Path Home Shows 2011 Show Archive March 2011 Show 1110 Horse Slaughter

Horse Slaughter

In 2006, the last horse slaughter plant closed in the U.S., much to the delight of animal rights advocates and many horse enthusiasts. Yet in the ensuing years, a new unintended consequence has emerged…what to do with the horses as they age.
Horse Slaughter


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Show 1110: Horse Slaughter

Air date: March 6, 2011



Rob:  Well, from Indian ponies to a cowboy’s faithful companion, nothing better embodies the spirit of the American West than the horse; which is why any discussion of what happens to horses as they age can often be a heated one.  In 2006, the last horse slaughter plant closed in the U S, much to the delight of animal rights advocates and many horse enthusiasts.  Yet in the ensuing years, a new unintended consequence has emerged, what to do with horses as they age and no longer can perform.  Our Courtenay Dehoff starts us off.

Courtenay:  He knows his job well, performing in his prime, at his utmost ability.  But this powerful creature is at the center of a heated debate.  Few issues have stirred more passion, and ignited more controversy than what happens to horses once they can no longer perform.  Dixie Johnson and her husband run Johnson Equine Rescue to help protect the animals she loves.

Dixie Johnson:  There’s a place that you can take them.  You can adopt them out somewhere.  There’s a place to go if you just look.

Courtenay:  Johnson and her family run Johnson Equine Rescue all out of a love for animals someone else may not want, or be able to afford.

Johnson:  We got started two years ago in August, it’ll be this August.  Our daughter, she had a little pony that she had rode, for probably three years, and she had outgrown the pony.  And she just wanted a bigger horse, so we started looking for a larger horse for her.  We came across horses for adoption, and that intrigued us.  We couldn’t get the idea out of our head, it was just amazing what they were doing, that’s how it got started.

Courtenay:  Johnson and her family have rescued 20 horses, investing in their care and preparing them for adoption.

Johnson:  People think that you get them in, and you just go from this, this, this, but it’s a big process.  You can’t turn them out to the pasture with the other horses.  The exciting thing is, when they leave that pen and they’re out to the big pen; then, that means they’re ready for adoption.

Courtenay:  While horse rescue facilities and adoption is ultimately what we want for our horses, it may not be the case for most unwanted horses.  In the past year several years, cases of neglect and abuse have taken light right here in Oklahoma.  Many believe, this may be the unintended consequence of closing the three horse slaughter plants in the United States.

Becky Brewer:  When we say abuse, we think of physical abuse that is preplanned or that somebody actually does.  But abuse can be neglect.

Courtenay:  Becky Brewer is Oklahoma’s state veterinarian.

Brewer:  What is happening is, we’re having owners that turn horses out on farms and ranches, and they are just left alone.  The end of life for a horse is not an easy one.  They don’t have heart attacks.  They don’t have strokes.  They just die of not being able to eat properly.  Horses’ teeth grow all their lifetime, and they grind those down.  So later in life they have a difficult time grazing, a difficult time chewing that food, swallowing that food, so that it can be nutritious to them.

Jana Turner:  It’s sad to say; but, you know, if you can’t afford to feed your family, you can’t afford to feed your animals.

Courtenay:  Professional barrel racer and long time horse owner, Jana Turner, says she believes regulated horse slaughter plants in the United States were beneficial.

Turner:  I guess there’s no humane way to go about it. You know, the turning them loose or sending them across the border to Mexico or Canada for slaughter is not humane.  It would be more beneficial to have a facility here in the United States that was inspected by USDA inspectors and followed their protocols along with, you know, the humane treatment, humane euthanasia of animals, of horses.  If we would be more strict on our requirements; you know, transporting them, how they’re euthanized, you know, how the slaughter facilities are designed, you know, that’s a very humane way to end a horse’s life.  I mean, nobody wants to ever think about it; you know, these horses are like our families, you know, I mean they’re like our kids, you know.  I know that’s hard for people to understand, but, I mean, we get attached to them, like, you know, people are attached to any other animal.

Courtenay:  Johnson opposes horse slaughter in the United States, but understands how expensive taking care of a horse can be.

Johnson:  People can’t take care of them.  They’ve fallen upon hard times.  They’ve lost their jobs, and they can’t take care of them anymore.  They don’t realize what a big expense it is.

Courtenay:  The average cost for basic care of these animals can range as high as 2400 dollars a year.  If someone can’t take care of their horse, she encourages people to surrender them to a rescue facility like hers.

Johnson:  We had a family that called, and she was heartbroken because she really did like her horses; she actually really loved them.  And her husband lost his job, so she called and she said that she was given our name and wanted to know if we could take them.  They just couldn’t take care of them anymore.  She said that it was a tough decision, but she had to make a decision, whether to “feed my family, or feed my horses”.

Courtenay:  The equine rescue facility is currently full, but Johnson says they will adopt as many as they can.  With the tough economy, their donations are down, but they say they will continue their rescue mission.

Johnson:  It’s grown into a passion with us.  We’re very proud of what we’re doing here.  It’s been the most amazing thing I think that we’ve ever done.

Courtenay:  While rescue facilities and adoption would ultimately be everyone’s dream for unwanted horses, Turner says horse slaughter may be a necessary evil.  She agrees rescuing all the unwanted horses from slaughter would be nice, but believes it’s simply unrealistic.

Turner:  The Unwanted Horse Coalition, and they did some research, what it would cost for a year, and it’s in the millions.  How do you get people to donate enough money to take care of 150,000 horses a year.  You’re talking in the millions.  That would be our dream, but you know as far as reality, it seems like more of them are getting neglected and not taken care of, because that dream isn’t really financially feasible.  We really don’t, or haven’t found a solution to the unwanted horse that is financially a sound idea.

Courtenay:   Two differing opinions from horse owners that love their animals equally.

Rob:  Now while horse slaughter is illegal in the U S, thousands of horses are still being taken to slaughter plants in Mexico and Canada.  A practice animal rights advocates are trying to outlaw, while those in favor of slaughter say it’s the result of misguided, if well intended legislation.