Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

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Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

You might not be aware that Snopes is one of the oldest websites around, and one of the original ways skeptics would meet online and discuss their skepticism way before social media existed. It ran on Usenet, which was rather like a hybrid of email and a web forum. Snopes is usually pretty reliable in its debunking so long as the writers are not called upon to make a determination about a website that is beyond their expertise or is highly nuanced. But they don’t always nail their arguments and they don’t get a pass just because they’re Snopes – they are not immune to being critiqued.

In October, Snopes author Brooke Binkowski disputed the effectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation in the US and Canada. Binkowski exhorted Snopes readers to accept that her “deep research” is the result of rational objective examination – something she vigorously defends on her professional Facebook page, yet it hardly begins with any sort of “null hypothesis” about BSL.  Her credibility in this particular piece of writing is called in question both by her use of source materials and her unfiltered admonishment of posters who disagree with her as “mentally ill” or “paranoid” on her Facebook page.  Ms. Binkowski relied heavily on the debunked pit bull propaganda mill, the National Canine Research Council and her conclusions are at odds with many other published studies.

Unpacking the Problems With the Snopes Article

1. The Use Of Questionable Sources Or Debunked Source Material

Ms. Binkowski didn’t expand her search or chose to ignore many other published studies in the US National Institute of Health database and elsewhere, and cited several source documents in her analysis that were later debunked.

Binkowski relied upon the work of the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), the same group referenced by the Ordre des médecins vétérinaire du Québec (OMVQ) when appealing Montreal’s BSL legislation earlier this year.

It was subsequently revealed by La Presse journalist Marie-Claude Malboeuf that five of the roughly 50 studies cited in the report by the OMVQ were financed by American pit bull lobbyists (the NCRC) and that the data they used was problematic. At the same time, the Order of Veterinarians listed four recent medical studies on the gravity of injuries suffered from dog attacks, but downplayed the role of pit bulls. La Presse reported that the OMVQ report also emphasized that shelters are concerned for “their structure and already precarious financial health” if the Montreal bylaw were to proceed. However, these concerns should never supercede those of public health.  Public policy is not always based solely on the frequency of an event.  For example, a recall of children’s car seats or faulty ignition switches in vehicles may be based in a small number of deaths over a years’ long period.

The 5-part La Presse investigation, now translated into English, also shows that the OMVQ report cited studies that gave the impression of being “scientific and objective” when in fact they had been funded by the not-at-all objective American pit bull lobby.  To get an expert opinion of the OVMQ report, Malboeuf gave it to McGill University professor emeritus Dr. Barry Pless, a professor of Paediatrics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, and the Director of the Injury Prevention Program at Montreal Children’s Hospital among other achievements.  Said Pless“doing studies that are primarily intended to prevent the adoption of laws, without declaring conflicts of interest, is the strategy employed by the gun lobby and the tobacco lobby.”

The Order’s President now says he recognizes those studies should have been excluded or properly nuanced.  The use of paid-for research by the OMVQ represents a lack of scientific rigeur and transparency on their part, and at worst, is a serious conflict of interest.

La Presse spells out the players of the American Pit Bull Lobby. They divide it into 5 levels and explain the often overlapping relationships:

Five Levels of the Pit Bull Lobby

  • Level 1: The financing source. Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), owned by Jane Berkey. The company’s motto is: “Securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” AFF devotes itself entirely to fighting pit bull regulations. “After inheriting a fortune from her father, Jane Berkey, who also owns a literary agency, turned over at least $6 million to her group, $2.85 million in 2013, according to government records. She pays 9 employees (one of whom, the director, makes more than $100,000 a year) and finances numerous groups that share her philosophy,” La Presse reports.
  • Level 2: The researchers. “To produce studies, AFF bought a private research body in 2007. The acquisition was kept secret until the victims’ group Dogsbite discovered this during litigation. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) was created by a veterinary technician, Karen Delise. Neither an academic researcher nor a veterinarian, she self proclaims as the ‘greatest national expert on deaths caused by dog bites,’” La Presse reports. NCRC co-authors and finances studies, like the ones cited by the OMVQ, which chiefly attempt to show pit bulls cannot be identified.
  • Level 3: Publication. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). “The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes NCRC studies in its journal. On its own website it proposes sample letters [for readers to write] contesting any law aimed at pit bulls. Moreover, its site has a link to AFF,” La Presse reports. The journalist even points out the AVMA’s notice on the embargoed 2000 fatal dog attack study, which falsely and fraudulently states: “In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities.”
  • Level 4: The political lobby. Best Friends Animal Society. Their senior legislative analyst, Ledy VanKavage, drafts state-level bills to eliminate local pit bull ordinances (state preemption laws) and is also a board member of AFF. VanKavage boasts on Best Friends’ corporate website that she commissioned an ex-economist from the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a fiscal calculator designed to advise governments on the cost of breed banning. Dunham’s sham BSL calculator, financed by the NCRC, over exaggerates these costs by nearly two orders of magnitude.
  • Level 5: The distributors. The animal care industry. “All the lobby studies are abundantly distributed by animal-based companies like shelters, breeders, trainers, etc. In Montreal, they are [distributed] by, amongst others, the SPCA, whose mission is to avoid euthanizing dogs and whose two most senior executives are themselves owners of pit bulls,” states La Presse. “On social media, pit bull owners deploy these studies relentlessly and accuse all their opponents of ignorance,” La Presse reports. More aggressive ones have even threatened the mayor of Québec City with death.

The methodology and conclusions behind the NCRC’s study “Preventable Factors Associated with Dog Bite-Related Fatalities” was also called into question by two members of the Department of Comparative Pathobiology at Purdue University, in a letter to the editor of the AVMA journals, published July 1, 2014:

“For instance, where the NCRC clearly knew what breeds were involved, they did not disclose same.  They also classified dogs as “resident” or “family” dogs without explaining what that meant.  They did not state how much time a dog had to be kept outside in order for it to be considered a “resident” dog. How was it possible for the researchers to determine, by any means, what the dog’s status was? The assumption is that when the NCRC knew what breeds were involved in fatalities they simply declined to disclose that information, and invented new characterizations (resident vs family dog) in an attempt to further confound the findings and minimize the number of fatalities caused by dogs that were actually determined to be “pit bulls.”

The NCRC reported that “Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these.”  Since their report provided no data to support the conclusion, the Purdue University professors questioned the findings of the NCRC report since it conflicted with other studies that showed a correlation between the passage of BSL and a reduction in dog bite injuries. The Purdue professors were also not fooled by the statement that “dog bite-fatalities are exceedingly rare” either.

At several points in the NCRC narrative it is reiterated that child safety education and practices were one of the key factors in preventing dog bites.  There is no doubt that this is an important consideration for parents, and there is really no downside to educational efforts. But a study in the Cochrane Report on the effect of the role of education in preventing dog bite injuries in children and adolescents concluded that, due to a lack of evidence, education should not be the only public health strategy to reduce dog bites and their dramatic consequences.  (The Cochrane Report articles combine the results of research papers, while pointing out weaknesses in experimental design or quality – very useful for contradicting the standard pseudoscience retort. The Cochrane Report gives weight to properly designed studies and less to weaker ones.)

The naming of the “National Canine Research Council” itself may also be an attempt to capitalize on the legitimacy of the National Research Council, an American non-profit NGO that shapes policies, informs public opinion, and advances the pursuit of science.  Capitalizing on the name association with other more established groups appears to be standard operating procedure for the NCRC,  who also  purchased (or had purchased on their behalf) the top-level domain “dogsbite.com” for $11,000 to try to capture some of the bandwidth of the legitimate group Dogsbite.org.   (Dogsbite.com redirects to the website of the NCRC and this “cybersquatting” resulted in a domain name dispute) Both DNASalePrice and NameBio confirm this spend.  Why would self-described professional “think tank” researchers have a need  to cybersquat on an established internet domain?  Can they not generate enough traffic to their website through the legitimacy of their own “research?”

 

2. Omission Of Studies That Support BSL And Implicate Pit Bull Phenotypes In Serious Dog Attacks

A review of the Pubmed database provides the following evidence-based studies that suggest that a majority of dog bite hospitalizations are attributed to pit bull phenotypes, often after analyses of decades worth of data.  Had Ms. Binkowski included these in her analysis, I believe she would have been compelled to revisit her conclusion in Snopes:

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog-bite injury hospitalisations in people in the Canadian province of Manitoba

Ocular Trauma From Dog Bites: Characterization, Associations, and Treatment Patterns at a Regional Level I Trauma Center Over 11 Years

Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: A case series at a level one pediatric trauma center

Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998

Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994

Dog bite-related fatalities: a 15 year review of Kentucky Medical Examiner cases

Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990 – 2007  (Includes references to bite incidents that immediately preceded the implementation of BSL in Ontario)

Mortality,  Mauling,  and Maiming by Vicious Dogs

Dog Bites in Urban Children

Dog Bites of the Head and Neck

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog bite injury

Periorbital trauma from pit bull terrier attacks

Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution

I can’t explain why articles and studies that favoured pit bulls featured so predominantly in Ms. Binkowski’s research, but somehow she did not locate or decided not to include information freely available using  in-depth knowledge tools for reporters, such as Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, the Pubmed open-access library, Social Science Research Network, or the Cochrane Report.  Unless of course she intended to come up with an hypothesis and then set to work proving it right.  But without confirmation bias, many theories would fall apart.

 

3.  Failure To Distinguish Between Dog Bites Vs. Maulings

Ms. Binkowski is not the first reporter/journalist to fail to make a distinction between a dog bite and a mauling. While a bite by the oft-mentioned scapegoat the chihuahua may require stitches, a bite from a pit bull type dog will more than likely require that, plus plastic reconstructive surgery or oral/maxillofacial surgery in order to make the victim “whole” again. Most dogs respect protocols in behaviour when they fight, which includes a lot of posturing and growling, and usually very little biting – if there is biting most dogs practice bite inhibition – they bite once and then release, possibly not even puncturing the skin, retreating to protect themselves. There is almost never a fight to the death between most breeds of dogs.

Reducing dog bites overall is not something that BSL or the Dog Owners Liability Act in Ontario has ever set out to accomplish, indeed, it would be impossible.  No law that seeks to protect the public can ever eliminate all risks.  The aims of the DOLA were to reduce serious maulings and fatalities by banning or muzzling the breeds statistically most likely to be responsible. But any law that is enforced will be effective and mandatory muzzling, required in Ontario for pit bull phenotypes, would have prevented the following recent attacks if only it were consistently observed and applied:

A dog was shot dead by police after it grabbed a child by the throat and inflicted several bites during an attack (May 2016)

Two dogs were shot and killed after they attacked a man and woman in Ottawa’s east end. “The dogs were going in, they were biting, they were shaking the person. The person on the ground was very bloodied…[The dogs] were just relentless,” (August 2016)

Toronto Police shot and killed a pit bull “when it attacked a shih tzu and held the small dog down with a “locked-jaw grip,” police said. The policeman was hitting the dog so hard with his baton that it flung out of his hands but the pit bull would not let go. Police shot the dog twice in the leg and when it still didn’t release the shih tzu, they shot it in the head.” (September 2014)

 

4. Accusations That BSL Is Really A Form Of Covert Racism

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Some of the most offensive and racially-derived posts come from pit bull aficionados themselves. Repeated references are often made to minorities as being comparable to dogs, as if the pit bull advocacy movement really believes their challenges are comparable to that of minority groups. At the same time, they often diminish or mock dog bite victims. Source 1 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/shana-expresses-her-disgust. and Source 2 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/jacqueline-tries-to-help.jpg

Binkowski mentions “racial parameters” in dogs when what she really means are morphological characteristics (because there are no races of dogs).  For a long time now, the pit bull advocacy movement has attempted to parlay BSL and discernment towards pit bull dogs as “canine racism” or overt racism.  With the Snopes article and a recent Washington Post article that echoed that theme, they’ve now carried that forward and attempted to show that BSL has been implemented to keep “undesireables” at bay. The cries of “racism” are further evidence that the pit bull advocacy movement are desperate to shift the blame for BSL on the cities or towns who express objections to bully breeds.  The goal is to further the cause of pit bulls as a social justice issue (while simultaneously ignoring victim issues).  Accusations of racism are intended to shame and squelch dissent and reasonable debate.

Looking into the data on breed bans turns up an interesting finding: each region that has enacted breed-specific legislation of some sort appears to have also experienced significant, if not dramatic demographic changes over a relatively short period of time.”  ~ Brooke Binkowski

The most recent available online Statscan report (2011) reveals that 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in Canada. They represented 19.1% of the total

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the european demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario's 2005 Dog Owner's Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the European demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario’s 2005 Dog Owner’s Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

population. Of these visible minorities, 30.9% were born in Canada and 65.1% were born outside the country and came to live in Canada as immigrants. The vast majority of the foreign-born population lived in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta.  Since the 1960s, our immigration has steadily increased, but there is no single event that can accurately be described as a “significant, if not dramatic demographic change.”  Creating BSL as a means to racially oppress 20% of the Canadian population, only some of whom might actually own a pit bull type dog, is just laughable. Binkowski no doubt assumed that the overt racism seen across mainstream America during the current electoral process could also be (mis)applied to Canada with broad strokes.

The real reason for implementing BSL in Ontario was due to a number of serious bites immediately preceding 2005 (the year it became effective). Dog attacks were also the reason the First Nations community of Membertou in Cape Breton implemented a pit bull ban immediately after a pit bull attacked an elder and her grandchild, which coincided with “several other instances of close calls.”

From the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act:

In nonfatal aggressive incidents, the pit bull did rank highest in 2000 and 2001 (2.84 bite incidents per 100 licensed dogs of this breed type) in 1 Canadian municipality (Edmonton, Alberta). Other breeds that followed in this municipality included the rottweiler (1.60 bite incidents per 100 licensed), Akita (1.52), mastiff (1.47), Dalmatian (1.40), and Great Dane (1.21).”

In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in Toronto and 168 reported bites. In 2013 there were 501 pit bulls registered in the city, and just 13 bites, according to a Toronto Star investigation.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported that:

“Most of the dogs Ottawa bylaw officers have sought to have destroyed as dangerous have been pit bulls, according to statistics released by the city. The city has initiated 10 prosecutions against owners who allegedly let their dogs bite another person or pet since the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act was passed in 2005. Seven of the dogs were pit bull types.”

 

5. Snopes Conclusion At-Odds With Competing Debunkers

politifact-imageFinally, Binkowski’s conclusion about BSL is at odds with that of rival fact-checking website Politifact, who found the statement that pit bulls were inordinantly dangerous to be “mostly true.”

“The past studies and research we’ve reviewed shows pit bulls are among the most aggressive dogs. Some breeds, however, have been shown to be more aggressive in each report.  However, the widely held perception is that they are dangerous, which was Boyer’s over-arching point. An Associated Press poll done in October found of the dog owners who would support breed bans, 85 percent would outlaw pit bulls.”

6.  Snopes Conclusion Not Researched In Accordance With The International Fact-Checking Network Declaration It Signed

Snopes,  as a signatory, clearly did not use the same standard of care for this article as they normally do  for every other fact check. There is a built-in bias if the writer of the article does indeed own a pit bull as has been suggested on social media sites.  Snopes needs to follow the code and recall this article.

 

Summation

It’s very tiring to read of shady attempts to distort the facts. Common sense would tell you that bans on breed restrictions have everything to do with the safety of the public at large and nothing to do with the race, class and ethnicity of the people who own those dogs since the law is applied to everyone.   It is also morally bereft to claim that it’s OK to patch up people after-the-fact when an attack has a chance to be prevented in the first place. Making a person “whole” again after an attack isn’t nearly as positive as preventing the attack altogether. BSL cannot prevent all dog attacks but it is designed to prevent the worst sort of maulings by dogs with the greatest propensity to commit them.

Binkowski cites the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the American Bar Association, AVMA,  HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Toronto Humane Society, among other lesser known references and publications.  In addition to those aforementioned groups, Best Friends, the AKC, Bad Rap, Pit Bull Rescue Central, and various other Humane Societies are all lobbying partners of professional pit bull advocacy.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is a professional group; sometimes its journal publishes articles with scientific intent. Other times it publishes articles that are intended to protect financial interests of its members — and in those cases, its “peer review” is done by hand-picked “peers” who will reject anything that doesn’t support a purely political position the AVMA or other self-interested groups are protecting.  None of these groups or the NCRC/Animal Farm Foundation are qualified to comment on the effectiveness of BSL or the impact to society of dog bites, which are a public health issue and are the purview of epidemiologists and those holding Masters of Public Health degrees or similar educational achievements.

Perhaps non-science writers can be forgiven for not understanding what constitutes a scientific study or the “peer review” process and what a “peer-reviewed journal” is. There are plenty of impartial, scientific journals out there, whose peer review process is to guard scientific integrity. However, there are also as many journals founded and funded by an industry or a professional group, whose peer-review is intended to protect the interests of that industry or group.

 

Still, Snopes is pretty accurate and I’ll continue to rely on them for myths, email rumours, and urban legends.  Snopes’ accuracy is not a foregone conclusion with more complex issues such as the efficacy of BSL or vaccine conspiracies (they recently declared that Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein was not an anti-vaxxer, but I believe that the truth is less obvious).  Journalists should examine the full scope of the available evidence, whether they agree with it or not.  Avoiding biases in journalism is an important component of rationalism.  Merely repeating the propaganda does not challenge views or compel people to face facts.

 

 

Remembering The Animals That Served Alongside Our Soldiers

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war horsesThe demise of most equines in the war was largely due to the modern invention of the machine gun that cut them down unmercifully. Many died from disease, starvation, or exposure; horses were often reduced to shivering bags of skin and bones, even resorting to chewing on their own blankets for food. Exploding mortars, barbed wire, mange, thirst, wounds, and parasite infestation, were all contributing factors to injury and death.

Exhaustion and disease such as Grass Sickness and bouts of colic claimed many victims. To add insult to injury, unwanted warhorses were auctioned off and sold to butchers at the war’s conclusion.Next to our connection with dogs and cats, perhaps the deepest bond humans have developed over time is with horses.  In my opinion, the horse has done more for us than any other domesticated animal – that is, horses lie at the very foundation of our human civilization.

I wanted to share an op-ed piece from the Calgary Herald, published November 19, 2015. Carol Tracey is an advocate/activist for animal welfare and the environment who often quotes Gandhi: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” I hope you enjoy it as much as I did….

By Carol Tracey

Whether attending a Remembrance Day service or simply paying respects to those who gave their lives in conflicts, how many people actually study the sculpture of the men and horses at the core of the National War Memorial in Ottawa?

A comment on one of the war memorial sites states: “The sculptor did an amazing job of capturing the raw emotion of the men.” I believe that the horses were sculpted to impart the very real fear that they, too, must have felt. And how many people realize that, on Nov. 3, 2012, another monument was unveiled in Confederation Park in Ottawa honouring the contribution of animals in war?

Staggering numbers of animals have been involved in war efforts, including millions of horses. Other species, either as mascots or as working animals, included dogs, pigeons, mules, canaries, donkeys, cats and goats, and even glow worms. Dogs and horses are still utilized by the military in a variety of arenas, including offering solace to soldiers suffering with PTSD.

During the First World War, eight million horses were killed, another two and a half million injured while they toiled in horrendous conditions 26898830_mltransporting soldiers and equipment through the muck on the battlefields. The majority of these horses were acquired from their owners in the United States and Canada, and from the farms and factories in England. Some of these animals have received the Dickin Medal (some posthumously) for exceptional bravery — one of them being Warrior, who was the inspiration for the book, movie and play War Horse.

In 1943, the Dickin Medal of the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals was instituted by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin. It is recognized as the highest award with which an animal may be feted while serving in military conflict. It is equivalent to an animal receiving the Victoria Cross. Since its introduction, 65 of these prestigious medals have been awarded to 29 dogs, 32 Second World War messenger pigeons, three horses (not including Warrior) and one cat. The last recipient was a military working dog named Sasha, who died while on patrol in Afghanistan. She was awarded the medal, posthumously, in May 2014.

So many of these animals were a source of comfort and safety to the soldiers. Lieut.-Col. John McCrae’s dog companion was Bonneau, whom he befriended at Ypres in 1915, and Gander, a Newfoundland dog, was instrumental in saving the lives of Canadian infantrymen during the battle of Lye Mun in December 1941 by seizing a live grenade that had landed near the soldiers. Gander died when the grenade exploded. His name is etched on the Hong Kong Veterans’ Memorial Wall that was unveiled in August 2009.

In the camps, cats and dogs offered respite from the rigours of battle and many of the horse drivers were especially caring of their charges. Some drivers believed that these animals were capable of a sensitivity that many humans lack and were heartbroken when, after the war, their horses were not allowed to accompany them home.

Who is familiar with Sergeant Bill, Saskatchewan’s most famous goat, who is a First World War decorated hero? Bill chdc wreathsaved the lives of soldiers while he was on the front lines by head butting them out of the path of a shell. Wounded during the line of duty, Bill was promoted to sergeant, and when the war ended, he was reunited with his owner.

Probably the most famous mascot was Winnie, a black bear cub, who was a favourite with the soldiers. However, when her owner, Lieut. Harry Colebourn, was ordered to France, he arranged for Winnie to be housed at the London Zoo. A statue of this famous bear has been on display since 1981.

Monuments around the world that recognize the exploits of soldiers very rarely, if ever, acknowledge the immense contribution and sacrifices of the millions of animals who had no choice in serving their countries. These animals deserve a special place in Canada’s history, and the Animals in War Dedication, located in Confederation Park, is a fitting tribute and a solemn reminder of the debt we owe them.

Trail Of Tears For Missing Horses Sargon And Apollo

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Trail Of Tears For Missing Horses Sargon And Apollo

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Bad things sometimes happen to good people.  In particular,  people loaning horses out for therapy programs would never imagine stealing a horse so it’s incomprehensible if it happens to them.  It may seem obvious to us that someone who sells or gives away your horse without your permission has essentially stolen him or her,  it’s generally considered a civil matter,  quite unlike what happens when someone cuts your fence and steals your horse directly off your property.  In contrast,  a civil matter is considered a dispute between two parties – if the police decide your case is civil,  they will generally decline to treat it as a crime.  Durham police have  assigned a detective to the case of at least one of the two missing Ontario horses, Sargon and Apollo.  Since the same parties are allegedly involved in the disappearance of more than one horse, perhaps the police have taken the view that an investigation needs to be undertaken to satisfy public interests?

WHO IS LIABLE WHEN LOANED HORSES ARE NOT RETURNED TO THEIR OWNERS ON DEMAND?

Leasing or free board arrangements permit a horse owner who loves their horse, but cannot keep him or hasn’t time to ride him – to lend him to a rider that can maintain him while the owner still has control. “Sent out for training” is a common excuse given when horses disappear from the farms where they have been placed.  The chain of custody for many missing horses often cannot be more opaque, with horses changing hands several times without parties to these transactions necessarily being unaware of the status of the missing horse.  This is why it’s a good practice to check all horses out online when you are considering buying or adopting.

The RCMP website informs us that the police will only investigate alleged fraud under certain circumstances:

“Major fraud within the Commercial Crime Program mandate can be defined as fraud cases of provincial, national or international significance (having due regard for contractual obligations with the provinces) in which one or more of the following elements are present (Corporate Fraud,  credit fraud, investment fraud, securities fraud, mass marketing fraud):

  • one or more of the RCMP strategic priorities (i.e. Organized Crime)
  • substantial value or financial losses
  • substantial impact on victims
  • high degree of criminal sophistication
  • requirement for special investigative expertise
  • municipal, provincial, or federal governments as victim
  • satisfying public or national interest”

There’s an old saying that bears repeating – “you will never meet a con-man you don’t like.” While a lease agreement won’t prevent a horse from disappearing if someone has the intent, a written agreement may be a deterrent against someone who impulsively decides to help themselves after identifying a target.  If someone won’t agree to a contract in writing,  walk away.

TIME MARCHES ON QUICKLY WHEN HORSES GO MISSING…

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The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition publishes this document to help horse owners locate their horses or get word to the slaughterhouses that a horse has been stolen. Applicable to both Canadians and Americans. Click to view.

You wonder what is happening to the horse…  Is he or she OK;  is someone hurting them?  What is the horse thinking about where he or she now is?  It doesn’t matter if you are pro or anti-slaughter – both sides know that when a horse is taken from you all you can do is think of ways to bring your horse home.

The heartbreak of owners Kim Wilson and Kayla Whatling  is reminiscent of that experienced by American Vicky Johnson, who has invested years into her own personal search for her missing and much loved mares Suzy and Echo, who were apparently sold to a slaughter horse buyer after being promised a caring home. Almost everything told to Vicky about the whereabouts of her horses was a lie, but both had received phenylbutazone and other drugs and medications, prohibited from entering the food chain. No one was ever punished for this crime against Vicky and her horses either.

Unlike with the “traditional” farm animals, there is truly no verification system in place to ensure that horses who do go to slaughter are sent there by those with rightful legal ownership.  Horses sold to slaughterhouses or kill buyers without the owner’s knowledge or permission are sold with Equine Information Documents (EIDs) that were fabricated during the last leg of the horses’ journey to the plant, often by someone who has owned the horse for a few days or weeks if that. Such individuals have no basis to make any claim that the horse has not received any prohibited substances.  Saying you don’t remember whether you shipped a horse or that “many horses look the same” is not an excuse.  In fact, since many horses do look similar this is further testament to the fact that the EIDs do not sufficiently identify them or differentiate between them with any degree of certainty.

Here are scans of the Toronto Sun articles on the missing horses Sargon and Apollo – these articles from the newspaper contain additional information written by The Sun’s crime reporter Chris Doucette, which was not provided in the online versions. With these articles, Mr. Doucette joins the ranks of investigative journalists Mary Ormsby and Dale Brazao of the Toronto Star in addressing the profound shortcomings of the horsemeat trade in Canada.

In the past the Toronto Sun has featured various articles about “bad boy culinists” who promoted  the eating of horsemeat in their restaurants, so this series of articles is definitely a welcome divergence.  [I hope a few foodies and restaurateurs serving horsemeat in Toronto see these articles as well…]

 

[Click on each article to embiggen to read]

 

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sold-for-hamburger

incredibly-wrong

she-wants-to-make-it-right

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Food Scientist Claims “Liquid Poured On Pigs” A Biosecurity Risk #PIGTRIAL

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toronto-pig-save-transport-11Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

“…. the actions of these activists simply aren’t safe – not only not for themselves, the truck drivers and their pigs. But also for the consumers,”  writes Keith Warriner,  Professor of Food Science at the University of Guelph.The seemingly humane gesture of feeding water to pigs can actually jeopardize the system and impact the food you serve to your family.The trial taking place in Toronto has touched upon various angles of this incident. But the key issue is the interference with food safety. For anyone who eats pork, this is a product of a food processing system. And it’s absolutely essential that it’s produced in a closed system that hasn’t been tampered with.”

Dr Warriner recently chose to write a guest column that appeared in the Toronto and Winnipeg Sun papers.  Instead of providing an evidence-based opinion on any one of the prevalent food-related pathways to disease and sickness in Canada,  he chose to write about the “unknown liquid” that Anita Krajnc and other Toronto Pig Save activists had given to pigs on the day Dr. Krajnc was charged. It doesn’t appear that anyone believes that there were contaminants in the water the activists have given to the pigs before or since Anita’s arrest – apparently neither Fearman’s Pork nor Van Boekel Hog Farms believes this,  otherwise,  the animals would not have been slaughtered for food.  Neither does the CFIA apparently believe the pigs were contaminated,  since they issued no recall that I could find.  If there was the slightest belief that the water was poisoned,  the bottles would have been confiscated and the water tested.  To the best of my knowledge,  there was no economic loss resultant to the watering of the pigs and NO CRIME HAD BEEN COMMITTED.

The CFIA classifies recalls based on the level of health risk associated with the food product being recalled. High risk triggers include illness outbreaks,  food test results, inspection img_0560findings,  and consumer complaints.  In 2014 the Canadian Food Inspection Agency issued 714 recalls, following 467 recalls  in 2013 and 595 in 2012, Undeclared allergens (unlisted ingredients or product mislabeling) and microbial contaminations make up the majority of recalls,  according to Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Food Institute.

The Red Meat Condemnation report from Agriculture Canada provides a testament to the true brutality of both the transport and slaughter operations.  In 2015, 20,244,822 pigs were slaughtered,  and 7.02 pigs per thousand slaughtered were found dead on arrival at the slaughterhouse.  That amounts to 14,221 pigs.  Almost as many pigs were condemned on ante-mortem inspection for abscesses, peritonitis, arthritis, pneumonia, septicemia, emaciation, hepatitis, bruising, hernia, fracture, and many other conditions, suggesting that perhaps more were in very poor condition upon arrival at the slaugherhouse.  According to CFIA prosecution notices for that same year,  no one was convicted of anything as a result.

kindness-to-pigs-on-a-cattle-trainI hope our food scientists will continue to bring attention to serious risks in the food supply,  rather than trying to pick off the “low-hanging fruit” that are the protests at slaughterhouses.  I would like to propose that Dr. Warriner write an article condemning the abuse of transport and the risks of veterinary drug contamination with horse slaughter in Canada.  Certainly horse slaughter is not a closed system – non-farmers are dealing in drugged meat with false and incomplete EIDs, concealing incompetence and deceit, often at the highest levels.  In fact,  I plan to send him an email asking him to do exactly that.

Those activists who wish to expose inhumane farming practices and give water to animals enroute to slaughter are not terrorists. Dr. Warriner,  I cannot respect your attempts to try and criminalize activism.  Please respect the right of thoughtful citizens to express what they see as a moral outrage. Videos of activists providing water to pigs have mobilized a movement towards improving the quality of life of pigs, chickens, and cows.  In the absence of the animal welfare movement, there is an obvious race to the bottom.

 

gerry-ritz-listeriosis-copy

When the news first broke that an outbreak of Listeriosis had resulted in the deaths of several Canadians, you might expect the minister responsible for food safety, to immediately step in, or at least take the matter seriously. Instead,  former Ag. Minister Gerry Ritz actually thought the whole matter rather funny, so much so that he immediately joked about the demise of the victims. Forget that it was under his watch – his funny bone was tickled and he wanted to share the feeling.

A look back at recent outbreaks and recalls in Canada,  courtesy of @Barfblog’s contributors, including Drs. Powell, Chapman, Hubbell and assorted food safety lecturers at Barfblog.com  – the unofficial internet gatekeepers on food-related illness and terrible reality cooking shows…

From toxic mothballs to blister beetles in food, there are no cautionary mentions of illness caused by the “tampering” of food by animal activists.

 

At The 11th Hour, Paranoid Hunting And Fishing Groups Lobby Hard Against Bill C-246

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Every year in Canada more than 100,000 complaints of animal cruelty are investigated  Today,  Nathaniel  Erskine-Smith’s private member’s bill, C-246, goes to a vote to see if it will move forward to a Commons Committee.  “There’s been a ton of confusion about the bill. Am I giving animals rights? The right not to be tortured and abused, if we want to call those rights,” Erskine-Smith said in the House last week. Additionally, Canadian Federation of Humane Societies CEO Barbara Cartwright says she’s baffled by some of the opposition, saying it’s based on hyperbole and irrational fear, given that the bill is clearly aimed at criminal, deviant behaviour.“This is about ending animal abuse, not ending animal use.What does ensuring that all animals are protected from sexual abuse have to do with fishing? What does animal fighting have to do with farming practices? What does it have to do with hunting? They aren’t linked.”

In this ideological battle, the pre-Darwinian thinkers who oppose reasonable updates to an ancient law, have not responded to reason, and have taken out full page ads in The Hill Times (paid subscription required to view) Canada’s political newsweekly for October 3, 2016.

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No Leaping Bunny Award For Donkey Milk and Horse Oil Skin Products

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No Leaping Bunny Award For Donkey Milk and Horse Oil Skin Products
Madame Delphine LaLaurie is a character in American Horror Story: Coven portrayed by Kathy Bates.

Madame Delphine LaLaurie is a character in American Horror Story: Coven portrayed by Kathy Bates.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Hat Tip: Paola

The origin of the word ‘quack’ comes from the Dutch quacksalver, literally meaning “chatter salve” or someone who prattles or boasts about the efficacy of his remedies.

The next big wave in skincare comes straight from cottage industries in Canada and countries like Korea and Japan.  More paleo than vegan, some of these products are not for the faint of heart.  Instead of plant-based oils such as coconut or argan, oils from the rendered fat of horses and milk from donkeys are the new “natural” alternatives.  Dreams of soft, smooth skin are interrupted by visions of Black Beauty shedding a single tear.

Shamâne Cosmetics is a company located in Quebec and like another company in British Columbia that used horse milk in 15their skin care products, they are adding donkey milk to their skin care line. Like Spa Creek Ranch (who were forced to remove unsupported claims on their website by Advertising Standards Canada)  Shamâne have made some rather extraordinary claims about the supposed benefits of washing yourself with soaps made with donkey milk. Claims made by Shamâne were referred to ASC, who will referee their statements. I attempted to contact  the company to find out how many donkeys they had and what they did with the foals, but they did not return my phone call and their email is defunct.

Their website tells us that the product:

  • Contains protein and lactose proportions close to those of woman’s maternal milk (I say so what? Milk is species specific food for infant animals, not for washing your face with)
  • Is hypoallergenic (To determine if a product is hypoallergenic a company usually performs a patch test on 100-200 subjects and records how their skin reacts).
  • Nourishes and regenerates the skin deep down (Where is the proof that the product penetrates the skin or accomplishes “nourishment,” whatever that means?)
  • Slows down the skin aging process (It’s a pretty extraordinary claim to make that donkey milk does this, and extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence).

mam-14-kh0375-01pThe company makes additional claims about the powers of donkey milk, based on testimonials from the 1700s!  Back then microscopes were a very new invention, and the most popular methods of treating patients included bloodletting and blistering.  But the assertion that the product will slow down the aging process is probably the one thing that will get some of the statements removed from Shamâne’s website with prejudice, by Advertising Standards Canada.

According to the ASC:

Advertisements must not contain inaccurate, deceptive or otherwise misleading claims, statements, illustrations or representations, either direct or implied, with regard to any identified or identifiable product(s) or service(s).

Both in principle and practice, all advertising claims and representations must be supportable. If the support on which an advertised claim or representation depends is test or survey data, such data must be reasonably competent and reliable, reflecting accepted principles of research design and execution that characterize the current state of the art. At the same time, however, such research should be economically and technically feasible, with due recognition of the various costs of doing business.”

Although relatively unknown in Europe and the UK, horse oil is a popular and widely used beauty product in Asian culture. It’s the latest craze in Korean skin care. No, it doesn’t dsc_0001give you long, pony-tail like locks.  It’s rendered horse fat, quite likely made from American and Canadian  horses who were exported for live slaughter.  Horse oil products are sold/marketed by a variety of names – Guerisson 9 Complex Cream with horse oil is readily available at the Pacific Mall in Toronto, along with many other products containing horse oil from Korea. Horse oil is also sold as “Son Bahyu/Sonbahyu” on both Amazon and eBay. Once again,  miraculous claims are made about these products, none of which are substantiated.  There may be little we Canadians can do about products that are not produced in Canada and where claims are made on websites in Korean or Japanese languages.

dsc_0032There is no reason to assume that donkey milk or horse oil have any beneficial properties other than possibly as emollients,  and we have plenty of cruelty-free products that already accomplish this.  In order to satisfy some of these claims, the constituent ingredients in the milk and oil would have to be absorbed by the skin past the epidermis (the outermost layer).  The rule of thumb is that anything smaller than 500 Daltons can penetrate the skin while anything larger cannot.  A Dalton is the standard unit that is used for indicating mass on an atomic or molecular scale.

If the milk and oil molecules in question were small and permeable (under 500 Daltons) they would be uptaken into the skin cells and possibly into the bloodstream. If not, the ingredients may just penetrate through the top layer of skin only and will just be sloughed off as part of the dead skin cells. Even if they can be absorbed there is no evidence that they will have any sort of positive impact or that they will suspend the aging process. Myths that your skin absorbs large amounts of chemicals are NOT true.

Even people who eat animals often realize it’s ridiculous to add them to skin care products.  We already have the option of plant-based products that can be crueltyfreelogo_jpgabsorbed into the skin and may even provide some protection against essential fatty acid deficiency. We don’t need milk or horse oil or other animal products added to soaps or lotions.

Always remember that oftentimes these claims about skin care in particular have little to no research behind them and they may be based in superstition, popular trends, or “traditional medicine.”  Please buy cruelty-free products wherever possible. And Pubmed is great for advanced reading to help substantiate claims.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Horse “Passports” Come Up Lame At Saskatchewan Auction – Will CFIA Take Corrective Action?

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larry_the_cable_guy_health_inspector_xlgWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

Hat Tip:  Debby

The Johnstone Auction Mart in Moose Jaw Saskatchewan sells over 1,000 equines per year  in lots or as riding horses – minis, yearlings, bucking stock, mares and geldings in both “medium” and “good” condition.   Selling prices range from about $25 up to $4,400 (more for lots).  The average prices for horses they advertise as “older” is $200-$400,  which of course are within the realm of slaughter prices.

Like most auction websites,  they provide a link to the Equine Information Document (EID) which the CFIA has always told us is mandatory for slaughter-bound horses.  But  auction management have a rather unique way of interpreting who needs to fill one out.

Their website states:

“Horses sold at Regular Horse Sales must have the following document filled out regarding  and drugs [sic] which may have been given to the horse in the previous 180 days.  Although not mandatory,  it is in the seller’s interest to fill one out for each horse so the price is not discounted.

Yearlings, and miniatures and donkeys do not need an EID form.”

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This statement struck me as extremely odd,  mainly because they touted the EID as a “mandatory,  yet optional” document,  and also because they indicated that it was not required for yearlings, minis, or donkeys.  It is the slaughterhouses’ responsibility to ensure that a valid EID has been submitted for each equine they receive,  but if it is only optional at any auction,  who will collect it if not the sale barn itself?  And why were some equines seemingly exempt?  Both the Meat Hygiene Manual of the CFIA and farming Codes of Practice,  when referring to equines,  consider that the term “horse” refers to all domestic equine species, namely horses, ponies, miniature horses, donkeys, mules and hinnies.

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From the CFIAs Meat Hygiene Manual….

After navigating my way through the CFIA’s new phone system with 78 menu options and 7 levels,  designed to discourage all but the most indefatigible caller,  I was transferred to various people whose mailboxes were all full and there was no way to backtrack.  The whole idea of all the options and levels is to deter you from actually getting anything done. It cuts down on the number of complaints and support that must be provided.  Normally,  to get the fastest service I would press any number that indicates to the organization that I am likely to spend money on more service,  but that clearly won’t work with the CFIA. Ignoring the menu options and sitting on hold waiting for someone to answer won’t work either. When when I finally reached a live person they both grilled me to find out why an Ontarian would have any interest in something happening in Saskatchewan.  How about just answering the question?

Mini horses are uneconomical to ship long distances to slaughter. But if an opportunity presents itself, they are still considered to be “meat on the hoof.” Photo courtesy of Tierschutzbund (Switzerland) taken on a feedlot in Alberta.

Mini horses are uneconomical to ship long distances to slaughter. But if an opportunity presents itself, they are still considered to be “meat on the hoof.” Photo courtesy of Tierschutzbund (Switzerland) taken on a feedlot in Alberta.

I finally spoke with two veterinarians,  neither of whom appears to have any idea what really happens at a horse auction even though both were familiar with this particular business. Dr. Allison Danyluk Ross,  a supervisory veterinarian for the western operations of the CFIA  helpfully reassured me that not all horses at auctions go for slaughter.  She reiterated that it was not the auction mart’s responsibility to collect EIDs at all,  but that somehow,  they must arrive with horses presented for slaughter.  So it’s the owner’s responsibility to fill out the EID,  but it’s not mandatory, and it doesn’t have to be filled out at the actual auction, so by what other means would it arrive at the slaughterhouse if the horse is sold to a kill buyer? (that’s a rhetorical question,  dear readers).

Once again, any form that only asks for voluntary declaration of drugs is unlikely to be complied with when the seller wishes

These young mules were photographed by me at the OLEX auction in Waterloo Ontario on July 5, 2016. I was unable to stay to find our whether they went to a private home or were sold to a kill buyer. The fact that they are mules is not an impediment to slaughtering them, despite what the CFIA thinks.

These young mules were photographed by me at the OLEX auction in Waterloo Ontario on July 5, 2016. I was unable to stay to find our whether they went to a private home or were sold to a kill buyer. The fact that they are mules is not an impediment to slaughtering them, despite what the CFIA thinks.

to dispose of the horse for profit. I had to ask Dr. Danyluk Ross twice why minis, yearlings,  and donkeys do not require EIDs at this auction before she finally responded that she would pass my concern onto the Red Meat Specialist. Obviously Dr. Danyluk Ross believes everything is fine because the CFIA audits the paperwork – audit reports are only useful if someone in authority at the CFIA  reviews the results, understands the risks addressed by the standards and makes risk-reduction decisions based on the results.  Indeed,  Canada’s food safety system is a patchwork of third-party audits, personal assurances (like Dr. Danyluk Ross’ email), and profit before protection.

When veterinarian Dr. Harry King was asked why Johnstone Auctions would indicate on their webpage that minis, yearlings and donkeys brought to the auction would not require an EID,  he replied,  “because we don’t slaughter them in Canada.”  He also said that Johnstone Auctions focuses primarily on goats and cows and not horses,  and that they are not a “horse slaughter auction.”  Dr. King is dead wrong,  since the Donkey Sanctuary in Guelph acknowledges rescuing donkeys from slaughter (albeit,  in the province of Ontario) and kill buyer Eddie Kohlman is known to frequent the Saskatchewan horse auctions.

So much energy is spent on denial rather than enforcing legislation and regulations that already exist. Any belief or

suggestion that EIDs are consistently completed by owners invites some serious criticism.  In the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition’s investigation – “Pasture to Plate,” there can be no dispute that, when reviewing the EIDs included in the document, a pattern emerges and it is very clear to see that some EIDs have obviously been “pre-written” across the top with “Drug-free six months,” and the appropriate boxes checked to agree with this information.

Why did the CFIA inspectors and slaughter plant operators not flag this for concern? What remedial actions have the CFIA taken against auctions and owners that have submitted incomplete, incorrect or falsified EIDs?  In addition, what actions has the CFIA taken to ensure Canadian and American horses sold at auctions have EIDs that are filled in completely, correctly and truthfully by their owners?

Epiloque – September 21, 2016

Apparently the CFIA decided to act quickly on this one.  Johnstone’s horse auction page with incorrect EID instructions was quickly modified to remove the references to donkeys, minis, and yearlings.  You can see the change has been made here.  I believe someone at the CFIA intended to let me know of the outcome by phone,  as I had received a call,  but no one left a message.

What Is The Truth Behind One Of The Most Brutal Horse Slaughter Images On The Internet?

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What Is The Truth Behind One Of The Most Brutal Horse Slaughter Images On The Internet?

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

How many times have we seen the picture below depicted as gruesome evidence of horse (and foal) slaughter?  I’ve no doubt that many people have been disturbed or reduced to tears by what it depicts,  a dead mare and foal on a cold floor,  seemingly devoid of any sort of compassion in their final moments.  Ever since I first saw the picture, I wondered what was happening – was it a picture of a slaughter operation?  If so, it seemed to be uncharacteristic in many ways from what we’ve seen elsewhere and know about slaughter, stunning and evisceration.

Google and Tin Eye’s reverse image search engine are great tools that can be used to find the date that any image first appeared on the internet.  This image first appeared on a Polish website  in 2011, and has been copied on many social media channels since then.  Because the entire site is in Polish, and the video in question no longer seems to work, I wouldn’t advise visiting it because I don’t know if there’s anything malicious about the website itself in terms of viruses or harmful codes. But if you want to view the original video that has been recently copied to Youtube, you can see it here [graphic and disturbing].

But back to my search for the truth behind the image…….The following may be hard for many to read so proceed with caution…

I shared this picture with a veterinarian and asked that person to comment on what they saw.  Because this image was captured in a foreign country we can’t be absolutely certain what we’re looking at, but our veterinarian found the image to be inconsistent with a slaughter operation and more likely to be an example of a necropsy  or possibly an effort at an emergency caesarian.

Horses are generally stunned in a chute, then hoisted with one rear leg and hung from the line where they are bled out.  They then travel along the line where they reach the evisceration area.  As mare and foalmany of us have seen from the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition youtube videos, it’s a brutal operation where horses are left bloody and covered in excrement and urine.

In this screen cap, there’s no chute, the mare has not been hung and is instead shackled.  She is still wearing a halter, which in a slaughter operation would have been long removed. There is a channel in the floor for removing bodily fluids.  There is no evidence that the mare’s throat was slit and no evidence that she was bled out.  We don’t know how she died, whether her death was natural or sudden in a large animal clinic, or whether she was euthanized with barbiturates.

We know mares and foals are dying in feedlots and slaugherhouses in real life in Canada. Through Access-To-Information requests, the CHDC has publicized evidence that pregnant mares are being shipped to slaughter, sometimes delivering in trailers or in the actual slaughterhouse itself (both are issues of non-compliance and/or violations of Canada’s Health of Animals Regulations).  We know mares  are enduring transport in late stage pregnancy and giving birth to their foals in these places of death.  We don’t really know the context in this sad photo, but the above clues suggest (but don’t confirm) that this is not a photo of a horse being slaughtered for food.  At least this is what I am going to choose to believe based on my conversation with a veterinarian who is familiar with commercial slaughter operations.  Despite all the evidence of cruelty toward horses already available and assaulting us every day,  I want to believe that this is one less example.

Embryo Transfer – A Shadowy Market Ripe for Exploitation

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Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

We’ve known for many years that farm animals have been exploited to produce more meat, milk, wool etc.  Embryo transfer in horses is another technology that is unrivalled for its inefficiency and costliness.  There’s also some evidence that embryo transfer (ET) is exploitative because it can be painful, requiring analgesics.  We recently read about the cast-off recipient mares (the “gestational” carriers that give birth to foals of a different mare/stallion) from the Arnold Reproduction Center  who were consigned to the Kaufman kill pen/kill buyer Mike McBarron for eventual slaughter.   Once exposed on social media platforms, veterinarian Leea Arnold responded:

“I recently sent some mares to the Cleburne Horse Sale.  I certainly never intended for them to end up in the slaughter pen. Many of these mares came to me through the sale barn system, were sick, completely unbroken and certainly destined for slaughter at that time (15 or so years ago). As long as these mares are reproductively sound, they stay in my herd – many probably longer than they are useful. My staff and I have taken the time, money, and resources we have to help these mares become useful and give them a viable purpose.

“I will use another avenue to re-home these mares in the future. If you are a non-profit organization and have your 501(c)3 at hand, I would be more than happy to donate any older or reproductively unsound recipients to your facilities as they become available.”

Dr. Arnold did not otherwise offer to help the animals that were scheduled to be sent for slaughter.

gypsyIn addition to horses, mules are also being used in at least one euphemistically named “mule mom” program  using embryo transfers from gypsy vanner mares.  The Gypsy Gold breeding program  in Ocala Florida charges up to $14,000 for a purebred gypsy vanner foal carried by a mule, who is often shipped to and from the Gypsy Gold Horse Farm and the contractor of their service.  They also helpfully offer a service for purchasers of the gypsy foal who are not satisfied with the quality of their new purchase – they will connect you with an “appropriate buyer” – quite possibly the same buyer who will purchase the mule moms once their fertility wanes.  At the moment, this farm offers 11 mares for breeding, so one can only imagine how many times they are being flushed out and the number of “mule moms” that are being used as gestational carriers.

Currently, most equine breed associations permit embryo transfer. Notable exceptions include the Jockey Club (thoroughbreds), the United States Trotting Association, and the American Miniature Horse Association. Brazil and Argentina are currently the leaders in equine ET, although it’s believed that about 10,000 embryos were collected and transferred in the USA in 2014. The practice seems to have become more widespread in 2015, with more countries reporting embryo transfer activities, including Canada, South Africa, France, Poland, Switzerland, the USA, and Mexico.

Why is Equine Embryo Transfer Also A Welfare Issue?

Because veterinarians can only flush fertilized eggs (embryos) from the uterus of a donor mares at specific times the cycles of one or more recipient mares must be synchronized with the donor mare. This is why reproductive vet clinics tend to have a wide selection of recipient mares from which to choose. The number of mares that some vet clinics keep on hand for this purpose varies from dozens of mares to hundreds.   In many cases the donor mare is synchronized with two or more recipient mares in the event that multiple embryos are recovered from the donor mare.  Obviously,  these mares’ “jobs” come with no guarantee of a home placement after their careers are over and may easily fall into the wrong hands.

There are potential welfare issues for a donor mare, including those associated with the flushing procedure and with repeat injections to attempt to induce ovulation when used. Because more than two mares may be involved, the number of invasive rectal and ultrasound examinations is increased. Where recipient mare numbers are limited, greater pharmacological manipulation (often involving repeated injections) may also be used to achieve ovulatory synchronization between donor and recipient mares.

While there are apparently no studies on whether ET is painful in mares, it is known to be painful in other species, especially those in which embryo flushing is a surgical procedure. Perhaps because of this it is common practice to sedate mares both during flushing and ET.

Transvaginal ultrasound-guided follicular aspiration in women is known to be associated with pain, the severity of which is dependent upon needle design. In sheep and goats, repeated surgical egg retrieval has been associated with the development of adhesions. In a study of pony mares who were the subject of invasive follicular procedures, it was observed that heart rates and cortisol levels increased considerably as soon as a needle was introduced into the procedure.

Lastly, the development of the “super ovulation” protocol and the resulting production of more oocytes (cells that develop into an ovum/egg) will heighten the possibility of more foals using larger herds of recipient mares, greater numbers of horses born that aren’t needed,  and more slaughter after the recip mares are no longer required.

Drugs/Hormones  Commonly Used in Equine Reproduction Practices and Their Withdrawal Times

Sources for withdrawal times were the Meat Hygiene Manual of the CFIA or drug datasheets.  It is important to note that withdrawal times are often extended when drug

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

Most donor mares are sport horses, Arabians or Quarter Horses. It’s an appealing option for those who can afford it, since it allows the option of the owner taking their mare out of competition for only about a week in order to produce a foal.

combinations are used. Drugs used off-label in unapproved species may have differing withdrawal times even though appropriate dosage is given and whether used in combination with other drugs. The dose itself along with the frequency of use (repeated oral administrations can greatly extend withdrawal times) are two of the most important factors.  Compounded drugs (as opposed to generic or branded drugs sold OTC or through veterinarians) can vary widely in potency as well.  The amount of body fat, the breed, gender and health of the horse are also factors that affect kinetic decay of drugs.  Lastly, the amount of stress that the horse is subject to may also affect withdrawal times.  And even though a pharmacological effect on the animal may be over, the drug and its metabolites may still be detectable, and those metabolites may also be prohibited. The CFIA manual doesn’t tell anyone this, nor could they expect the lay horse person to understand any of the factors that also affect withdrawal times and drug tests,

Altrenogest/Progesterone/ Medroxyprogesterone (synthetic variant of hormone progesterone)

  • Trade name: Regumate®, Depo-Provera® (medroxyprogesterone)
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use:   Clinical uses include synchronizing the ovulations of a donor mare with a specific recipient mare. It may also be used to alter or manipulate the estrous cycle of a mare for a scheduled breeding due to stallion availability.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  42 days withdrawal

Flunixin meglumine

  • Trade Name: Banamine®
  • Class of Drug: non-narcotic, nonsteroidal, analgesic agent with anti-inflammatory and antipyretic activity
  • Use: Reduces moderate inflammation by stopping the formation of prostaglandins, which are mediators of inflammation.  They also reduce the formation of certain pain-causing products of inflammation.  Embryo recipients may receive flunixin meglumine i.v. at the time of transfer.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: IV – 10 days/IM 30 days

Vedaprofen

  • Trade Name:  Quadrisol, VETRANAL
  • Class of Drug: Analgesic, antipyretic and anti-inflammatory agent, Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, NSAID
  • Use: For the control of inflammation and relief of pain associated with musculo-skeletal disorders and soft tissue injuries in horses
  • CFIA Withdrawal Prohibition: 21 days (oral and IV)

Human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)

  • Trade Name: Chorulon®
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: Can also be administered to mares to accelerate ovulation selectively where needed to improve the degree of synchrony between the donor and recipient mares. Induces ovulation in mares. Induction of ovulation is advantageous if a mare is in a timed breeding, shipped semen, frozen semen or embryo transfer program.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  0 days

Deslorelin Acetate

  • Trade Name: Ovuplant™ SucroMate™
  • Class of Drug: Gonadotropin releasing hormone or GnRH
  • Use: A potent, synthetic form of GnRH. The drug is administered as a subcutaneous implant.The most common use in a breeding program is the induction of a timed ovulation, such as when mares are being bred with cooled-transported semen or frozen semen
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition:  not on CFIA website but listed with a “WARNING: For use in horses (estrous mares) only. Do not use in horses intended for human consumption. For intramuscular (IM) use only. Do not administer intravascularly. Not for use in humans. Keep this and all drugs out of reach of children.”

Lidocaine Hydrochloride

  • Trade Name: Lidoject, Lidocaine HCI 2% etc.
  • Class of Drug: Local anesthetic and anti-arrhythmic agent.
  • Use:  Skin block for sutures and implants
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: 7 days

Prostaglandins

Domperidone

  • Trade Name:  Equidone®
  • Class of Drug: Dopamine antagonist. Neurotransmitter
  • Use: Modulates or suppresses production of the hormone prolactin from the pituitary.  In breeding programs it stimulates lactation or the induction of lactation in nurse mares or the induction of follicular development. Also used as a preventative for fescue toxicosis.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: “no known manufacture for veterinary use in Canada”

Oxytocin

  • Trade Name: OxoJect™, Oxytocin-S
  • Class of Drug: Hormone
  • Use: Administered to mares for evacuation of uterine fluid and treatment of retained placenta. It may also be used for induction of labor in late term mares and milk let-down.
  • CFIA Withdrawal/Prohibition: not on website: 0 days

eFSH

 

The welfare of the animal is always compromised when greed is involved.  The ability for breeders to implant multiple embryos with no limits caters to the wealthy individuals in the industry. Rakhassa Bey While one might argue that ET is less risky than foaling for a mare,  horses should not have litters, especially since there is some question whether it is humane to repeatedly subject both recipient and donor mares to invasive procedures, after which many horses are dumped.  The worst  but hardly the only offender of this practice, the AQHA, allows multiple-embryo-transfer rules that facilitate overpopulation by allowing mares to have more than one foal per year. Rules about using frozen semen or eggs from long-sterile or dead animals  have allowed horses to breed from beyond the grave.  Consider that First Prize Dash,  a 1988 quarter horse mare – produced  44 offspring!  Her sire, Dash for Cash, sired 1,233 foals!  

It is also very doubtful  that either Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses have tested for some of these lesser used or less obvious drugs or hormones.  Since some drugs/hormones are not even line items in the Meat Hygiene Manual, it would be easy for sellers of horses to plead ignorance of the requirement to disclose on an EID. Embryo transfer therefore facilitates  an already unsavory horsemeat industry in novel, previously unanticipated ways.

Rescue Reality

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Vinnie-aka-Executive-ShopperSeveral competitive markets for horses have emerged as a result of the opportunities gleaned from social media sites like Facebook. Kill buyers outbid private buyers at auctions on horses that they think they can flip. People are buying horses at outrageous prices and paying phenomenal amounts of money that could be used for feed and vetting, to ship them halfway across the country only to sometimes find that they are sick. In many cases the horses that arrive bear little resemblance to their photographs, may be misrepresented and sometimes must be euthanized upon arrival. After passionately giving themselves to their previous owners, these horses do not deserve to die.

We have largely forgotten about the horse rescues who have to confront this competition for resources and face challenges that surpass those of humane societies and shelters.  Most rescues and sanctuaries rely on public donations rather than government funding, and they require commitment, passion and business acumen in order that they be sustainable. Private rescues are often run by a single person or a small group rather than a large board of directors. Most of their expenses cannot be discounted, and veterinarians and farriers usually don’t work for free.

Many horses waiting for homes at rescues are registered, sound, very rideable, beautiful, kind, and healthy after months of care. Rescues restore horses to good health, evaluate them for a variety of different types of riders, put training on them, and often provide warranties for a price that doesn’t reflect the investment of time.  Yet the perception exists in public realm that rescued horses are devalued or marginalized as old or dangerous, when in fact they are usually quite the opposite.

I really believe that we need to be careful what we allow, as it is what will continue.  If we choose not to support rescues, they will all go away….

Tanya Boyd of Kindred Farm Rescue will no longer offer adoptions through her rescue.  In her own words,  she explains why she is decertifying her not-for-profit and her former rescue operations will now operate for-profit.  (We are trying Tanya….)

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“I have been running a horse rescue for just over four years. Effective today, that comes to an end. From now on, any horse that I “purchase” will be rehabbed and marketed as for sale for a price that is in line for their true value. I will no longer operate as a rescue, because, for some reason, potential buyers think that these horses/ponies are less than, and are not as valuable as horses of the same quality, advertised on the open market.

I cannot put in words, just how emotional this is for me…showing my horses to potential buyers…knowing full well the value of any of my “rescues”, on the open market…and I am singing their praises….and offering them up for free or for $500. and still no buyers. I will do this no longer. I am simply not going to give horses away for a song anymore.

If you were an orphan…or adopted…are you worth any less? Many horse rescues in this area, and beyond, are giving it up. Why? Because there is no funding…because acquiring and maintaining Not for Profit Status or Charitable Status….for horse rescues is extremely time consuming, in terms of the administrative requirements. I know…been there, done that…cannot commit the time required to fill out paperwork. So, I sent off my letter to dissolve my Not for Profit Status. Not worth the time and energy required. Sadly, horses do not rate, in terms of rescue organizations…they are still deemed as livestock…and livestock is butchered…..and that will not change until the public demands that it change.

Frustrated, yes. Sad, yes. But I do not see a move towards any change of status for horses in sight . They are indeed, the forgotten. Where would we be now without them?. I am truly heartbroken that in the four years I have been doing this, nothing has changed. And the public is no more aware now, than it was then, of the degree to which we subject horses to so much pain and abuse. It seems that it really doesn’t matter. I feel so defeated. What does it take to get people to understand that horses are not meant to be slaughtered so inhumanely….and transported so inhumanely. Along with many other animals that we ship in transport trucks, packed full, in 35 degree weather….for hours and hours.

What have we become, as a society, that we close our eyes to this abuse….it makes me so very sad. We are allowed to ship animals for 36 hours, without water, without feed….and in this heat. And that is considered to be ok. Again….in 4 years of doing this…this horse rescue…I have seen no change in our approach….no real concern about what we subject both horses, and other farm animals to in terms of humane handling…prior to being butchered for our consumption. Are we really that unfeeling? Or do we really not want to know.

Time to ask yourself these questions.”