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State lawmakers are urged to protect horses en route to slaughterhouses
By DEBRA BROWNLEY-Times Correspondent
"How much worse to invite injury and death by cramming horses together in a tight, too-low space with no place for the timid to retreat to, and no way for a mother to protect her own baby from the fearful trampling of other horse's feet," said Carol Chapman, owner of The Last Refuge, a horse rescue center in Connecticut. "The babies go down and others stand on them, the weak go down, and their blood stains the feet of the stronger. Stallions madly attack all that they perceive as aggressors to their territory, and the screams of the strongest of the fear-crazed animals does not drown out the anguished cries of the weaker."
Chapman was referring to the conditions in which horses are currently being transported to slaughter under Pennsylvania law. She, along with several other animal rights activists, gave testimony on Thursday in the Gettysburg Hotel, where they urged members of the House Judiciary Committee to consider improvements to the existing law that would put an end to the cruel and inhumane way horses are transported to slaughter in this state.
Horses are big business in Pennsylvania, ranking just behind the dairy industry. According to one activist, "This state is also the home of the largest weekly horse slaughter sale east of the Mississippi" - referring to New Holland Sales Stables in Lancaster County.
On an average, New Holland runs about 250 horses through the sale each week. And although the sales stable deals in very good, healthy horses, a large number of these horses are destined for foreign-owned slaughterhouses in Texas and Canada for human consumption overseas.
More than 100,000 horses are killed each year in slaughterhouses throughout the nation with about 20 tons of horse meat being shipped to countries like France and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. European countries will pay as much as $4 to $5 per pound for horse meat.
"Currently horses are transported in trailers designed for cattle and hogs, including double-deckers," said Christine Berry, director of the Equine Placement Network in Friedensburg, who also gave testimony. "Horses of all ages, breeds and sexes are transported together with no food, water or rest to Canada or Texas, journeys of 550 miles and 1,500 miles respectively."
The average price of horses sold to slaughterhouses bring between $800 to $1,000, which encourages dealers to pack as many horses as possible into a trailer and transport them across state lines.
Curtis Lange and Vance Berry of BrookLedge Horse Transportion have been hauling horses commercially for more than 40 years, and they stated that it was "unacceptable for any animal to be brutalized and tortured before being slaughtered." They also testified to seeing as many as 60 to 70 horses crammed into a trailer with no ventilation, designed to haul 20 to 25 comfortably.
Lange said that he recently witnessed a dealer using "electric cattle prods, brutal whippings, and if a horse had too many broken limbs, he would put a rope around its neck and drag it on the trailer."
Under a new Bill (HB 2127), introduced by Rep. James Lynch, R-65th, inhumane practices such as transporting horses to slaughter in two-tier trailers with ceilings to low for them to stand upright would be banned. Horses would have to be able to stand unassisted, and any animal injured during transport would have to be examined by a veterinarian. Horses would also have to be given water and two hours of rest for every 12 hours of transport. Further, the bill would ban the taping of mouths and eyes, and prohibit transporting other animals with horses.
"Only an inverted moral society can condone what is happening with these horses as normal. It's wrong," Lynch said. "I think our society has passed the point when we need to treat living creatures this inhumanely."
So why segregate just horses? Why not include other animals as well in this bill? Because, according to Rep. Sara Steelman, R-62nd: "Cattle, hogs and sheep have been bred for centuries to endure different conditions. Horses are different psychologically. They are forced into an environment that they haven't been bred to tolerate, which creates more stress."
Why is it so disturbing? Because it's being done incorrectly, Steelman added.
Other states, like New York, have had similar bills passed and enforced for17 years. New York State Trooper Thomas Garcia also gave testimonial on Thursday. He stated that "over the course of 14 years, (I know) of at least 203 arrests regarding illegal transportation of horses, many of which came from the auction in New Holland."
"Many 'killer buyers' will travel at night because they know that a lot of the laws in some states don't allow this type of transport,"
said Dr. Robert Lopez, a veterinarian who is also the president of the North Country S.P.C.A. in New York.
Lopez recalled being called out by New York state troopers on a call with possible dead horses in a trailer. When he arrived, he saw the head of a dead pony sticking out of the slats, frozen with its tongue hanging out. He took a flashlight, and could see the other down horses, so he, along with the troopers, proceeded to unload them from the trailer.
"The horses started eating the snow by the bucket fulls. Some horses would eat a couple of laps of snow, and then they just died ...," Lopez said.
Animal rights activists continued to give testimony throughout the afternoon, and made several recommendations for amendments to the bill, including that vehicle safety specifications must apply to all horses, not just slaughterbound; the definition of an intermediate handler must be added; and it must be stated that each horse is a separate offense, and that small fines would not deter the illegal shipment of horses.
"I think this is a very significant issue, and I'm very interested in the testimony today to learn where we can amend the bill to make it more efficiently accomplish its goals," said Rep. Steve Maitland, R-90th, a co-sponsor of the bill.
Lynch added that he plans on reintroducing the bill in December or January with some minor changes, and that he thinks the bill will move.