Speaking out on behalf of animals…some of them, anyway

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.

 

 

21 thoughts on “Speaking out on behalf of animals…some of them, anyway

  1. We shouldn’t ignore some cruelty because all cruelty isn’t addressed, but my problem with Luck is I’m not sure how careful they were. I wonder who was handling the horse, if it was an experienced groom or just someone from the production company. I also would be interested in knowing if there were any drugs found in the horse’s system that would cause it to act wildly. yes, these accidents do happen often at racetracks, but three in a short period of time warrants attention. I also read the second fatality was full of drugs which we KNOW contributes to breakdowns and should not be allowed at any time, whether it is for tv or for racing. We also know how difficult it is to regulate these drugs, but that doesn’t make it right for ANY trainers.

  2. All Good issues, no simple answers.

    And to turn things around what about human suffering as a result of animals? What about the hundreds (thousands?) of people hurt or killed on the roadways from collisions with deer each year? With less and less hunting each year the Deer population proliferates and more humans suffer. What about the many victims of Lyme Disease from deer ticks? Ever talk to a farmer about crop loss from Deer foraging on their farms?

    There are no simple answers, I guess its all about the circle of life and balance.

  3. Isn’t it the point? : Focus on something like Luck, get people in racing talking about it, and allow them to compare it to other issues like pigs, chickens, cats and dogs to further their narrative?

    PTP

  4. I believe the ASPCA was founded to deal with the terrible treatment of carriage horses, so there has been a long association of animal protection in relation to horses. Today, many groups are working to combat the ills of factory farming. The thoroughbred industry has really been at fault by ignoring the drug issue for so long. The horses used in the filming of Luck were retirees some of whom should have not been used in racing scenes. I watched the show but found it depressing largely. The ratings were not good either so while some critics gave it high marks the audience was not there.

  5. We’ve consumed animals since Caveman Moog brought down a woolly mammoth because it was a whole lot tastier than tofu. 😉

    Joking aside, the bullseye on horse racing appears to be just that: horse racing. The horses are bred for racing purposes; entertainment and gambling being the product sold. It’s a notion that rankles lots of people.

    • I’ve always a hard time, Sue, with the idea of using animals for profit, and I agree that it’s rankling. But lots of animals are sacrificed–literally–so that people can make money. Why aren’t they pilloried as those in racing are?

  6. The producers of Luck are smarter than the current mob directing the plight of TB racing. Sadly, horses had to die during production but the public was rejecting the seedy, low life narrative of horse racing. Sound familar. The most recent death gave them a perfect reason to pull the plug.

    Unless the TB racing cool aide drinkers (to include many racing pundits) start making the right choices their exits will be next.

    Easy first move. All race day drugs banned starting 5 minutes from now. Drugs are not tolerated in any sport, worldwide. Good, bad, no factor– The racing public sees the use as seedy, low life and contributing to the death and injury of racing horses.

    We should ask Zenyatta what she thinks. She would probably take time out from her baby duties to address this issue.

  7. Saying things akin to horses die like this all the time, or this is no worse than what is happening in other industries does not help the cause and really seems more of a defense than acknowledgment of the issue at hand. The humane and ethical treatment of animals in any industry should be constantly progressing towards improvement, any other response suggests disregard for the animals. Sure there will always be a fight with activists trying to “shut the whole thing down”, but the fight against the extremists in the movement should not effect a natural progression for constant safer measures. Diverting the attention away from horse racing to other industries should not be the response. Horse racing (unlike the food industry or science) will always be in this national spotlight as stated above, since for one horse racing needs to promote itself, and therefore on a Derby Day or any other major racing event, protesters at these events have become a common occurrence. Acknowledgement of these issues, by turf writers and jockey clubs is a good way to proceed, now if trainers and owners can follow.

    • If this is the understanding that you took away, I either didn’t write clearly or you didn’t read carefully. I acknowledge racing’s problems here, but I stand by my opinion that I find the outcry surprising given the blithe ignorance of most animal cruelty.

  8. Valerie: Do you have a link for your statement “…the second fatality was full of drugs..”? I think it would be important to properly cite this claim. Thanks, Kevin

  9. Why the fuss over horses and not cruelty to other animals? I think it comes down to focus and complexity. People always ask, “what’s the difference between slaughtering a horse and a cow,” and there’s an answer, but it’s a long one. I’ve been writing about horse slaughter for several months now, and it’s a subject that few people are aware of. But it’s recently been reintroduced to the US due to refunding through the USDA. There are battles going on right now in small towns about whether or not to start slaughtering horses again and if people do not become aware, they may end up with one in their backyards. These facilities (and the ones now slaughtering US horses are in Canada and Mexico) slaughter a lot of Thoroughbreds, including many that earned someone a lot of $. The issue is very different from slaughtering cattle in many ways, and similar in others. But it is impossible to be outraged about all of them at the same time. You just can’t do it. The best thing anyone can do is educate themselves on each individually, change their shopping and eating habits (as Teresa mentions), make others aware, and watch their legislators, who make silent deals in appropriations bills that reward agribusiness and entice foreign corporations onto U.S. soil to breed more, slaughter more. Yes, horrible things happen to cattle, but though fewer horses are being presently slaughtered, the humane issues are more egregious due to horses’ instinct to flight, the structure of their skulls and the means of slaughter (captive bolt). This works better on cattle. It doesn’t work on horses well. So that is one difference. There are also separate drug issues, transportation issues, etc. Take a look, also, at how cattle ranchers are getting the BLM to remove wild horses from public lands. The horses and cattle share many things in common, but it is important to understand the difference in how each is exploited in order to expose it to the public. Sorry, didn’t meant to write such a long answer, but the question is easy to ask (why horses vs. cows) and harder to answer.

    • Vickery, while it’s true that horses may suffer more during the transport to slaughter, and possibly during the slaughter itself, the living conditions for most horses during their lives are far, far better than the living conditions for cows, chickens, and pigs. I think that there’s more to it as well: I think that the emotional of attractiveness of horses elicits people’s sympathy more quickly than the other animals, and that’s a cultural construct that I find hard to swallow when it comes to humane treatment.

      Appreciate the long and thoughtful answer, though, and thanks for reading.

  10. Racing is an easy target in the horse world, but not the only one. I see horse people turning on “their own” all the time. In some circles, as on some blogs, that kind of behavior is encouraged.

    I’ve seen instructors at English lesson barns talk about how they “hate” western riders for the curb bits and “sawing in their mouths.” I’ve see riders look at a photo of another rider and say, “That rider ought to be shot!” I’ve seen hunt seat people sneer at saddleseat people. The list could go on.

    So, it’s not just racing.

  11. Thanks, everyone, for taking the time to read and write such thoughtful comments. I’ve always appreciated that the vitriol that can explode on some sites, especially around sensitive issues, seldom happens here. Thanks for adding to the conversation and giving us more to think about.

  12. People aren’t necessarily consistent when it comes to preferences, and they aren’t required to be. 80% of Americans oppose slaughtering horses. I doubt you’d find the same number opposing the slaughter of cows. And all would be opposed to dogs being slaughtered—but ask people about greyhound racing, and they have no idea how cruel it is. To your second point, why all the negative attention to racing, are you saying that what’s happening (the injuries, the slaughter issues, the drugging) shouldn’t be commented upon? The last thing I’ll mention is that if you spend some time learning what’s going on with pro-slaughter people, you may be shocked at how focused they are on rounding up mustangs, sending them to slaughter, and turning every rescue horse into filly filet. There’s negative energy there, as there is on almost every animal abuse and welfare issue, and racing is legitimate aspect of that discussion.

    • I didn’t say it shouldn’t be commented on; I said the opposite, in fact. I just think that there’s cruelty going on in other areas that people don’t seem much interested in.

  13. Wander over into any of the discussions about animal testing, factory farming, ag-gag rules, GMO, wild horses, PMU foals, soring of gaited horses, puppy mills, canned hunting, etc and you won’t feel so under the microscope. All these are getting exposure, and rightly so.

  14. Wow, what an article! This raises a lot of questions and leaves one with much to think about. I would like to speak to some of them.
    Ever since the horse was domesticated 3000 years ago he has been a partner with man in the building of civilisation. We owe eveything to this great creature and would still need him as much now as we did then had we not found the internal combustion motor and electricity. Other than the dog this is why we have such a bond with the horse. Anyone that does not get that, is not worth my time talking to. I think those that do, that is why they are so upset when something bad happens to a horse.
    Some people who are totally ignorant of the sport like to run off at the mouth. Look no further then how Larry Jones was treated after Eight Belles death. Cudos to the Great Gary Stevens and his great defense of the sport on TV later on the following TC telecast. I am saying there is a lot of hypocrisy in all this.
    I am not a vegetarian but I strongly believe All of Gods creatures deserve to be treated humanley, even ones we consume for food. They should be slaughtered humanley as well. No animal deserves to live without dignity. I do not like some of the methods that some use to raise animals and use for food or they way they are handled.
    As far as the show Luck is concerned; I hope they did all they could to avoid the things that happened. Ihave heard a lot of negative things about this show. I watched it a few times. I thought it was just what is was; a tv show. Nothing more or less. It was entertainment. Give me a break with all the people saying it was bad for Racing. If we are worried about something shown on a tv show about are sport then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.

    Take care,
    Jarrod

  15. Wow, what an article! This raises a lot of questions and leaves one with much to think about. I would like to speak to some of them.
    Ever since the horse was domesticated 3000 years ago he has been a partner with man in the building of civilisation. We owe eveything to this great creature and would still need him as much now as we did then had we not found the internal combustion motor and electricity. Other than the dog this is why we have such a bond with the horse. Anyone that does not get that, is not worth my time talking to. I think those that do, that is why they are so upset when something bad happens to a horse.
    Some people who are totally ignorant of the sport like to run off at the mouth. Look no further then how Larry Jones was treated after Eight Belles death. Cudos to the Great Gary Stevens and his great defense of the sport on TV later on the following TC telecast. I am saying there is a lot of hypocrisy in all this.
    I am not a vegetarian but I strongly believe All of Gods creatures deserve to be treated humanley, even ones we consume for food. They should be slaughtered humanley as well. No animal deserves to live without dignity. I do not like some of the methods that some use to raise animals and use for food or they way they are handled.
    As far as the show Luck is concerned; I hope they did all they could to avoid the things that happened. Ihave heard a lot of negative things about this show. I watched it a few times. I thought it was just what is was; a tv show. Nothing more or less. It was entertainment. Give me a break with all the people saying it was bad for Racing. If we are worried about something shown on a tv show about are sport then we are in bigger trouble than I thought.

    Take care,
    Jarrod

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