Initially the task of safe placement for 100 horses under a tight timeline seemed daunting – and downright impossible.
The CHDC became aware of the plight of about 100 horses belonging to an Armstrong man after the SPCA had seized 16 of them and sought the assistance of the Crown to rule on the remainder of the very large herd. Under court order to dispose of his horses, the owner took them to Valley Auction, a facility that kill buyers regularly attend. There was every reason to fear for the lives of these animals. They were rescued from a situation deemed neglectful by the SPCA and the courts, only to be delivered into a risky environment where only the fortunate find good homes. Meat dealers are happy to purchase horses who will bring them a profit. Swept into the system like so many other “livestock” animals, they are considered meat on the hoof and their lives end tragically and cruelly in any of the five slaughterhouses across Canada.
The Armstrong herd was lucky. Through the power of social media and networking, urgent Facebook and blog posts, word-of-mouth amongst animal advocates and horse rescuers, Valley Auction ended up packed! Although kill buyers were present, the prices appeared to be too high for them. They seemingly went away empty-handed, looking for cheaper flesh. (However, if anyone should have any information to the contrary – horses slipping through the cracks into the hands of kill buyers – please be sure to let us know and we will investigate.)
There is another angle to this story. CHDC took the initiative to interview Gary Roberts, the owner of the herd of horses, at his farm. Mr. Roberts stated that he had administered phenylbutazone, a prohibited drug, to a number of his horses. He had no idea about the drug history of other horses he had acquired along the way, and some of those horses were from the racing industry, which is renowned for the use of anti-inflammatory drugs. Therefore, none of the herd was eligible for slaughter as they could not be guaranteed free from medications that are prohibited from entering the food chain.
CHDC immediately faxed official notice to the auction that the horses’ drug history legally prohibited them from going to slaughter. This letter was copied to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to the media. The coalition followed up with a phone call to the auction and persuaded the auctioneer to agree to publicly state that some of these horses had been administered drugs prohibited for human consumption. At the start of the auction, that statement was indeed made. This was greeted with a jubilant response by the majority present. (Following the announcement, however, one buyer near the front was heard to utter an unprintable outburst and, with a look of shock and disgust on his face, exited the auction.)
In essence, the CHDC obtained evidence, put the auction on notice, prompted the auctioneer to publicly state that some of the horses could be positive for prohibited drugs, and caused the exit of one individual who, judging by his behaviour, may have been a kill buyer.
The CHDC also provided advice to potential buyers on bidding strategy and current meat prices.
All along, we updated media on developments and took part in interviews. The story of the Armstrong horses swept like a tidal wave across the province of BC:
We are thrilled that so many wonderful people came forward to bid on these horses, and we wish you well. CHDC would love to hear from those of you who acquired horses from this herd. Please write to us and tell us how your horses are doing!
With your permission we would be pleased to post these stories on our blog.
Additionally, and very importantly, there are lessons to be learned from this situation and some strategy that we can employ.
One, the powers-that-be must plan carefully for the well-being of horses once they are seized or ordered disposed of. It is not enough to remove them from situations of neglect if only to shuffle them on to a further horror, death in a slaughterhouse where fear and pain are the norm. Slaughter is not humane euthanasia. Let’s work on educating those who hold the lives of animals in their hands and have the power of making life or death decisions.
Two, let’s cut the industry off at the pass wherever we can. Please let CHDC know about any impending crises where horses are about to be sent down the slaughter pipeline. We will try our best to research drug histories of those horses and utilize the power of legislation, media and social media to rescue them. Just like the Armstrong horses! Local rescuers in communities across Canada are encouraged to use the Armstrong situation as an example themselves, delving into horses’ drug histories if possible, and potentially stopping the slaughter of drug-positive horses.
Please consider even a small donation to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition so that we may continue our work. We are strictly a volunteer organization; no one draws a salary. Donations, therefore, go 100% for investigations, research and legal costs involved in the challenge of ending horse slaughter.
We’re there for the horses, and we know you are, too!