The Unwanted Horse - Michigan Veterinary Medical Association

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Transcript The Unwanted Horse - Michigan Veterinary Medical Association

Unwanted Horse Issues & the Interface with the Horse Slaughter/Processing Issue

Camie R. Heleski, Ph.D.

MSU Department of Animal Science The opinions presented are my own & based on my own experiences & research; they do not necessarily represent those of Michigan State University.

Statistics on the horse industry

 US (based on 2005 American Horse Council study)  9.2 million horses in the US  10% race horses  30% competition horses  51% leisure/trail/ “backyard”  4.6 million Americans involved in the industry  Direct economic impact = $39 billion  Multiplier economic impact = $102 billion  Directly provides 460,000 FTE jobs  34% of horse owners have household income < $50,000 (so not just the “wealthy” have horses)  Michigan – estimated 155,000 horses (2007 Michigan Equine Survey)

Try a Google or Bing Search…you will be shocked at the number of hits (and this is no longer “just” a US problem)*

 Unwanted horses?

 Abandoned horses?

 Neglected horses?

This issue* has been a controversial one for me for > 30 years…

 Tremendous deal of thought behind my perspectives.

 I have gone to great lengths to study horse behavior, animal welfare science, and bioethics in addressing the issue.

The Perfect Storm (started around 2007)

Problem – little to no salvage value for many horses Too many unwanted horses (some “unusable” horses within this category .) BLM having far more trouble adopting out surplus horses than ever before Troubled Economy – many owners dealing with reduced or lost income + increased cost of living (esp. fuel & food) Increased Cost of Horse Care – esp. rise in hay, grain & bedding (fuel until recently) Added “challenge” – horses are living longer People have decreased disposable income to go to competitions, trail rides, etc. (in some cases, simply the cost of horse care has become prohibitive) For many, this leads to decreased reason/justification to have the horse In the past, during similar economic cycles, some people would elect to take their horses to low end auctions…where the salvage value was in going to the slaughter market…this option is now extremely limited & involves horses going to Canada or Mexico

Definitions -Unwanted versus unusable horses

Unwanted horses (domesticated)

 Owner no longer capable of providing care (physically or financially)  Essentially normal and healthy  All breeds and ages – reflect the horse population  No longer needed or useful  Fail to meet owner’s expectations – athletic ability  Non-life threatening disease  Owner no longer interested.

 Average time of ownership (4.5 to 5 years)

Definitions -Unwanted versus unusable/unfit horses


 Some disability or infirmity  Old age, lameness  Behavioral issues  Vices/stereotypies, head shakers  Truly mean or dangerous  Unpredictable behaviors – bolting, flipping over  Very aggressive


 Number of unwanted horses exceeds the resources currently available to accommodate them.*  The estimated cost of providing basic care for a horse ranges from $1,800 $2,400 annually. **  Currently, there are not enough volunteers, funding or placement opportunities for all of the unwanted horses across the country.

*Research by Holcomb, Stull & Kass found that 326 registered equine rescues in the US have capacity for ~ 14,000 horses…far below the estimated 100,000 that become unwanted each year. **Can the absolute basics be provided more cheaply than that? Yes, but doesn’t account for land use, labor, or price variations across the US.


Since closure of USA Slaughter/Processing facilities Slaughter • Flow to Canada has increased (# US horses going to Canada for slaughter in 2005=17,300; in 2012 = 39,200) – Transport time (~700 miles from mid-Michigan to Quebec) – Trucks probably more closely regulated than in US – Plants inspected and horses protected by humane laws – Killed by gunshot/penetrating captive bolt* • Flow to Mexico has increased 369% <660% in 2010> – Long transport time – 700 mi from US border to Zacatecas plant – Transferred to Mexican trucks at border – Meat going to Europe must meet European Convention requirement for stun: puntilla, pole axe, sledge hammer prohibited – AAEP group found conditions at both Mexican plants acceptable *AVMA states 3 acceptable methods of euthanasia*…

 For the past 15 yrs, 1-2% of the domestic equine population, on average, was sent to slaughter (~ 100,000/yr) w/ an additional 10-30,000 going to Canada and Mexico  Approx another 200,000 die or are euthanized on-farm each year…these carcasses have been buried, cremated or gone to rendering

(carcass disposal is an important issue and needs to be considered in the equation)

 By all indications, number of cases of neglect & abandonment have increased since closing of US slaughter plants, but it is hard to get firm numbers    Google news article search for abandoned horses – 698 hits (2009) Bing search for “abandoned horses” – 107,000 hits in last month!!

Colorado – horse neglect & abuse cases have increased 60% since 2005

US Horse Slaughter Statistics

National Agricultural Statistics Service/USDA

1998 - present Year 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 Number Since 2008, technically no horses have been slaughtered at USDA inspected plants (there is an ongoing legal battle to try to open plants in several states) 22,707** 104,899 91,757 65,976 50,564 42,312 55,776 47,134 62,813 72,120 **Does not consider horses shipped to plants outside the US

Responsibility for these horses?


Should breeders be willing to take horses back Should breeders build-in a return fee policy Owners?

Education prior to purchase Responsibility when no longer wanted Veterinary/agricultural community?

Cost of euthanasia Provide for disposal after euthanasia Public?

Should the tax payer foot the bill for the unwanted horse Do we need to fund shelters as with dogs/cats?

What are the options?

    Sell horse Second career Pasture mate Lease horse  Partial or full lease  Donate horse to a worthy organization  Therapeutic riding program       Give horse to 4-H member Police department Equine college or university Horse rescue group Horse retirement facility Veterinary clinic  Have your horse humanely euthanized by a veterinarian


 According to the American Association of Equine Practitioner’s National Fee and Market Study, the average fee for euthanasia by a veterinarian is $66 (+ farm call). < 2008 >

(A recent euthanasia clinic in Sand Lake provided euthanasia + disposal for $100)

 Depends on area of the country,  Does not include carcass disposal.  Approved methods of carcass disposal include burial, rendering and incineration. (check on rules for your location)  Fees for these methods can range from $75 to $250 for rendering up to $2000 for incineration.

What are people doing?

 Trying to do “the right thing”. Looking for places to donate.

 Leaving them at auction yards, boarding facilities etc. (this appears to be increasing again)  Turning them loose. (finding horses with brands, shoes, etc. mixed in with wild horse herds; finding horses w brands cut off!)  Hoping things will improve.

 Trying to get them to auctions that will still take them.

Potential Solutions

 Potential Solution – produce less horses; already doing in many breeds; but perhaps an unfair burden for horse businesses to bear (?); also this is complicated by the fact that improved health care has horses living longer

Potential Solutions

• Potential Solution – Educate owners to responsibilities of horse ownership; ensure they have financial resources before obtaining horse; ensure they have training resources to ensure manageability of horses

Potential Solutions

• Potential Solution – reopen US equine slaughter option; realistic avenue for unwanted horses; realistic utilization of resources • Several states are close to being able to provide this option once again (will be under tremendous public pressure) *at last check, New Mexico was going to have legal right to pursue this

Potential Solutions

Potential Solution – use taxpayer dollars to build/open/staff horse shelters similar to dog/cat shelters; these places would try to adopt out horses that are dropped off, but would euthanize those animals that are unadoptable (aside: 4-6 million cats & dogs are euthanized at shelters annually; the current number of horses going to slaughter is about 3% of that number)

Questions to be asked that have an ethical component…

 Does the US ban on equine slaughter play a role in the current scenario of too many unwanted horses?  How have peoples’ values & perceptions of the horse influenced the slaughter debate?  Is it possible that it’s more acceptable to slaughter some horses than others?

 How much responsibility should each owner take for the lifetime commitment to horse ownership?

 How much responsibility should each breeder have toward ensuring a long term home for each foal?

 In the case of dangerous horses, do we have a greater ethical responsibility to people who might encounter them (perhaps unknowingly) or to the horses themselves?

Should we separate the issues of: humane transportation, humane methods of ending a horse’s life, and whether or not it’s ok to slaughter horses period?

 Is it fair to ask the horse industry to behave as though it is not a business?

 Even if we conclude that we’re “anti-slaughter”, is it possible there are worse scenarios currently playing out for unwanted horses?  Is it fair to impose the value systems of some onto all?

 E.g. > 90% of US population eats beef…is it really such a far stretch to imagine people in other parts of the world (or here) eating another hoofed herbivore?

 Have we done the unwanted horse any favors by banning US slaughter?

 Could things get still worse for unwanted horses?  For those promoting the end to all US slaughter & the closing of the borders to slaughter bound horses, have they created viable, affordable options of what to do with the unwanted horse population?

Even if we conclude that we’re “anti-slaughter”, is it possible there are worse options currently taking place?

“Horses are beautiful & we don’t consume them in the US so they shouldn’t be slaughtered .” “I could never do it to my horse, so I don’t want anyone else to do it to their horse .” Horses suffering because owners can’t afford them & have no reasonable way to get rid of them.

Dangerous horses no longer being sent to slaughter; rather being pawned off on the unsuspecting.

Horses suffering because trailer trips are longer; more mixing taking place; regulations in Mexican plants are not as tightly regulated.


 Decision making is not value-free.

 However, decisions should be made with careful analysis; outcomes should be weighed  Facts: there are too many unwanted horses; economic times are tough; options are very limited for what to do with unwanted horses  What are potential steps forward?

Solutions/Additional Information

 The Unwanted Horse Coalition.

 Provides resources on responsible ownership, owner education, etc.

 Lists of rescues and retirement facilities   Reestablish Horse Processing in the US (?)   AVMA Unwanted Horses & Horse Slaughter FAQ  asked-questions-about-unwanted-horses-and-horse slaughter.aspx

Solutions/More Information

 Facebook – Michigan Free Horses  HC_Survey_07Jul09b.pdf

2009 Unwanted Horses Survey  sts/unwanted_horse_may08 Dr. Tom Lenz webcast on the unwanted horse

Additional Resources

 US GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report to Congressional Committees – HORSE WELFARE Action Needed to Address Unintended Consequences from Cessation of Domestic Slaughter (June 2011) 

 Unwanted horses: The role of nonprofit equine rescue and sanctuary organizations (Holcomb, Stull, Kass) J Anim Sci 2010