Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Sore Spot

A couple hours ago, I chanced upon a link tonight of a video stream portraying a mare actively foaling. They had a camera set up in the stall that fed to a popular website whose only purpose is to post such videos. The mare was obviously agitated and in extreme discomfort. She paced and turned and shook and trembled, lay down, stood up, looked around, backed into the corner of her stall, sweated, quivered. And then, as I watched with rapt attention: the miracle of life. Two tiny white feet enclosed in a membranous sac. They would appear for a moment, and then recede from view. People bustled about the tiny stall, interfering all too much as humans are wont to do. They bothered the mare and someone grabbed at the little hooves and pulled and pulled while the mare pushed and pushed. Slowly a form emerged from some alien void. And then—new life, a little wet misshapen thing that looked around in total squinty-eyed shock. A tiny head wobbled on an unsteady neck. Four spidery legs stuck out haphazardly. Vet and owner dried the thing and cleared it of its casing. Oxygen was administered, for it seemed a little weak. Someone held up a sign to the web cam: “FILLY.” So she was a girl, a little red sorrel, the much anticipated result of a breeding 11 months before. She was naturally unsure of herself, and for a while she simply gazed stupidly at the hustle and bustle that surrounded her as her exhausted mother periodically snuck a peek behind. Then the mare rose to lick her new baby, and the foal attempted to sort out her uncoordinated and unresponsive feet. The front ones seemed to work all right, but the two in the back flailed around and fought vainly for a purchase. She flopped on her side again and again. And then, finally, about a half hour after her unceremonious entrance to the world, success! She rose and wobbled over to her dam, looking for the life-giving milk that she instinctively knew she needed. She soon found that it was not located between the front legs, as overly helpful people ushered her to the correct end. Here I stopped watching.

I’ve never seen the live birth of a horse before, either in the flesh or on a screen. It was a touching experience. But at the same time, it makes me think of the overbreeding problem….

Let me preface the following by saying that you probably shouldn’t read it. If you aren’t involved in the horse industry, it won’t make a lot of sense because I leave many important facts and arguments out, both in support of and opposing the current slaughter ban. If you are involved, you’ve heard it all a million times. It’s old news. An d it's all packaged in the wonderful format of an unorganized tirade. *Ahem.*

I don’t generally comment on current events, usually because I’m sadly uninformed and pathetically apathetic. There is one issue, however, that I feel the need to address because it’s such a hot-button one in the agricultural community. Two years ago, Congress banned the slaughter of horses for human consumption on US soil. This was after a huge public campaign by animal rights activists and celebrities who decried the murder of Trigger. Prior to this, 100,000 equines per year were processed in the States, with many more being shipped out of the country for the same intent. The closing of the kill plants created an even greater surplus of horses, with even greater numbers being shipped, often crowded into inappropriate trailers and hauled for obscene distances with no food or water, to Canada or Mexico, where conditions are, to say the least, appalling. But quite frankly the conditions in the US plants hadn’t been much better.

There’s a whole lot to get into here, so I won’t even bother with the details. Suffice it to say that there are good arguments for each side. Neglect, abandonment, and starvation do increase when there is a surplus, and a surplus results from a lack of disposal method (slaughter). But there are currently no regulations in place to ensure a humane method of killing. The industry is corrupt.

They’re now talking about bypassing federal regulations and opening up a slaughter facility in Missouri. I don’t think it will happen; the public outcry is too strong and the legalities are formidable. But it reopens this tired old debate. I don’t know what side of the fence I’m on. It depends on the day and the facts being presented….and the facts are so often twisted. I’m for the welfare and the best interest of the animals. That is all.

We can’t force our moralities on other cultures, obviously. Just because we in America find the idea of a Trigger burger appalling doesn’t mean that other people feel the same way. It's not wrong to eat horsemeat. It is wrong to cause unnecessary suffering to animals.

We’ve got a problem here. It’s called “irresponsibility.” There are too many damn horses in the US, and it’s because of breeders who overproduced subpar stock with no plans for their future use, training, or marketability. Many perfectly useful horses end up on a plate in France after enduring a stressful transport and a painful death simply because no one wanted them, or no one saw their potential, or no one had time to train them, or, simply put, someone decided to buck responsibility. If we’re going to have slaughter, find a humane way to do it. Regulate it better. Have vets and inspectors at every step in the process. But until that day comes, it’s an entirely inappropriate and greedy means of getting rid of excess (which should have never been created in the first place!). Dammit.

I apologize for the ramble, but I’ve got to type this out somewhere. I’d give more facts and information about euthanasia and carcass disposal if only I had the room and time….

[Anecdote: When asked to write about a controversial national issue for a scholarship essay, I chose this very topic, arguing that the slaughter plants should be reopened with the appropriate safeguards and regulations in place to ensure the humane treatment of horses on American soil and to prevent export to Mexico or large scale neglect and abandonment. They apparently assigned interviewers based on the topic of the paper, and I was paired with a French professor who just so happened to be a radical animal rights activist. She is heavily involved with an animal advocacy club at the university and is currently working with Bob Barker to develop the nation’s first Animal Ethics minor. I, unfortunately, did not know this at the time. I imagine that my seemingly cold pro-slaughter viewpoint did not impress. Oops.]


secret agent woman said...

There is a similar problem with over-breeding of domestic dogs and cats.

I've never seen a horse born live, but have watched calves, pigs, puppies, and kittens (lived on a farm), and of course my own babies. It's such a cool process no matter the species.

Mozart said...

There is a similar problem with over-breeding of domestic dogs and cats.

But don't know know that it's our GOD-GIVEN RIGHT AS AMERICANS to do as we please. All these bleeding heart animal rights activist treehugger liberals are trying to take away our livelihoods and our agricultural heritage and deprive our kids of their childhoods. They don't even want us to own animals. We should boycott Willie Nelson.

^ I kid you not, I got mass email to that exact effect last night. I'm paraphrasing, but not changing much of the wording or any of the intent. Reactionary alarmist much?