I’m a relatively new advocate against horse slaughter. Although I was an equestrian, I never frequented auctions and kept my horses well into their retirement years. I never sold a horse to anyone either. So I was sheltered from the reality that an entire industry existed to brutally kill horses. I didn’t know of any other method to deal with an unwanted, infirm, or terminally ill horse other than humane euthanasia, which I thought everyone partook of. In late 2010 my world view sure changed abruptly when I found out that some could shoot a horse a dozen times in the head with a captive bolt and still call it “humane.”
I launched myself into the issues of horse slaughter when the TV show “Top Chef” featured an episode with horsemeat, which led to my first blog post and my subsequent adventures protesting against restaurants in Toronto serving horsemeat. So although I feel I have a fairly good grasp of the lawsuits, secret deals, and defunding provisions of the present-day American (and Canadian) slaughter industry (at least from late 2010, when I became active in this issue), I’ve struggled with the historical aspect of horse slaughter, because I don’t have any reference points earlier than that year.
When I’m faced with an issue that happened pre-2010, I realize that I don’t know much about the mechanics of the grassroots anti-slaughter movement that preceded this time. While I know that there have been conscientious objectors to horse slaughter for decades, I admit to not knowing a lot about the history of horse activism after Wild Horse Annie was active. Velma Bronn Johnston (March 1912 — June 1977) led a campaign to stop the removal of wild mustangs and burros from public lands. She was instrumental in passing legislation to stop using aircraft and land vehicles to capture wild horses and burros and to cease branding and causing their death.
Wild Horse Annie’s grassroots campaign involved mostly school children, and it outraged the public and ultimately got them fully engaged in the the exploitation of wild horses and burros. Most slaughterphiles believe that HSUS and PeTA drove the campaign through the 90s and early 2000’s, (and every other year too, because they automatically attribute every animal welfare advancement to them) but there were other groups and individuals who played key roles and made many inroads, sometimes with great personal sacrifices.
John Holland of the Equine Welfare Alliance put together a short perspective, which he wrote in March 2011, in attempt to identify those people and groups who had historically been responsible for much of the anti-slaughter movement and the closure of the US plants. I’m sure John wanted to dispel the all-too-frequent and biased dialogue from the slaughterphiles that HSUS and PeTA are wholly responsible for launching the anti-slaughter movement in the U.S. John briefly breaks down the progression of the movement in the US during the 1990s point-by-point, in general chronological order (although it cannot possibly be all-inclusive).
These are John’s words:
“I hate to provide such a brief recounting of the battle, because I will only be able to mention a few folks out of the hundreds who deserve mention. But here goes…
- The California law was the work of Cathleen Doyle and the California Equine Council who started the “Save the Horses” campaign that eventually led to Proposition 6 and the slaughter ban in California in 1998.
- Humane Farming did one of the most powerful early videos inside a horse slaughter plant which galvanized a lot of the early opposition to slaughter.
- Rescues began forming in increasing numbers to try to save horses from slaughter during the late 90s. In time, these became more active in opposing slaughter.
- The Texas plants were closed largely as the result of a woman named Mary Nash. Mary owned a horse farm adjoining the Dallas Crown plant property and originally started the web site called Kaufmanzoning.net to try to get the plant closed. She watched the beautiful horses being brutally killed every day and it spurred her into action.
- Mary had friends, including Mayor Paula Bacon, Jerry Finch (Habitat for Horses and Julie Caramante (HfH), now with EWA) who became involved and they teamed up with folks from the Boggy Bottom neighborhood.
- They studied Texas law trying to find something to use to stop the plant. That is how the 1949 law was discovered. They went to the State Attorney General who took some time to determine that the law was in fact still in effect. He ordered the plants to close.
- Meanwhile, the Kaufman Board of Adjustments ordered the plant to close because of its countless sewer and other health violations. The plant managed to tie that order up in court and to stay open.
- Mary died of cancer before the plants were closed but she fought them to the very last day she drew breath. Her web site is still the best single repository for information about the struggle.
- The plants filed a suit against the State of Texas to stay open and got a TRO (temporary restraining order) for a considerable time.
- During the early 2000’s the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) had worked to introduce the first federal anti-slaughter bills. They also helped start one of the first national anti-slaughter web groups called “Against Slaughter” which is still active today.
- Various groups formed out of this effort, including Alex Brown Racing (ABR) and Americans Against Horse Slaughter and many others.
- In Illinois, Gail Vacca (a TB trainer) and her friends worked on Illinois legislation that failed the first time it was introduced. AWI worked relatively closely with Gail and others.
- HSUS first became significantly involved in 2006 as I recall. In fact, they were a relative late comer to the battle. By then, even I had been in it for 4 years.
- The two Texas plants had a TRO (pending a Supreme Court appeal) at the time of their closings, but it was us advocates who discovered it did not cover the Airlines hauling the meat and when we passed this to HSUS, they got the Airlines to stop shipping and the plants closed. Their appeal was eventually refused by the Supreme Court, closing the issue.
- AWI and DDAL (Doris Day Animal League) also sued the Illinois Cavel plant for its sewage discharge violations. That suit was based on records uncovered by a different group of folks who were working in DeKalb studying plant’s operations. That suit never got to court because the state law closed them first.
- PETA has never taken an active role, partially because the anti-slaughter community asked them not to (for fear they would bring their enemies to the battle). Of course, pro-slaughter people could not leave them out, so they have continually argued that PETA is behind everything.
- PETA took an undercover video of horse slaughter in Japan, but that is about their only participation.”
Thank you, John Holland……I’m glad to have some of these gaps filled in for me. Now, when I see some of these names on the internet, I’ll be able to better associate the participants with their actions. The individual people identified in John’s post serve to remind us that anyone can become a champion if they possess tenacity and perseverance. There are dozens of horse advocacy groups I can think of now that probably sprung out of the efforts by these individuals and groups. And a few “dark-sided” ones emerged that we all wish we could forget…..
Passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act will reduce animal suffering, hence its wide support throughout the equestrian and veterinary world, as well as the humane community. This bill would ban horse slaughter in the United States, while ensuring American horses are not exported to Canada or Mexico for the same purpose. Please take action to get S.A.F.E passed!
“People lie. And for so many years they’ve been lying about this horse slaughter plant. They’ve been saying, ‘Oh, all the horses over there are old and sick and crippled.’ Well that’s not right. They’re just saying that so that nobody will question what they do.” ~ Mary Nash ~ RIP