Wednesday, December 10, 2008

'Killer horses' stir controversy

Casper Star Tribune Newspaper, Casper, WY
By NATE JENKINS Associated Press writer
Friday, November 28, 2008 9:58 PM MST

RUSHVILLE, Neb. -- At dusk, after all the fancy horses had been auctioned, Doug Barnes settled into a seat at the sale barn and got down to business. Three, four, five or more horses ambled into the ring at a time.The auctioneer stopped making sales pitches. He looked straight ahead at the familiar visitor from Fort Collins, Colo., waiting for him to tip his hand. Barnes didn't disappoint.In about 30 minutes, Barnes bought 25 so-called "killer horses." Their new owner would subject them to what animal rights groups say is a growing type of abuse: trucking them nearly 700 miles to Canada for slaughter, circumventing a U.S. ban on the practice. Much of the meat is eventually exported to countries in Europe and Asia for human consumption.Stacy Segal, a horse specialist at the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal rights activists want a ban on exporting U.S. horses for slaughter abroad."They're jammed onto trailers with no regard for breed, size, age, temperament or sex and get no feed or rest," Segal said.Last year, when state-imposed bans closed the last three U.S. horse slaughterhouses, a record 78,000 horses were exported to Canada and Mexico for slaughter, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics compiled by the Humane Society. That's a 138 percent increase from 2006.
Statistics show that 76,100 horses have been slaughtered in Canada and Mexico so far this year. But the actual figure is likely higher because Canada hasn't yet reported two months' worth of slaughter numbers.Barnes and others acknowledge that the long trip is stressful on the animals, but they blame animal rights activists who successfully pushed for all U.S. horse slaughterhouses to shut down. They say the increased exportation of horses is better than the alternative: horses being neglected and abused by owners who don't want them or can't afford to take care of them."In ranch country, people look at this as a necessary evil," Barnes said one late September day after buying five older horses for $135 apiece.His boss, Charles Carter, is considered one of the largest buyers of killer horses in the country. Barnes, who scours sale barns in Nebraska, Colorado, South Dakota, Montana and Texas for Carter, estimates he has bought more than 1,000 horses for him this year alone. "We're doing them a favor by buying horses that might otherwise be neglected," Barnes said. "The big misconception animal rights people have is that all horses that go to slaughter are good, useable horses or pets ... when actually they're animals you can't do much with." Michael O'Connell, of Mobridge, S.D., who has been buying killer horses for 40 years, isn't proud of his occupation but figures he fills a needed niche.He said he buys thousands of horses annually, about half of them for a large Canadian supplier of horse meat."When I first started I hated it," he said while sitting in the sale barn. "I still don't like doing it. But if I didn't, somebody else would.

Humane Society of the United States:
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National Equine Rescue Coalition:
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