Saturday, October 4, 2008

Another Plea for Accountability

From "someone else,"...not me;

"Animal Welfare Groups Worry About Horses No One Wants"
(hope racing industry will help)

By Ed Johnson • STAFF WRITER • September 28, 2008

WALL — It's hard to know if a thoroughbred racehorse can be wistful for
past glories or harbor worries for his future.

But Hong Kong Express, at 15 years old and much the worse for his wear,
could be excused if he simultaneously felt both emotions.

Life, it seems, has not been kind to the horse whose lineage is said to
be traced back to 1973 Triple Crown winner Secretariat — and who, if not
a champion in his own right, was at least a moneymaker for a time.

Linda Shave has called him Hong Kong for short since taking
responsibility for what had been an abused and emaciated horse on July
3. And if the horse she and her friend Kathy Hesse have come to love
carelessly wanders his paddock on the Wall-Howell boundary, they are
worrying for him.

Medically, Shave said, he's making a comeback. The multiple scars from
repeated attacks by another horse have healed, a tribute to Hong Kong's
stamina and the medical skill of veterinarian Cathy Ball.

Hong Kong has gained most of his weight back, Hesse said, but he still
eats like, well, a horse.

That's a bale of hay each day topped off with two shovels of grain,
Shave said. There's also that midmorning snack of a bucket of carrots,
she added. The hay alone is a good $10 a day. Fortunately, she works at
what the sign still calls White Oaks Farm, although the name has been
changed to Dream Acres by the new owner, Gary Cutler.

Now, Hong Kong is also going to get some help from the Monmouth County
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, whose chief
investigator has tracked down Hong Kong's original owner, with the help
of Ball, and received a pledge that she will help the SPCA defray the
cost of the horse's care.

But where he'll finally end up is still an open question, and part of an
issue extends well beyond Monmouth County.
Unwanted horses

Testimony before Congress this year revealed that as many as 100,000
horses across the country may be in need of homes. Their prospects are
not good, experts and animal advocates say. The simple fact is that it's
difficult to find a place for large animals that are expensive to care
for, they add.

Hong Kong is doing better than many other former racehorses, said Carole
Balmer of Holmdel, who devotes much of her time as an advocate for
unwanted horses. At least he has a safe place to stay, she added.

"Rehabing, rehoming and saving not just racehorses, but all horses, from
slaughter has been an ongoing battle for many of us for quite some time
now," she said.

Horses have become expendable items, said Victor "Buddy" Amato, chief
humane police officer for the Monmouth County SPCA. It was Amato's
investigation that resulted in Hong Kong being removed from a Howell
location where he was starving and under continual attack from another

A confluence of events has created a glut of unwanted horses, Ball said.
The economy has soured and the horse-racing industry itself is in
decline, she added.

"As soon as these horses are not running in the money anymore, their
owners want to get rid of them," Amato said. "Most times they don't care
how they get rid of them."

It's what Balmer called the "dirty little secret" of the racing and
rodeo industries: a horse's fall from valued property to a neglected
animal or, worse, a butchered flank of horsemeat.

In Washington, Reps. John Conyers, D-Mich., and Dan Burton, R-Ind., have
introduced a bill that would restrict the killing of U.S. horses. The
Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act of 2008 would prohibit the slaughter of
U.S. horses for human consumption as well as their export for slaughter
in other countries. The bill was released from committee Tuesday,
although a vote by the full House has not been scheduled.

Prior to federal laws that forced the closure of all three foreign-owned
plants in the United States, 80,000 to 100,000 horses were being
slaughtered in the country and processed for human consumption,
according to the Humane Society of the United States and testimony
before Congress. Now, the society said, thousands of live horses are
transported across the border to Mexico and Canada for slaughter. The
horses are sold as food, and often their former owners are unaware of
the animals' ultimate fate, Balmer said.
No easy task

Meanwhile, a number of organizations are pushing programs that range
from saving the West's wild mustangs to more modest goals closer to home.

Groups like ReRun Inc. have chapters in New Jersey, New York and
Kentucky, where they put discarded racehorses up for adoption, Ball said.

Another national group, the Communication Alliance to Network
Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses, or CANTER, has found homes for 5,000 horses
in the 11 years it's been in existence. But their representatives say
they are forced to turn away about 10 horses a week.

"It's not like finding a home for a dog or a cat," said Ursula Goetz,
the executive director for the Monmouth County SPCA. "Even that's
difficult. We have about 300 of those we're caring for on any given day."

In addition, a municipality's zoning ordinances can also limit areas
where a horse can be kept, officials said.

In Hamilton, the Standardbred Retirement Foundation spends more than
$200,000 a year boarding retired standardbred racehorses and working to
find them homes, said Genevieve Sullivan, the group's executive
director. They have 160 on hand at present, she said.

Among their adoptees are 15 horses assigned to the Newark Police
Department's mounted division and another three with the Rutgers
University police in New Brunswick, she said.

Sullivan said she hopes the racing industry will lead the way in helping
to finance horse rescues.
"I'd like to see a portion of the wagers from every track across the
country put into a fund where registered horse rescue groups can draw
on," she said.

Standardbreds can have a racing life from age 2 until about 14, and
might live for as long as 30 years, she said.

Unlike some others, Sullivan said she isn't popping any champagne corks
about the congressional moves to ban horse slaughter.

"I don't think slaughtering these horses is a good idea. I don't think
anyone does," she said. "But what happens now? That's another 80,000
horses we need to care for, and our rescues are already operating at
capacity. I'm not sure that in some cases, humane euthanization of a
horse isn't preferable to his being turned over to new owners again and
again or sent on a truck to be slaughtered out of the country under
horrible conditions. A lot of the horses that end up in the kill pens
are horses that no one wants."

A horse may have as many as three adopted homes in a lifetime, Sullivan
said. Not all of them are good ones, she added.

Such was the case with Hong Kong Express. The former owner who turned
him over to the place where he endured such suffering was horrified to
learn what had happened, said Ball, the veterinarian who helped nurse
him back to health.

"She had undergone heart surgery and had no way to take care of him,"
Ball said. "The man who took him convinced her he would give the horse a
good home. She believed him. Now she is drawing up papers to ban that
man from ever having the horse again, and she told me she wants to help
us pay for Hong Kong's upkeep."

"I'm also working with the SPCA to find him a good, permanent home,"
Ball said. "There's just so much need and so few places for these horses."

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