learn a little about the legislative process and most are even reporting that they had what seem to have been productive meetings. All in all it seems like it was a VERY successful event and all the calls from those at home have also seemed to have had an impact. I have not heard of a single office that wasn't aware of the bill and its huge public support. Great job to all who went, called and made an impact.

I have had many private emails asking why I didn't attend. I had planned on not sharing to much personal information because usually it has no bearing on my work and I am actually a private person. However, this time rather than answering so many emails privately I would rather just say it once and not talk about it any more.

My daughter was pregnant with her second child. Her original due date was the end of March, so I had planned on going to DC and I would be home when she delivered. In January she began having problems. At that time they also changed her due date to the 14th of March. Because of the date change and the problems I had to make the decision not to go. On March 4th my daughter went to her regular doctor's appointment. They couldn't find the baby's heartbeat. I was called immediately to be with her and I went. On the 5th she delivered her son, who had passed away. While all this was going on my family also had to care for my wonderful granddaughter. At no point from the time my daughter heard the news until now did we feel comfortable with leaving my daughter alone. His funeral will be this coming week.

There is a great deal more to the story that I would rather not go into. I also do not post this for sympathy. It is simply an explanation on why I couldn't go and why I have not responded to emails as quickly as I normally do. I apologize for that, but often life steps in and we have things that are VERY important that we must deal with. I am working on planning a trip to DC in April and if anyone would like to join me I will be posting details when I have them.

Again, thank you for everyone's hard work and participation in last week's events and congratulations to those who participated (by going or calling in) and made a difference. As always I know we can and will make a difference if we don't give up.

Monday, March 3, 2008

How the Economy is Affecting Horses

We have all heard about the foreclosure problems facing many in this country. People are being forced from their homes and some are leaving their dogs, cats and other pets behind because they simply have no place to take them. Just abandoning any pet is irresponsible and nobody should just accept the abandonment of animals. Responsible owners of any pet will make sure that their pets are placed somewhere when they hit difficulties and not resort to illegal acts such as abandonment or neglect.

To justify such illegal acts as people making hard choices is unacceptable. People often are faced with hard choices, but as a civilized society we hold our citizens responsible for their actions and their choices. Circumstances may mitigate the punishment, as they should, but we are a society of laws and we cannot allow people to blatantly violate laws or society will crumble. Ignoring any law creates a slippery slope that our society simply cannot/should not allow. The courts are designed to take all mitigating circumstances into consideration when they hand out punishment, so no laws should ever be ignored out of sympathy.

Horses are not the only animals being abandoned. Humane organizations are reporting many animals and different types of animals are being left in homes. However, at no point is anyone calling for a dog, cat or guinea pig slaughter plant. They are the unfortunate victims of the economy and the credit industry. However, when it comes to horses we simply must kill them all according to those who advocate the reopening of the horse slaughter plants. These animals are victims just as much as the homeowners, the dogs, the cats and anyone else hurt by the current economic trends. So, the answer is not to further victimize them, but to assist them in finding new homes just as we do with the other pets.

We can also look at the economy to blame for the number of owner surrenders that have nothing to do with people losing their homes. If some haven’t noticed there was a drought in a large part of the south in 2007 and in other parts they had unusually high rain amounts. This drove up the cost of grain and hay. Am I the only one who noticed that EVERYTHING went up in price? Bread costs more, milk certainly costs more and gas is outrageous. It costs more to feed my children and it costs more to feed my horses. It is my responsibility to dig deeper to feed them all. So, we have modified our normal vacation plans and dipped into our savings, but my kids, horses and other pets are fed and well cared for. If anyone simply cannot afford to care for their horses, dogs or children, they should seek help and put them where they CAN get the care they need. That was the responsibility everyone assumed when they had children and when they got horses and dogs and…

However, not everyone selling a horse is in drastic need for funds and facing financial hardship. It is VERY seldom that horses stay from birth until death with the same owner. Horses are sold for a variety of reasons. If they weren’t most owners wouldn’t be owners because there simply wouldn't be any horses for sale for us to buy! So, just because so many horses are for sale doesn't mean the economy is so terrible. Normally there are a large number of horses for sale during the winter and fewer during the spring and summer months. Some people decide during the winter they just don't want to feed a horse during the winter when they ride less, or because their kids went off to college in the fall and it becomes apparent that they won't be coming home EVERY weekend to ride, or because they are new to owning horses and had no idea that the horses can't just been turned out to graze all year long. That happens every winter, not just this winter. Anyone who has been in the horse industry for any length of time knows this and they take this into consideration when deciding to market any horse. Most refrain from marketing horses during the winter and wait until spring to sell if they can.

This leads me to those who use auctions as a way to sell horses. People who take horses to auction are looking for a quick buck, they just don’t want to take the time to properly market the horse and find it a new home. This is the same mentality of the folks who give away puppies in the Wal-Mart parking, they just don’t care. And they don't care (or turn a blind eye to the fact) that a large number of those puppies find their way to the local pounds. I have even seen someone selling their horse in the Wal-Mart parking lot! Sure, it takes longer to properly market and make sure your horse has a decent home, but in the end your profit is much higher. Horses at auction are perceived to be of lower quality and buyers at auction pay accordingly. Of course there are a few notable exceptions to this like the private stock auctions. However, this isn’t the majority of the horse market, just as the horses going through auction aren’t the majority of the horse market either. Horses at an auction near where I live are going for $50 to $600. However a quick check of the paper shows the average price for a horse in my area to be from $700 to $1200. I called a few of the ads in the paper and many sold their horses in less than a week through the ads, so auction statistics don't reflect the equine economy and using it as the sole factor is more than just misleading.

Some are saying the fact that equine rescues are full and that shows that the economy is so bad that slaughter is needed to allow a method to "dispose" of the excess horses. There are a number of articles written that dispute this theory, read one here. In short, slaughter is a supply and demand industry. It is not the supply of horses that motivate it but the demand for the meat. So, a supposed surplus of horses isn't the reason that rescues are full. Many, if not just about every one, are full because they have taken in horses that were bound for slaughter. Many rescues attend auctions and use their limited funds to buy horses that would otherwise go to slaughter. In the case of the AHDF, we accepted horses that another group purchased that were headed to slaughter or were literally at a feedlot waiting to go to Mexican slaughter plants. Another way rescues fill up is that breeders will contact rescues to place their old brood mares or other less desirable stock. Race horse owners/trainers call rescues to take their horses that have stopped winning. They are not facing financial ruin; they just want to sell their horses but either don’t want the horses to go to slaughter or think they are going to get a better deal from the “suckers”. Most rescues accept these animals because if they don't they know that these "sellers" will sell the horses to slaughter and they know that by not accepting them it might seem that they didn't care about the horses possibly going to slaughter. These money motivated people are manipulating these soft-hearted kind folks and taking top dollar for horses that they know they wouldn't get from any other buyer in the open market. Again, using this method to determine the equine market is misleading.

So, to recap. Yes, the economy is bad. Yes, people are having to dig deeper to care for their horses, but they are also digging deeper for EVERYTHING. The horse industry isn't the only one facing higher prices and less profit. Yes, some irresponsible people may be abandoning their horses, their dogs and/or their other pets, but they aren't doing it at record levels and they aren't just dumping their horses in the wild (see our blog entry called Horses Everywhere or are they?). Those that are illegally abandoning their horses or neglecting them should be prosecuted. The winter months are traditionally a time when horse prices dip and horses seem to be in surplus especially in years where some area has seen drought or other natural disasters (EVERY year sees some area in the country suffering drought, flood or wildfires). Yes, the credit crunch is affecting horse owners but it is affecting every aspect of the population in some way. And last but not least, yes the end is in sight. There is absolutely no need to turn to an inhumane and ineffective industry to "bail out" the equine industry because it simply doesn't need bailing out.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Beef recall and how it affects the horses

Recently a video was released that showed the horrific treatment of cattle at a slaughter plant. The video prompted a large scale recall of beef across the nation, with much of the meat having gone to school districts. Anyone who has seen the video can tell you how horrible the treatment of the animals were. They can also tell you about the fact that downer cattle were slaughtered, in violation of the law. It was one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen. I want to make it clear that the following is my, Shelley Sawhook's, personal opinion and may not reflect those of the AHDF membership or Board.

However, I am sure the question in your mind is what does this have to do with horses? Well, there is a connection, but you need to follow my logic and not jump to conclusions. I do eat meat and I don't advocate banning the processing of all meat. I know that the meat packing companies swear that I and others who support a ban on horse slaughter are out to stop ALL meat processing. I do advocate more humane processes and I do believe that ALL animals should be treated humanely and with dignity. I also know there are some folks out there that may see me as a hypocrite and those that say that may be partially right. But, my father used to raise beef cattle and I was raised on meat. (We raised pigs too at one point in time, but that is a long story that ends with me having great respect for pigs.) I do however know the difference between cows and horses and the difference between pets and livestock and that is why I personally don't think that I am a hypocrite and why the slippery slope theory of the meat packers is a flat out lie when it comes to me and most, if not all, of the folks who are working on the horse slaughter issue. But, I am getting off topic, so let's get back to why the cattle at that slaughter plant have something to do with the horses.

The plant were this video was shot was a federally inspected plant. USDA vets were onsite when those cattle were slaughtered. They were there to make sure the law was followed and that the cattle were handled according the Humane Slaughter Act. The USDA did not shut down the plant when these violations occurred. No, the vets and inspectors approved the meat. That is why it was shipped out. The person taking the video turned it over to the HSUS, who released it.** In other words, if not for the release of the video nobody would have known that these things happened all while the USDA was sitting idly by doing nothing. Which begs the question how often does things like this happen when nobody is video taping? It also prompts the question how humane can slaughter be if things like this go on while inspectors and vets are allowing things like this to happen? This is how it ties into the issue of horses. We keep getting told that horse slaughter is a method of "humane euthanasia".

There are several videos that show how horrific the slaughter of horses was/is. Yet, so much has been said by those who are pro-slaughter about how humane the method of slaughter is for horses. The recent video of the cattle slaughter plant was horrific, but no more horrific than the video of horses being slaughtered, so how can horse slaughter EVER be considered humane?

I would also like to point out that death comes not from the bolt gun, but by esanguination (by having their throats cut and bleeding to death). The bolt gun is designed to stun the animal, not to administer death. If properly administered it can cause brain death or permanent brain damage, but not instant death as people are lead to believe. The USDA has a document on their website that talks about animals (primarily horses) who regain conciousness during the slaughter process and what if anything the inspectors did to punish the plants. Usually it was to council the management because it is dangerous to the employees to have the animals revive, to ensure the throats were slit in under 30 seconds after being stunned, but more often than not nothing happened to the plants where this occurred. In other words, the USDA did nothing.

So, what happened at that plant on the day their processes were video taped was nothing new. As far as determining if your meat is as safe as you thought is something each person needs to decide for themselves. However, do NOT assume that this is an isolated case because there is more video out there that shows this happens frequently.*** But, for our purposes I think it proves without a doubt that horse slaughter is NOT a humane method of euthanasia and anyone who says that it is humane is either misled by others or is full of manure.

**There has been some controversy about the timing of the release and the fact that it may have been withheld from the public for some period of time. I believe that the HSUS was doing as instructed when they held the release and there were no ulterior motives behind holding it, but I will let them defend themselves because they have all the facts and can do so better than I can.

***I do quickly want to say there are plants out there that do their best to ensure that cattle are handled humanely, but without the proper oversight that the USDA is supposed to ensure where these plants are and if they are humane at all times depends not on the USDA but on the plant and their training.

Horses EVERYWHERE, or are they?

If you have read many of the recent rumors all over the internet you may think that if you want a horse you don't need to pay cash for it, just head to certain areas and you can pick one up for free. A while back we were all told about the repercussions of the close of the slaughter plants, horses were overrunning Kentucky. The media even jumped on this bandwagon and without checking their sources published a number of articles about these poor abandoned animals.

The problem is that the horses the article referred to were all owned and not a single one was abandoned. The horses were all grazing on land that had been reclaimed from mining. The grass was about waist high, something no horse owner could resist, especially since they didn't pay for the grazing. The whole issue arose from an article about some teenagers shooting at some horses that they thought were strays. Of course, the author of the articles didn't delve any deeper into the issue than the fact that the boys had claimed the horses were strays. He failed to read the follow-up articles that mentioned the owners and the fact that the horses injured received immediate attention and the owner removed the horses from the property.

After the erroneous articles were published the state of Kentucky moved to correct the Misinformation. The Governor issued a written statement saying the state of Kentucky was in fact not overrun with abandoned horses and many local articles were written trying to correct the misinformation, but the facts never received the attention the sensational article got and the furor eventually died down. That is unless you count the fact that the articles were and still are used to oppose HR 503 and S 311, the Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Obviously the truth is something that some groups feel that Congress is not entitled to.

Fast forward to a week ago.

A rumor is being spread that 250-300 horses have been abandoned in "northern" Wisconsin. The email added that people who can't care for their horses should make sure that their horses go to a rescue and not be abandoned. It also accompanied an alert about thieves stealing hay because it is just so expensive and honest people are turning criminals to feed their starving horses. They attempted to look like they legitimately cared about these poor animals, when what they are really trying to do is say that the slaughter houses should be reopened. Since we have all been through this before with Kentucky, we all knew that this rumor was false. However, Mary Jones, a long time AHDF supporter/member and staffer, did some checking. After hours of research and calling just about everyone within the state from local officials, to state parks officials to federal parks officials in Wisconsin she was able to determine that the rumor was false. The only loose horses any of them had ever heard of were in good weather when people were riding and the horses got away from them. They assured her that if there were actually that many horses out there they would have detected them by now.

I want to make it clear that Mary checked the WHOLE state of Wisconsin, not just the "northern" part where the rumor said they were located. Mary took a great deal of her valuable time to verify this rumor, something she shouldn't have had to do but did so we could all speak to the rumor with authority. Unfortunately, I don't think the rumors will end here. Just put any state in the blank and we will soon see rumors fly about that state.

If anyone has any doubts about what AHDF says or anyone who speaks on the issue of slaughter says, check it out. At the end of this article I will post the names and agencies that Mary called and spoke with. You can make the same calls and get the same results. Those who speak on the anti-slaughter side will usually provide you with links to where you can see where we get our info so you can verify it yourself. Those speaking on the pro-slaughter side aren't as forthcoming because they use theory, conjecture, fear and lies to support their position.

Why am I writing about these stupid rumors? Because often well-meaning people will pass along this information hoping that someone will do something to "help" the horses. However, this just spreads the rumors and gives them more power. Whenever you read a rumor about things like this do some research first and if you can't, don't post it all over the internet, send it to a group you can trust to check out. If there is any truth to it they will do whatever they can to help the animals and if the public needs to get involved they will send out a press release or an alert to their members. Let's all not get caught up in the lies and innuendos and just deal in facts, it will help us all work more effectively to help the horses we all love.

Darryl, the manager of Willow Park
Kate, WI State Parks Department
Karen, Dept of Ag's National Parks Service
Anne, Department of the Interior's National Forest Service office in Milwaukee
Phil, Recreation and Land Department of the National Forest Service