No Country For Horses

No Country for Horses

More from Twyla Francois: Selected responses about the transport and slaughter of horses in Canada

Last Updated: Thursday, October 8, 2009 | 1:05 PM ET

The following are selected responses about the transport of horses from the U.S. and the slaughter of horses in Canada from interviews between CBC News reporter Mellissa Fung and Twyla Francois (TF), Regional Director of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition.


TF: I think one of the big problems – what I was finding in the feedlots in the States and in Canada – we have a number of them here in Canada and there’s one just down the road from me in Manitoba – they’re breeding (horses) as well, and so there’s this indiscriminate breeding that’s going on. Even with the racehorse industry, they breed hoping for that one-in-a-million horse and all these others end up as surplus. So I think that if there was no more market, if horsemeat becomes illegal and you can’t slaughter them anymore or the market dries up in Europe, because that’s where most of it is going – is France, and Japan, actually, then the industry would have to react. If there’s no market, they’ll just stop all this indiscriminate breeding, because then suddenly there won’t be a dollar value to it.


TF: There are only two ways to legally kill a horse in Canada - with a .22 or with a captive bolt pistol. A .22 is much more humane than a captive bolt pistol, because the problem with horses is that they’re very head shy. So when you try to put anything near their head, they’re going to flinch, they’re going to move around. Whereas a .22, it can be aimed at a bit of a distance and it’s a quick, penetrating bolt and they’re gone. But with a captive bolt, it seems that it requires more learning. A captive bolt pistol is a contraption that’s held against a head and a metal bolt comes out, and retracts. And it causes enough damage to the brain that an animal is rendered unconscious quickly. And I have seen it done and it does work, but the difficulty is with horses, they’re head shy. So if you try to put anything near their head, they’re going flinch, they’re going to move, they’re not like a cow. So what we’re wondering is – (when we see dead) horses who don’t have captive boltholes, could they be the ones where the bolt missed? Is it hitting them elsewhere in their face? Is there pressure to continue the line because they’re killing 200 horses a day, which is a massive number of such a large animal, and it takes a long time to process these bodies? So could there be so much pressure that even though they’re not being rendered unconscious, that they’re just pushing them through the line? Bleeding them out while they’re still conscious? We honestly don’t know and the implications are really, really frightening. There’s one method of slaughter that’s being done in Mexico that’s called puntilla, and this is where they use an ice pick and they jab it in the back of the spinal cord. And it doesn’t stop pain. It doesn’t render them unconscious. It just immobilizes them. And I hope this isn’t being used here, but we really have no idea what is being done with these horses.


TF: One of the big issues with horses specifically is a lot of these horses have known human companionship. They seek comfort from us, and it is the ultimate betrayal, that after owning an animal for so long – and at the auctions I see a lot of 20+ year horses – they become injured or they require medical treatment and they’re close to death and the owner knows it’s going to cost quite a bit to bury them, then they’re brought to the auction and these animals are so frightened. You can see them in the ring, that they search the ring looking for a friendly face. We have been comfort for them, and then we take them to slaughter. We see this at the slaughterhouses too, where they’re still seeking out affection from even the slaughterhouse workers themselves. I went to some auctions in Colorado and New Mexico and Texas, and through the States and what we found was a lot of these horses are ex-pets. They’re 20 year-old horses that have been in somebody’s backyard, and then they get ill and it becomes expensive to care of them, expensive to bury them…and so they bring them to auction. But they’re not aware of what they’re inflicting on these horses. And one thing we saw that really broke my heart was, you would see the workers walking by the pens and the horses would rush the pens, looking for comfort from these men who were going to kill them. It just seems like such a betrayal. I think just because of the history of the horse and how they are treated, here in North America and what they’ve experienced in their own life, nothing can prepare them for the journey they have ahead of them after they’ve been given up.


TF: There is a large difference because a horse is a flight animal and their immediate response to fear is to run. And this is what we’ve seen with the handling, because if you’re handling cattle, they follow. They just tend to follow one another. They’re quite calm, whereas what we saw with the handling of horses – electric prods are being used. They’re scared, they’re frightened, they’re frantically running one way, and if they come across any kind of barrier, they would all flee back the other way and then they would all whip back over. So it’s just this reaction they have of pure fright. They also are extremely head shy so trying to hit the captive bolt cleanly, to ensure a clean hit, is much more difficult. There’s a much higher risk of having to shoot them multiple times and just that their reaction is very different. They’re a flight animal. The problem is also with the transport issue, that because they’re such a tall animal and we’re still allowing transport on double-deckers – it’s such a grueling, grueling ride for them -15 to 25 hours of not being able to stand upright. It’s a much more difficult ride for a horse.


TF: The regulations need to be updated. They’re archaic. We’re worse than the United States. Monogastrics like horses and pigs can be transported up to 36 hours with no food or water, and keep in mind that these horses are often coming from the United States, and in the United States, they can be transported up to 28 hours. But the problem is when they hit the border, the clock doesn’t go back to zero - it continues on. So they can literally be doing 50, 60 hours with no food or water or a break.


TF: There is always the question of a conflict of interest, because part of their mandate is to encourage the consumption of Canadian foods. But yet they’re supposed to be providing this protective role as well, for our health and for the welfare of animals. But we question whether they can really give welfare what is required, because even if we call a CFIA inspector about an animal, they aren’t authorized to euthanize. So we can have this animal that’s suffering very badly, and we call in the federal authority and they can’t even do anything about it.


TF: For horses in particular, the fear in them is really shocking when you see them in the slaughterplants. So (humane slaughter) would involve not actually being transported, because there are so many problems transporting horses. It would be slaughter on farm, with a mobile slaughter unit, it would be the only way you could more humanely kill a horse. Our concern with the slaughter a horse is it can’t be done humanely. The only way to humanely kill a horse would be to put it down on the farm. And so we really don’t believe that slaughtering horses could ever be made humane.


TF: Something I’ve been discovering is, I don’t think people who have horses really know what the slaughter process is about. If they knew that it wasn’t this very quick overnight – killed instantly – they wouldn’t be sending them. And I think this is something we have to do – is a large education campaign. As Canadians are becoming more aware of this issue, we’re getting rescue shelters popping up all over the place. People care about horses and they don’t like to see this happening to them, and if they hear of any case of suffering – and I get these calls every day. People just don’t want to see horses suffer. So people will respond - they’ll donate, shelters will come up.

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