Op-Ed by Jerry Finch
NOTE: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has submitted a report to Congress with recommendations on how to “manage” the wild horse population on public lands. One of those recommendations includes a suggestion to kill at least 10,000 wild horses and burros. This development got Jerry Finch, Habitat for Horses’ founder, thinking about how we regard our relationship with animals. Here are his thoughts…
“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”―Genesis 1:24-26
The first horse I brought into the backyard as an action of our new nonprofit was an 8-month-old colt, saved from a killer-buyer on the way to the horse slaughterhouse. As I write this, Pete is standing in the pasture behind my house, 21 years old and far wiser than I ever thought about being. It seems like a hundred lifetimes ago. Through those years, thousands of horses, donkeys, mules and a couple of zebras have passed through our gates, each one with a story to tell, each in transition from one phase of their life to another.
Our goal has always been to make that transition a powerful and positive experience.
Back in the dark ages when we started Habitat for Horses, the inner mind of those who abuse and neglect horses was a hot topic. Beyond the hours of discussion there lay far more hours of research, which eventually led me to a walk in the West Wing of the White House with Mathew Scully, the author of “Dominion.” Scully was a speech writer at the White House at the time, penning many of the talks of President George W. Bush.
His insights added much to my understanding of man’s treatment of animals and how so many humans escape the reality of the harm we do to those which share the earth with us. After long days of chasing down bad guys and trying to bring the starved back to health, I’d tuck myself into bed and read his book late into the night, surprised when his passages so well reflected the scrambled thoughts within my own mind.
“Such terrifying powers we possess, but what a sorry lot of gods some men are. And the worst of it is not the cruelty but the arrogance, the sheer hubris of those who bring only violence and fear into the animal world, as if it needed any more of either. Their lives entail enough frights and tribulations without the modern fire-makers, now armed with perfected, inescapable weapons, traipsing along for more fun and thrills at their expense even as so many of them die away. It is our fellow creatures’ lot in the universe, the place assigned them in creation, to be completely at our mercy, the fiercest wolf or tiger defenseless against the most cowardly man. And to me it has always seemed not only ungenerous and shabby but a kind of supreme snobbery to deal cavalierly with them, as if their little share of the earth’s happiness and grief were inconsequential, meaningless, beneath a man’s attention, trumped by any and all designs he might have on them, however base, irrational, or wicked.” ―Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy
It was not only the needless starvation and death of horses and donkeys that we witness during our investigations that bring back the memories of those periods of reflection, but also the possible reopening of equine slaughterhouses in the United States and the mass destruction of all the wild horses and donkeys. While the equine champions of North America have had something on which to stamp a success, we need to be reminded that despite the millions spent by both sides in lobby efforts and litigation, the horses, both domestic and wild, are in deeper peril than they were back in 2007 when the last of the American equine slaughterhouses closed.
Just as in the court case during which we testify about the extreme acts of cruelty we witnessed, we question if there was any impact beyond the lives of those we saved. Yes, the owner might have cried and yes, it makes it into the local media, but in the long run did any human spend a moment of self-reflection? Was there ever a thought that perhaps we as a society need to rethink our own measure of dominion?
Our love of animals, our compassion for all creatures, must extend further than to see just that which lays before us. We should never allow ourselves to lust after a hamburger without seeing the downed cow struggling to survive, to see the pork chop without seeing the pig that lived in a crate for all of its short life. We must know and understand that our choices make us participants in the very acts of cruelty that we protest.
There were many people that drove by the starving horses which we seized last week. The road was often traveled, but none bothered to do anything other than shake their heads in disgust and mumble that someone needed to do something. Nothing happened until one person finally called. It was too late for the lives of two very precious yearlings, but just in time to save the lives of three surviving souls. It is just this type of situation that I ask – are we each not responsible for the lives of all those who travel with us on our brief trip on this earth?
While God gave us dominion, it is up to us, as a society, to define all which that means. If we are satisfied with the extreme cruelty we inflict on animals, let’s admit it. Let’s not spare the dogs and cats, let’s not be squeamish about killing anything. But if there is a thread of doubt, if one of us cries in the courtroom when confronted with our own acts of cruelty, then perhaps we have come to a place in our own lives to re-evaluate our beliefs in dominion.
And that time is never more important than it is now.
“Animals are more than ever a test of our character, of mankind’s capacity for empathy and for decent, honorable conduct and faithful stewardship. We are called to treat them with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but in a sense because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us.”
―Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy