The Process: Walking the Halls of Horror
Jerry Finch – Written in collaboration with many others who wish to remain nameless so they can continue their work without fear.
“Euthanasia” means “peaceful death.” While those who promote horse slaughter want you to believe that the horses are gently led to the killing floor and instantaneously die, the truth is far different. There should be no need to warn you that what follows in the way of evidence will make the strongest fall down in shame. There is nothing remotely peaceful about the process, even if the slaughterhouse is in the US and the process is under the “watchful” eye of the USDA inspectors. Some of the evidence shown here and witnessed by myself and others say without doubt that placing the plants in the US makes absolutely no difference. They failed before and they will fail again.
(WARNING: Extremely Graphic Pictures and Video)
Horse slaughter proponents depict the industrialized killing of equines as if it were an ideal way to die—an aseptic process both painless and fear-free. Using such intelligence-insulting weasel words as “horse harvesting” and “equine processing,” these propaganda merchants attempt to manipulate and deceive the public, hoping that we conjure up an image of old Dobbin surrendering serenely to his gentle demise. In fact, thousands of healthy, sound young Dobbins are the innocent victims of this monstrous murder machine.
Make no mistake: institutionalized slaughter of equines, embarrassingly defended by groups such as the American Quarter Horse Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and by characters like Sue Wallis, Conrad Burns, and Charles Stenholm, is in fact indefensible. It is one of the most egregious acts of cruelty that could possibly be perpetrated against horses. It is one long trip into the bowels of Hades, a trip marked by violent physical abuse, starvation, dehydration, exposure to temperature extremes, accidents and injuries, loneliness, panic, and unmitigated pain and terror.
The journey through the halls of horror called horse slaughter usually commences with horses being brought to local sale auctions. Most are horses bred for the sport horse industry at the end of what is typically a very short career as rodeo or racing stock. A few are offered by unsuspecting owners in hopes their animals will be sold to “good families.”
But that’s not the only way the horses’ misery starts. Sometimes, killer buyers answer “free horse to good home” ads and, by lying about their intentions, con a family into handing over the horse they love but can no longer afford to keep. The family signs, in effect, their horse’s death warrant.
Then there are the rustlers who steal horses straight from barns and dump them at the nearest auction house as a means of raising quick cash.
Another source of horses for the meat market is, alarmingly and not uncommonly, wild horses, who are supposedly “federally protected.” Having been removed from the range and confined in long- or short-term holding pens by the federal government, they are then sometimes purchased by individuals who illegally sell them at auction. Or they may even be stolen by government employees—or their cronies—who are looking to make a quick buck.
Whatever their origin, whatever their circumstance, the bitter truth is that the horses who endure this fate can always be found in the livestock auction houses, which are frequented, and sometimes owned and operated, by the “killer buyers,” who act as stock collectors for the abattoirs.
At auction, horses are left in overcrowded, squalid pens. The unfamiliar surroundings, the mix of timid and aggressive horses sardined into a small space, the deafening environment, and the hunger pangs and thirst brought on by lack of food and water are new and terrifying sensations. Sometimes the horses fight and get injured. Sometimes they’re brutally beaten, kicked, and poked in the head or even the eyes by the uncaring workers who are charged with moving the horses from the pen to the ring and from the ring to the truck.
Usually the horses are left unattended overnight—if not in the pens, then in the trailers that will ship them the next morning either straight to the slaughterhouse or to pre-slaughter feedlots. Sickeningly, pregnant mares are not segregated from the other horses, so if one gives birth in a pen or a trailer, her foal is likely to be trampled to death. Meanwhile, sick and skinny horses who have no value—but are merely a hindrance—to the killer buyers are simply discarded by the wayside and left to die. These sad scenes of starvation, repeated throughout the country, cannot be chalked up to owners abandoning their horses; rather, they are almost always attributable to the predatory, callous horse slaughter industry.
Though auction sales dot the country, those where horse killer buyers are ubiquitous include Sugar Creek Livestock Auction in Ohio; New Holland Sales Stables in Pennsylvania; Billings Livestock Auction in Montana; Shipshewana Horse & Tack Auction in Indiana; and the Southwest Livestock Auction, which is in both Los Lunas, New Mexico, and Stephenville, Texas. A detailed study of the heinous atrocities committed at such auctions can be found at the Animals Angels Website.
Horses are transported from auction to auction until the killer buyer fills his quota. Then he drives them to either the slaughter plant or a livestock feedlot that serves as an assembly point—a “stock deposit” place—prior to their export to Canada and Mexico. The biggest and oldest of such facilities are Frontier Feedlot & Game Meat Co. (a front company belonging to the Beltex–Multimeats, NV group) in Morton, Texas, which supplies fresh horses to the Beltex plants in Mexico, and the Bar-S feedlot in Shelby, Montana, operated by Bouvry Export Calgary, Ltd, one of Canada’s horse slaughter plants. There are a number of similar, albeit smaller, feedlots scattered along the Canadian and Mexican borders, like Alvarado Pens in Presidio, Texas, run by Inter Meats S.A. de C.V. Notably, Inter Meats is the shell corporation masking Chevideco NV, former owner of Dallas Crown and current owner of the Aguascalientes slaughter plant in Mexico.
With inadequate food, water and shelter, horses languish in these feedlots, exposed to extreme weather
conditions, from snowstorms to the burning Texas summer sun, until they are shipped across the borders and driven hundreds of more miles to their premature, violent deaths. (See Part 1 for a description of trailer conditions.)
Horses are very sensitive animals, with acute hearing and smell. So the entire time they are in the slaughter pipeline, they are in a state of permanent agitation and terror, which is further amplified by the smell of blood and the screams of other horses at the slaughter plant.
To learn more about the transportation of horses for slaughter, watch the following slideshow, courtesy of Animals’ Angels (120 MB, right click to download). And browse through the industry’s numerous transport regulations violation records, obtained from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Slaughter proponents argue that horse slaughter is necessary for owners to dispose of old, sick, and skinny animals. Yet evidence found at the very same plants—and USDA data—reveals that 92% of the horses slaughtered are young (under eight years of age) and 96% are in good or excellent condition. Obviously, horse slaughter only brings unnecessary, early destruction of healthy young horses.
At the plants, horses once more endure extremely rough handling. Aware of—and frightened by—their imminent death, which is a form of psychological torture, they are also made to suffer further physical punishment, as they are prodded and beaten while being moved to holding pens and, finally, to the kill chute. (The following photos are extremely graphic.)
As if all that is not traumatic enough, the horses’ greatest ordeal comes during the stunning, bleeding and flesh-cutting process. Contrary to claims from slaughter supporters and industry lobbyists, this minutes-long killing is far from being a humane, painless, “quick” death.
You see, the horses are theoretically rendered unconscious before the actual killing commences. However, because of inadequate stunning methods, they usually end up being fully or at least partially conscious beyond the stunning stage.
In the United States plants, horses were to be stunned by a blow to the forehead delivered by a captive bolt gun.
This device, powered by compressed air, drives a steel bolt into the target at high speed, theoretically causing brain damage resulting in loss of consciousness. It does not kill; actual death comes during exsanguination (bleeding out) caused by throat slitting.
However, the stunning is extremely difficult to apply to a terrified horse who instinctively dodges whatever object approaches his head. The stunning device requires a very skilled worker (they rarely are!) as well as a series of auxiliary measures, which must be administered correctly to work. For example, the gun and air hose need to be maintained periodically to ensure that the bolt functions properly. And, most importantly, the horse’s head needs to be properly restrained to prevent the bolt from missing the target spot.
Yet photo and video evidence shows that horses are not restrained at all in the kill chute. If they were, it would slow down the slaughtering process, thus costing the plant money. Also, the evidence shows that the ill-maintained equipment causes the bolt to either miss the target or strike with too little force. Thus, horses are too infrequently rendered unconscious during stunning.
Numerous examples of blatant cruelty have been shown in undercover investigations done in the US plants as well as in the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service veterinary inspection reports from the Beltex and Cavel plants. These reports were obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. One can see in the videos and photos that horses endured multiple painful blows in the head, eyes and neck until they went down. One can also see horses—a great number of them, in fact—regaining consciousness during the throat-slitting phase and sometimes remaining conscious as their blood drains out. This heinous, heartless treatment is directly correlated to the pressure that the workers are under to keep the line speed going. (Speedy it was: on its most productive days, Cavel killed up to 700 horses.)
In Canada, the process is exactly the same as in the US. But sometimes, instead of a captive bolt gun, a .22 carbine is used to render the horses unconscious. That device has results that are just as poor as the results of the captive bolt gun. Here’s why: In first place, a .22 LR round is way too underpowered to cause enough brain damage to induce permanent unconsciousness in the thick skin and skull of a horse. The .22 is intended for possum-size animals—not huge horses! In the second place, it is exceedingly difficult to properly hit the exact right place in the forehead of a scared, long-necked flight animal who is not restrained and is moving his head frantically.
In addition, the round must be placed in a very specific area of the forehead, since horses have, for their size, a relatively small brain, and also be angled exactly right to ensure that the lightweight bullet penetrates and is not deflected by the thick skull. The difficulty is compounded by the fact that the plants are likely to use cheap lead round nose ammo in order to save on costs. When we add to the mix the uncaring, unskilled workers who have zero knowledge of equine anatomy, we get the obvious result: bullets hitting anywhere but the forehead, horses who have to be shot multiple times until they are reduced to helplessness, and who are, therefore, fully conscious during the rest of the slaughter process.
Mexico is not any better. In some Mexican regional plants, horses are not rendered unconscious during the killing process but are merely immobilized by being stabbing
repeatedly with a sort of dagger—called a puntilla—in the back of the neck to break the spinal cord. The excruciatingly painful, horribly bloody stabbing neither kills nor renders unconscious; it merely incapacitates the horses, making them the equivalent of tetraplegic, before they are hoisted, whereupon their throats are slit and their bodies are dismembered. During the entire process, the horses in Mexico are fully aware. Talk about torture! Sickeningly, the Belgian consumers of the flesh of puntilla victims say they relish its purportedly strong, unique taste—a flavor resulting, they believe, from the release of adrenalin as a consequence of the stress induced in these poor animals.
What an unnecessary evil—to reduce to carcasses these beautiful horses who fought for their lives, who struggled to their last breath. After the dismemberment is complete and the internal organs removed, the flesh is cut, packed, and flown in chilled containers to Europe. There, it is consumed in upscale restaurants by socialites who take pleasure in tasting genuine racehorse or authentic wild horse, as the meat is billed by retail establishments. “Killed on Friday, processed Monday, Thursday we load the truck and then it’s flown to Europe. Monday it’s sold in Belgium, Tuesday eaten, Wednesday it’s back in the soil,” according to Pascal Derde, manager of the former Cavel West plant in Redmond, Oregon.
Perhaps the few pictures shown above are not all that impressive. In that case, a video showing how “good” horse slaughter was in the United States and a few others showing how great it is now in Canada and Mexico might just change your mind . . . .