Tuesday, November 5, 2013


In response to a a lawsuit filed by The Humane Society of the United States and a subsequent appeal by the Humane Society to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, on Monday November 4, 2013, the 10th Circuit granted a temporary injunction barring companies in New Mexico and Missouri from beginning to slaughter horses with the objective of shipping horse meat to countries where it is consumed by humans or used as animal feed. This by no means ends the story.

My blog captioned "Horsement" which was published on February 11, 2013, and my blog captioned "Too Many Horses?" which was published on March 19, 2013, each dealt with the issue of horse slaughter and slaughter facilities. This publication is captioned "Nobody Gets a Free Pass". Hopefully you will understand the choice of the caption upon reaching the last word of the last sentence of the last paragraph of this writing.

My understanding is that the Humane Society takes the position that a horse is, at least in the U.S., a companion animal and therefore shall not be treated in the same way as cows or pigs or sheep or goats or chickens or whatever. And from my childhood memories of growing up on a farm in Iowa I remember one or more of all of those animal species filling the role of "companion animal" or otherwise having a bond of affection between farmer and animal.

We maintained on our farm a few cows which produced milk, some of which we consumed either as milk, or cream, or for making butter, and the rest of which was sold to dairies for processing and sale to consumers. Elsie was a Brown Swiss. Brown Swiss were utility cows. They filled more than one niche. They produced calves for the processing of beef. They produced milk and milk products for human consumption.

Twice a day for many years my father hand-milked Elsie. They had a bond. She was not identified as a pet. She could have been. At the age of 14 she no longer produced enough milk to pay for her overhead.

Most family farmers in those days did not have the economic luxury of sustaining and keeping farm animals after they stopped producing. Imagine if you will farm animals being fed to keep them alive until they died and then being hauled out to the back 40, dropped into a deep pit, and covered with dirt. Imagine that with one animal. And then imagine that with scores of animals, or for some, hundreds of animals. And then decide whether that would be a viable economic model.

When the cattle truck arrived to haul Elsie off to slaughter, she did not want to leave the barn. So she had to be pushed up the ramp and onto the truck. Dad was in tears. But there was no Humane Society to protect her from the impending "cruelty". So the cow that was not a companion was gone.

I question the nomenclature, the designation, "companion animal". By whose standards? By what subjective criteria? Pursuant to whose value system?"

For those of you individuals reading this blog as you munch on some cheddar and crackers, I have one simple question: got milk?

The words "humane" and "cruel" are human inventions and certainly have a place and meaning within the context of two or more persons and their relationship to each other and among them, and to a lesser extent to their relationship with other living creatures. But it is not a word that is applicable to nature on a broader scale. Is the wolf that relentlessly attacks and kills an elk calf with repeated flesh-tearing bites cruel? Is it cruel for being impelled by impulses with which it is born to feed its own young while inflicting fear and pain upon its prey? By definition it is acting inhumanely. It is not a human being. It is a wolf.

Cruelty as a human trait is, when applied to Nature, simply the way things work as different animals fill distinct and different niches as part of life on the planet. Wolves are not cruel. Lions on the Serengetti Plain are not cruel. They are part of Nature and acting naturally.

Whether we like it or not, we human beings are animals. We are part of Nature and perhaps our resistance to accepting that imperils as much as anything our ability to sustain life on Planet Earth. Or, to put it another way, perhaps our vision of ourselves as superior beings separate from nature allows us to do things to nature that may destroy nature and us with it. No other animal would have the hubris and arrogance nor, clearly, the ability, to accomplish such an end.

I have written about this previously. During the Great Recession many horse owners found themselves no longer able to care for their horses. They did not have the economic ability to feed their horses. They did not have the economic ability to euthanize them and haul them away.

In April of 2013 I visited Central Iowa where I had lived as a child and young adult. In discussions with a local farmer I learned that during the Great Recession some horse owners, lacking the resources to maintain their horses, simply turned them out onto the roads to fend for themselves. Which leads us back to the question of economic sustainability from one geographic area to another. Allegedly large portions of our Country face continuing drought and decreased food supply for livestock, of which some, by Humane Society designation, are "Companion Animals". The American West is identified in the popular imagination with herds of horses. The American West is a focus point regarding how we deal with the values conflicts manifested by the litigants in the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.

At some point we are talking about numbers. As a Nation, are we talking about hundreds of horses whose owners are unable to care for them, or are we talking about thousands of horses, tens of thousands of horses? The answer most likely changes depending upon economic circumstances in a given geographical area. Often those economic circumstances are related to weather and climate conditions. The answer, if we can identify it, at least will tell us if we have any hope of saving even a minor percentage of those horses from mistreatment (not necessarily because of human malice) and eventual premature death.

For some there is no need to deal with numbers. If my value system is such that horses are no different than any other kind of domestic livestock, then excess horses, or even horses specifically bred to be consumed, to be devoured, are subject to slaughter for economic benefit to the owner. For others, only horses that otherwise would not receive adequate care and maintenance should be subject to slaughter, and for others no horse should be subject to slaughter. What is certain is this: for some there is no room for compromise.

Cruelty to animals by human beings exists. I have seen it. The most extreme example is one I witnessed as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South America. It was a beautiful December day in the mountains. The town conducted an annual fair with prizes going to animals and handicraft and related matters. There would be several days of bullfights. On one beautiful December afternoon the bull entered the ring. The matador strutted and brandished his cape in the dance of death. It was time. The sword plunged into the back of the bull close to the shoulder. The bull remained on its feet. Again and again the sword plunged in. Finally the bulled rested on the ground, its legs under it. The dagger plunged into the neck behind the base of the bull’s skull, ending its suffering. If a pride of lions had torn away at a Cape Buffalo bull until finally it fell, there would have been no cruelty for which the lions could be held blameworthy. But even though we human beings are animals, we hold ourselves to a higher standard in which cruelty exists, is acknowledged, and is not tolerated.

If the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation were to turn its attention from human disease and suffering in Africa, and dedicate all of its resources to a giant horse rescue operation, I could see where maybe the numbers might work out. Every farmer, every rancher, every "companion horse" owner, would ship his underfed or overaged horse to some giant Gates Rescue Facility at Gates’ expense, and everybody would live and die happily ever after – except for the people in Africa who no longer were helped by the Gates Foundation. Or the farmers and ranchers who suffered economic loss and who are expected to finance the morals and values of others by keeping their horses alive when they can no longer feed them or the "companion animals" are too old to contribute to farm or ranch enterprise.

To the reader who questions not in the slightest the merits of his or her virtues and values, I tell you that you do not get a free pass. If you, in the aggregate, cannot get a handle on the dimensions of the challenge of being humane, then do not assume that your efforts will solve the challenge which you perceive. But if you are content with saving the horses you can without imposing your values on everyone, by all means do what I asked you to do in my writing on March 19, 2013: find your checkbook and write a check payable to Peaceful Ridge Rescue, which is s a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. Better yet, go to their website at http://peacefulridgerescue.com/
and click on the "donate" button. Consult with your CPA and make sure your donation is big enough to reduce your federal income tax liability. Don’t be a neigh-sayer. Make a difference.
Mount up, Ladies and Dudes.