Sorry to go right to a first-name basis, but I feel as though we’re friends. God knows we’ve spent enough time together—I’ve watched most of your movies more than once. I admire your acting ability, your intelligence, and your choice of roles. You are Jay Gatsby. (Sorry, Leo.) And despite the difference in our ages, I think you’re adorable!
That’s why I feel so conflicted. I’m writing to you, one horse lover to another, because I read some quotes attributed to you that surprised me, given your roles in The Horse Whisperer and The Electric Horseman. Yet there you were, inches away on my computer monitor (news.msn.com/, 8/5/2012), saying that ‘“Horse slaughter has no place in our culture.’” Like the Humane Society of the United States, a few vocal animal welfare groups, and several politicians, you claim that American horse slaughter “is cruel, inhumane, and perpetuates abuse and neglect of these beloved animals. We must oppose it with all our might.”
Why we must oppose it? Robert, I wish you had done your homework on this one. Nobody—not even the Humane Society—contests the following dismal facts.
Fact 1: When times get tough for us humans, they get even worse for our animals. According to the same MSN article, we have “tens of thousands of unwanted and abandoned horses across the country.” Some horse owners who lose their jobs just stop feeding their horse and let him starve. How can they look at themselves in the mirror every day? Out of sight, out of mind, I guess. Or, they take him into the woods or desert and abandon him. If the horse is lucky, he’ll stave to death. Why not have a vet come out and euthanize him?
Fact 2: Horse slaughter houses in America were officially closed in 2006. But several agencies—one is the federal Government Accountability Office—continue to keep statistics on the number of “horse abuse and abandonment” cases, and concluded that the number is “on a steady rise.” What to do with all these unwanted horses? Since we can’t slaughter them in this country anymore, the majority are sent to Canada or Mexico, where workers use methods to kill them that are guaranteed to turn your stomach. The United States Department of Agriculture itself keeps statistics on horses sent to other countries for slaughter, and according to the Equine Welfare Alliance, their own statistics show that the number of horses “sent to other countries for slaughter has nearly tripled,” and that “many of those [are] being shipped thousands of miles to points south of the border [or north] to be slaughtered in unregulated and inhumane facilities.”
Fact 3: Slaughter-bound horses—usually crammed in together in stock trailers that were never intended to haul that many animals—are not fed or watered during shipment. A significant number are dead on arrival. I passed a stock trailer like that many years ago on a Pasadena freeway. All the horses were brown and white pintos—real beauties. One was already down and making no attempt to stand—no room. How long is the drive from Pasadena to the nearest Mexican slaughter house? If you want more proof and have an iron stomach, Google “horse slaughter” images. According to one rescue group, “In Canada, the ‘captive bolt’ method” is used on most horses.” The procedure is supposed to stun the horse into insensibility, but there’s a “high failure rate, and therefore repeated strikes are made. The sickening result can be the shredding of eye sockets and the skull”—but the horse is still alive. Take a good look, Robert. Or would you prefer to see how horses die in Mexico? There are photos of that, too—butchers stabbing horses on top of the neck until they manage to sever their spinal cord.
Fact 4: The rescue groups that don’t want horses slaughtered in this country fall into two camps. One is evangelical. They not only want to stop horse slaughter here, they also want to stop it in Mexico and Canada. We can’t tell other countries what to do—we would be angry and rebellious if a group of people who think chocolate is immoral kept sending us letters asking for money to make selling chocolate illegal. Then there are the “Not in My Backyard” campers. As long as horses die gruesome deaths somewhere else, the NIMBY-ites will be happy. Once again—out of sight, out of mind.
Fact 5: Many livestock associations, horse rescue groups, the Animal Protection of New Mexico, the American Quarter Horse Association, and several Native American tribes, including the Navajo and Yakama nations, are in favor of horse slaughter houses. (The Navajo Nation, the largest in the U.S., “estimates there are 75,000 horses on its land, many of which are dehydrated and starving after years of drought.”)
Fact 6: Horse slaughter in this country does not, as you claim, perpetuate “abuse and neglect.” Poverty and ignorance perpetuate abuse and neglect. As horse lovers, we stand a far better chance of making sure the horses within our borders die a humane death by legalizing it and subjecting USDA officials to the same kind of public scrutiny that rescue groups are giving slaughter houses in Canada and Mexico. Horse lovers can work with groups like the Animal Legal Defense Fund to strengthen existing laws to prosecute people who abuse or abandon horses. We can introduce laws that limit the number of horses than can be safely transported in stock trailers, and insist that that the horses be fed and watered along the way.
Robert, we’ve been friends for a long time now—at least I’ve been a friend to you, by going to your movies and buying items from your catalogs. Be a friend to America’s unwanted horses. They need you more than I do.