by Laura Crum
Today’s post is on a controversial subject in many ways, be warned. A lot of you may have strong feelings about this topic. I want to bring it up because its something I think about and wonder what the best answer is. I don’t have a simple solution, but I do have some ideas. And I think they’re worth talking about.
First off, I want to say that one reason I think about this topic as much as I do is because I occasionally read the blog, “Fugly Horse of the Day”. Its listed on the sidebar for those who wish to check it out. And, in fact, I have been reading this blog (and others) more often lately because I am in the midst of churning out my twelfth novel. I am in that particular stage, familiar to all authors, where I must simply generate the bulk of the material. I have a plot and characters and an outline; I have written the oh-so-enjoyable first few chapters. I am about halfway through the book and now I must steadily pour out reams and reams of story (or so it seems to me right now). Those who write novels will understand that this is not always a delightful, joyous, creative occupation. Sometimes it feels like trudging up a steep hill—with a long way to climb ahead. But I must persevere, because I have a deadline looming. So I spend many hours, nose to grindstone, or rather keyboard, typing away. And when I get stuck, or need a break, I have a tendency to click around reading horse blogs. And often, I read the fugly blog.
Now, Fugly is a controversial subject in and of herself. Many of the “horse bloggers” hate her, others love her. Me, I neither hate nor love Cathy, the blogger, nor her blog. I think she does a good job getting a lot of important info out to the public and she is a clever writer—and I also think her heart’s in the right place. This last means I think she is doing her best to reduce the suffering that goes on in the lives of horses and all animals. That said, I disagree with her on many points and I’m not always nuts about her attitude. However, guess what? Its that very attitude that has made her so successful as a blogger—that’s what people read her blog for. They like to hear her bash people. And she’s smart enough to know that. And one of the things that Cathy/Fugly is vehement about is being anti-slaughter.
Since reading the fugly blog I’ve learned a lot about what the slaughter business amounts to right now, and it is all horrific. I am totally anti-slaughter, too, as it exists today. But I think the underlying problem is deeper than Cathy or others who are simply anti-slaughter are willing to consider, and I’d like to put my views forth here and see what you all think.
First off, I am a person who does her best to treat all animals with respect and love. I retire my old horses and euthanise them when their time comes; I am aghast when folks I know take their horses to the sale (to potentially end up going to slaughter), and I tell them so. I have been known to rescue other people’s retirees and give them a home. I love all my animals, and I will allow no harm to be done to the wild animals on my property, including the troublesome ones. So I guess you could say I’m totally on the same page as the anti-slaughter people when it comes to wanting to prevent animal suffering.
I raise my own beef—partly because I want to know I’m eating healthy meat, and partly because I want to know that the steer I’m eating had a good life and a peaceful death. And I do ensure this. My steers live to be 5-7 years old in a big pasture. They are never penned up; they are killed by a professional ranch killer as they stand there grazing. One moment alive, the next gone. No hauling, no feedlot. No suffering.
Now I have had vegetarians tell me that I am evil for killing these steers, and I am a bit puzzled by this. The steers will die in the end. We all do. Death cannot be avoided. Suffering can be avoided—not death. I did not bring the steers into the world—I don’t raise either cattle or horses. By buying these steers, I saved them from a short life and a nasty end. If I let them live a great deal longer, they would simply be faced with the various maladies of old age. Why is it wrong of me to give them a peaceful end to a very good life and eat their meat? I think its win/win. And I honestly think that the best answer to the horse slaughter conundrum is not to ban slaughter but to create a program that is in some ways like the program I have for my steers.
The problem with saying that horse slaughter should disappear and that everyone who no longer wishes to keep a horse and can’t find a buyer should cough up the money to euthanize the horse, or at least shoot it, is that many, many people do not regard horses as pets. Very many people regard horses as livestock, and they do not consider livestock to have any feelings worth considering. I’m not defending this point of view; I’m just saying that its pretty common. Fugly has said that in this society horses are pet animals and should be treated as such, and I think that’s a gray area. We might wish this were so, but historically, in this society, horses were not very often pet animals. They were a means of transport and then a means of making money (racing, horseshows/horse training, trading…etc), and having fun (horse as sporting equipment). It has always been the exception rather than the rule that a horse owner loved his/her animal and took care of them when their working days were done. Given this situation, I think it makes more sense to find a solution that incorporates the point of view that horses are livestock like cattle—something to make money on—rather than pets.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t agree with that view. I love horses and I don’t want to see them suffer. But I know tons and tons of people who do treat horses as if they were cattle, just something to make money on (or sporting equipment—to be got rid of when it doesn’t work any more), and who don’t think that either horses or cattle have “feelings”. The fact that I believe these people are totally wrong (or fugly believes that, or any of us) doesn’t change the way such folks think. And by the way, from their point of view, I treat my cattle as if they were horses.
What if we all just agreed that an unwanted horse is better off dead than suffering and that there is no harm in using his flesh, as long as he is killed humanely. What if there were pastures and ranch killers set aside for this purpose, and there were strict rules as to how the procedures could be done. What if “horse killers” could thus raise “clean” meat such as I raise my steers (by keeping the horses on good pasture and hay for several months) and then sell the humanely killed horses for top dollar to the markets that want such meat. What if they could make a good profit this way?
I think that the horror in horse slaughter comes from the dreadful hauling conditions and feedlot conditions and the equally horrible way in which these horses are killed. There is no horror in a quick painless death while grazing, such as I give my steers. In actual fact, it’s a more reliably peaceful death than euthanasia, when executed by a competent professional. There is no horror in using the meat for food.
So I want to suggest that rather than taking up the somewhat unrealistic position that everyone should regard horses as pets, that all horsemen adopt the position of trying to create a truly humane way to “process” unwanted horses. One that is good for both the horses and the people involved.
And yes, I agree that it’s a shame to kill a young horse that has never had a chance, and if someone can give that horse a chance, more power to them. But starving backyard horses are not getting a life that’s preferable to my proposed slaughter program, in my opinion.
Also, I have not touched at all on the other aspects of this subject, such as people breeding horses for which there is no market, and the harm done by failing to have young horses trained such that they are capable of a useful working life. At the moment, I’m just trying to focus on the one problem. There are many unwanted horses who suffer and their current end through the slaughter industry is horrible. I think we should try to make a positive change and I think my idea makes more sense than banning slaughter. Well, we did ban slaughter and what came of it was just as bad. Horses hauled further, to die in worse conditions. It isn’t working. Lets try something different.
Ok—there’s my ideas on this subject—I’d welcome hearing yours.