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At Issue: by Marcia King

New Anti-Slaughter Activist

I did a keyword Internet search recently for "horse AND legislation" and came up with approximately 173,000 hits. Adding variations such as "group" or "organization" or "association" to the mix brought it down to a still-unwieldy 33,000-96,000 hits.

With all these major and minor players representing local, regional, national and international equine interest groups, why does Catheleen Doyle, founder of the new group HOOFPAC feel we need one more? The answer, she says, is because while 50 percent of the horse community and 80 percent of the general population oppose horse slaughter, those anit-slaughter interests have no voice or representation.

The big players on the equine stage are "motivated purely by economics," Doyle charges. The horse is merely fodder to drive their industries. And, they are all pro-slaughter."

Doyle cites the national equine protection and humane associations, and even the national legislative representative for the horse industry as facilitators due to their support of the recently published United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations governing the transportation of horses to slaughter.

"Sad, but not surprising, the industry supported the USDA and the horse slaughter industry," she says. "The result? Horses are now transported for 28 hours without water, there is no limit on the number of horses that can be loaded, pregnant mares are shipped (left to the discretion of the killers), and no veterinary 'fit to travel' certificates of health are needed (left to the discretion of the killers). Horses may continue to be transported in 5'9" vehicles, even though seven states have managed to ban double-deckers outright.

"How can the horse industry approve transporting horses in vehicles contrary to accepted equine industry standards?" Doyle questions. "How can the horse industry approve watering intervals contrary to every acceptable standard of equine husbandry? How can the equine industry approve horses being transported out of state for long distances without Certificates of Health?

"There are no criminal penalties and no police enforcement when these laws are broken," Doyle continues. "Every cruelty that was a point of contention has now been codified and is protected under the USDA law. The horse got absolutely nothing while losing any chance for good legislation."

Doyle makes strong charges - but there's more. "The industry defends horse slaughter under the guise of waste management or the euthanasia program for the poor," Doyle continues, "citing the horses would otherwise be starved and neglected. Not so. Animal neglect is a completely different pathology than slaughter: Owners who starve or neglect horses are usually repeat offenders who will profess to love their animals. Slaughter has to do with some dealer buying up every available cheap horse he can get his hands on to sell for meat."

Making a Difference
Tired of the big sell-out, Doyle founded HOOFPAC (PAC being an acronym for political action committee), a nonprofit, tax-exempt group incorporated to lobby and represent the political interests of compassionate pleasure horse enthusiasts - the "huge horse constituency whose market share and political interests have no representation within the existing industry," says Doyle. "HOOFPAC represents the political agenda of equine organizations opposed to horse slaughter. We must never lose sight that rescue without advocacy will not change people's thinking, set social policy, pass laws or abolish equine cruelty." HOOFPAC was conceived in 1996 and incorporated in 2002.

HOOFPAC's current mission is to prohibit horse slaughter by informing compassionate horse enthusiasts about pending horse slaughter legislation. "We post the bill on our website (www.hoofpac.com) in its entirety along with a legal analysis, "Doyle explains. "We not only are going to ask you to either support or oppose, but we are going to tell you why and in great detail. Ultimately, HOOFPAC will send out legislative action alerts to its supporting organizations, which will then forward it on to their memberships. There is nothing more powerful than an informed constituency. We will have been successful when our supporters understand... that a piece of legislation that started out wanting to prohibit something may instead actually institutionalize and regulate it, that passing bad legislation removes the possibility of passing good legislation." The HOOFPAC website contains breakdowns of current or proposed bills under consideration with legalese translated into layman's language.

The pledge to support only "winning" efforts. For example, HOOFPAC will not invest time, energy or resources into supporting a piece of equine welfare state legislation referred to the agriculture committee. "Such a bill would either never be voted out of committee, or worse become an omnibus vehicle for toxic industry amendments," Doyle explains. "The lay activist might try to rally to the good fight; we prefer to either ignore or kill the bill. HOOFPAC will draw upon it's collective experiences and support projects that stand a fighting chance."

Reality Check
All if this sound like quite a reach, given the recent years-long struggle concerning the USDA equine transport regulations. More so for a young, grass-roots organization. We've seen the heart-in-the-right-place groups come on the scene decked out with ambitious promises and good intentions, only to fade away under the harsh reality of underfunding, lack of manpower and other overwhelming obstacles.

But Doyle brings to HOOFPAC and interesting and formidable pedigree; She founded the California Equine Council (CEC), whose greatest accomplishments to date are the 1998 California initiative that led to voters banning horse slaughter in California for human consumption, and the amendment that makes it illegal to export out of the state any pet of companion animal for the purpose of having that animal killed for food.

In addition, CEC helped pass anti-tripping legislation (a practice sometimes found in rodeos called charreadas) in eight states; helped pass laws that (1) required animal control, humane societies and animal regulation departments placing an equine into private or public auction to set a minimum bid above the current slaughter price, (2) required slaughter disclosure, and (3) made it illegal to acquire an animal through fraud or misrepresentation for the purpose of sale and slaughter.

Other key members of HOOFPAC such as Christine Berry,Susan Wagner and Gini Richardson boast of notable achievements, too, including cosponsoring bills related to horse theft, drugging and abuse; successfully lobbying the Pennsylvania legislature to prohibit the transport of horses in double-decked vehicles; and numerous rescue projects.

It's difficult to predict what successes HOOFPAC will have. Their brash remarks and unwillingness to compromise may cost them powerful allies that could help their efforts. But that outspokenness and commitment to working for nothing less than an end to slaughter, backed by the passion and experience of activists who have already scored precedent victories n anti-slaughter legislation, may very well be the winning combination that finally triumphs.

Marcia King is an award-winning freelance writer who writes frequently on equine humane issues and equine care.

"Keep America's horses in the stable and off the table!"


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