After Judith Taylor and her husband realized they could not have children,they welcomed PJ and Poco into their family. For nearly 15 years,the two Appaloosa horses called the couple's backyard home.
“They were two of the sweetest little animals anybody could ever want,” said Taylor,61 of Clarksville,Ind.
Their unexpected deaths turned Taylor into a passionate voice in a sharply divisive issue of whether horses should be slaughtered for human consumption.
In 1994,when the couple lived in Louisville,Ky.,her husband left her. Taylor,who suffers from degenerative arthritis of the spine,couldn't care for the horses alone. A couple who owned a small farm offered to board the horses temporarily.
“They told me that I could come and see them and do anything I wanted to do with them,that they'd just be out there on that pasture,” Taylor said. “Six days later,I found out they sold them to a killer buyer. They just wanted the money.”
Taylor said the couple claimed the horses were mean,something she never experienced.
“They were like babies,” she said. “They was just raised like puppy dogs. They'd lay their head on my shoulder and they'd kiss me and love on me,and they were just real sweethearts.”
Taylor sued the couple and won $126,000 in 1999,but the couple filed for bankruptcy without paying her.
Opposing activists debate a national ban on horse slaughter,but the issue is not nearly as clear cut as yea and nay.
“The root of the problem is unwanted horses. That's really what we are talking about,” said Tom Persechino,senior director of marketing American Quarter Horse Association,which opposes a legislative ban.
Unwanted horses provoke a variety of issues,including how to humanely euthanize them,whether transport to processing plants is abusive and the right of foreigners to eat horse meat processed in America.
The American Quarter Horse Association is sometimes pegged as pro-slaughter,but that over-simplified label is incorrect,Persechino said.
“The association is not pro-slaughter,” he said.
Persechino said previous bills did not provide money to care for unwanted horses or any methods to enforce regulations on treatment of horses being transported to slaughterhouses. The legislation would have created dilemmas for horse owners,he said.
Opponents of the ban say the nation's rescue farm facilities are inadequate to take in all unwanted horses. They say the method used to kill horses is veterinarian-approved and that U.S. Department of Agriculture veterinarians are on hand to make sure horses are treated humanely.
Finally,they say it is not up to Americans to legislate whether Europeans and Asians should eat horse meat.
Those in favor of banning horse slaughter claim the transportation to the processing facilities and the treatment of horses once there is cruel and abusive. They say they do not take issue with equine euthanasia,but say that it is improperly carried out. Some say Americans should not enable what many consider to be the deplorable practice of dining on horse meat.
Tom Lenz,a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the current chair of its Welfare Committee and the Unwanted Horse Coalition of the American Horse Council,said euthanasia at a slaughterhouse “is a better alternative than neglect or abuse or abandonment.”
“Tomorrow morning if the legislation were to pass,there's still going to be about 100,000 horses a year that are discarded by their owners,and what's going to happen? … It's kind of a Pollyanna approach that this will go away if they legislate it out of existence,” Lenz said.
Lenz said he has seen horses euthanized.
“I don't know if they smelled the blood or not,but it didn't seem to bother them if they did,” he said. “They were extremely relaxed. I think,frequently,and I see this with my grandchildren,that they watch movies and they think that animals are people,four-legged people,and if you or I walk in a place like that,we would be frightened. That's my feeling that that's why they think that way.”
For Christine Berry,founder and president of the Equine Protection Network,the issue is not so easily explained away because it hinges on both humane treatment of horses and cultural implications of feeding the horse-meat industry.
“It's a time for our country to make a statement,to put it on the books. It's in line with our culture: Americans voluntarily do not eat horses,” she said. “It's about time that our legislators listen to the will of the people that's in line with our culture.
“When we look at the horse,we think of the next Triple Crown winner,we think of the next Olympic champion,we think of our daughter's pony. We don't look at the horse and say,‘There's my next T-bone steak.'”
Despite that,Berry is careful to warn that saving horses' lives is not her goal. She said she is concerned with treating the horses humanely.
“This act is not about saving the horse,” she said. “That is a catch-phrase for marketing,yes,and publicity because it's easy for people to remember,but it's not about keeping them alive.
“There's nothing wrong with putting them down.”
Berry's enthusiasm for her cause is fueled by personal experience. She has been involved in the horse industry all her life,and when she was 19,her trainer pressured her to sell her horse,Dynamic Strength.
She thought Dynamic Strength would go to a younger,less experienced rider,but the horse's breeder spotted him at an auction known for killer buyers. She believes he ended up at a slaughterhouse.
“It kills me because he trusted me,” she said. “I trained him to trust me,that whatever I asked him to do,it was OK. I could get off of this horse and walk in the house and drink a cup of hot chocolate,and come back out and he's still standing where he's supposed to be. … He trusted me,and look what I did to him.”
“I look at myself and I say,‘Why am I so passionate about this?'” Berry said,”And I think part of it is because I know that that's what happened to my horse.”