The bad news is that I haven’t posted here in over a week. The good news is that that’s because I’ve been working on a number of stories for Thoroughbred Times, New York Breeder, and Forbes.com – recent articles are always posted at the top of the column to the right, so check them out if you have a chance. And as the good folks at Forbes.com like when their stories get comments, please do chime in if you agree, disagree, accept, question. Would love to hear from you there, too.
I most recently wrote there about the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, a post I’d been planning for a couple of weeks but that gained greater urgency in light of the continued breakdowns at Aqueduct and the cancellation of Luck.
The accident that killed the third horse happens on racetracks and on farms, to work horses and race horses and show horses. It is unfortunate, but it was an accident that I’m not sure merits the level of outrage directed at Luck and at racing that it’s elicited. Or perhaps, I’m surprised that the outrage focuses on racing and not on other sports in which horses compete. Or maybe that’s happening, too, and I’m just not hearing it?
Racing is an easy target for those concerned about animal welfare, and some of the sport’s problems are of its own making. Still, I’m surprised at the level of vitriol that gets directed at racing when in so many other industries, animals are subject to cruelty every day in this country. I’m not defending racing deaths, but with so many animals treated so cruelly every day in this country, I wonder why horse racing is singled out for attack.
As a nation, we eat meat that comes from animals who have suffered unspeakably. We clean our homes and bodies with products that have tortured animals in the approval process.
I was a vegetarian for 10 years; for longer than that, I didn’t pay attention to racing because I was troubled by a sport in which animals were used to make money for humans. I don’t eat a lot of meat now, and when I do, I try–not always successfully–to eat meat from farms that raise and slaughter animals humanely. I try to purchase only products that haven’t been tested on animals. I’m no saint about this, but in carnivorism, consumerism, and racing, I try to make choices that to support businesses and organizations that make animal welfare a priority. I know I could do more.
Still, I have a hard time listening to the outcries against horse racing amid the silence about other animal welfare issues in this country. Are horses treated inhumanely? Sometimes, yes. So are cats and dogs. Sheep, cows, and chicken are routinely treated barbarously on the factory farms in the United States. But it’s only the animals that we love that seem to get our attention when they suffer.
Two days ago, Mark Bittman wrote this column in the New York Times on a new book about the horrors of factory farming. Last month, the same paper published an editorial about the dreadful conditions in which egg-producing chickens are housed. My Facebook and Twitter timelines are full of animal lovers, but I didn’t see a single tweet or Facebook post about either of these articles or issues. When a horse dies in a freak accident at Santa Anita or another horse breaks down at Aqueduct, all hell breaks loose.
I don’t believe in relativism. I don’t believe that as humans, we get to decide which animals are worthy of favor and protection. I don’t believe that because certain animals are raised to be food, we don’t have to worry about their suffering. I agree with the oft-quoted Jeremy Bentham:
…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer?
I do believe that every single Thoroughbred death deserves our attention; as fans and stewards of the game, it is our obligation to pay attention, to call attention, and to work to reduce equine injury, and the New York turf writers who noted and wrote about the Aqueduct breakdowns deserve applause for making sure that the matter is addressed.
But what of the animals whose suffering happens daily, ignominiously, and invisibly? Why is their suffering largely ignored? When, I wonder, will such loud and public outcries be heard on their behalf?
Bentham also said, “The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes…” Those words were published in 1789. I wonder if he thought that, more than 200 years later, they would be no truer than when he wrote them.