PETA and HSUS: Who's Horsing Around?

There’s been a lot of press devoted recently to the possible (probable?) reinstatement of horse slaughter in the United States. As expected, HSUS made hay out of horse slaughter’s potential return—while, oddly, HSUS’s little sister in the animal rights movement, PETA, had a different take. Speaking to the Christian Science Monitor, PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk said:

It's quite an unpopular position we've taken. There was a rush to pass a bill that said you can't slaughter them anymore in the United States. But the reason we didn't support it, which sets us almost alone, is the amount of suffering that it created exceeded the amount of suffering it was designed to stop.

We hate to say it, but PETA is the voice of sanity here. (Is it out of place to mention that it’s not like PETA has a problem with animals being killed?) After the ban on domestic slaughter, horses were simply shipped to Canada and Mexico to be slaughtered—a long distance to travel outside of the purview of USDA inspectors and US humane slaughter laws. Last year, the number of horses going to slaughter abroad totaled 138,000. In other words, it’s arguable that HSUS helped cause a decrease in animal welfare.

Meanwhile, horse abandonment has increased domestically. Recent research presented in the Journal of Animal Science found that 100,000 unwanted horses turn up every year, but the capacity of horse rescues is only 13,400 animals.

HSUS president Wayne Pacelle retorts that abandonment has increased because of economic circumstances. He has a point, but he doesn’t answer this one question: If slaughter is totally banned, where are all those horses to go?

Horse sanctuaries across the country are already filled to capacity. So, predictably, some animals have been left to die of starvation. Their owners can’t sell them and can’t afford the cost for a veterinarian to euthanize the animal.

Meanwhile, Pacelle’s response is normative: People shouldn’t own horses unless they can care for them. OK, sure. But who can predict an economic downturn? Welcome to reality, where things don’t always go as planned. (And it’s not like everybody has a six-figure salary and pension plan like Wayne Pacelle.)

To HSUS’s credit, it does operate a horse sanctuary out in Oregon called the Duchess Sanctuary, which holds 200 horses on 1,120 acres. But since we haven’t seen any ideas from HSUS as to what to do with 138,000 horses if all horse slaughter was banned, let us suggest that HSUS build a Duchess Sanctuary for all of them.

By our calculation, HSUS would need to build ranches exceeding 1,200 square miles in size to house all of these animals.

That would require a lot of hard work and a lot of money. Doable? Possibly. But HSUS would have to “pony up” in a major way.

Of course, it’d be far easier for HSUS to continue making hay out of the horse slaughter issue and raising money off of it. If HSUS is going to continue to oppose horse slaughter, hopefully it offers some practical solutions—for the horses.