They Knife Horses, Don't They?

The terrible cruelty that all nations inflict on animals can often be found in our own neighbourhoods, and the results of that cruelty can often be found in our own refrigerators.

WHEN RECENT COURT DECISION in the U.S. closed horse slaughterhouses in Texas and Illinois, about 30,000 animals were shipped to plants in Mexico. These horses come from many sources: a lot are discards from the racing industry; some are worn-out carriage horses, too sick from hard treatment and hard lives on asphalt to work anymore; others are former riding-stable animals and pets no longer wanted and once 'free' wild horses sold to 'kill buyers' at Bureau of Land Management auctions.

Trucks crammed with frightened, weak horses — some injured, some even with broken legs, some with sores and lacerations, horses who have been given no food or water for days — these animals roll across the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Big "Bienvenidos" signs hang above them, along with "Feliz Viaje."

At the Ciudad Juarez plant, horses are imprisoned in 'kill boxes' as workers stab at the spinal chord with knives to paralyze the animal — it may take as many as ten knifings before the horse falls to her knees on a floor slippery with blood. Although immobilized, she still shudders and shakes. Then she is hung up, shackled by her rear leg — and they slit her throat. Some animals are still alive as they go through the next step — dismemberment. In the videos I have seen, the terrified eyes rolling back in their heads are hard to look at.

The meat is exported to France, Belgium, Switzerland, Japan, and Russia.

Difficult at it is to look at these horses, please be aware that what they go through is also happening to cows slaughtered in the U.S. Identical conditions — including the dismembering of live animals — because the kill lines go so fast that the workers cannot keep up.

(As an aside, please note also that the men hired to do this work in the U.S. cow slaughterhouses are usually immigrants with few employment opportunities; it is dangerous work; the men are often injured on the job and they must become brutal and desensitized in order to mass kill all these animals — about 2000 per hour are slaughtered at an average U.S. plant. The men only last 2 or 3 months on the job. No psychological study has been done of these kinds of 'discards.' One needs to be done — to see what mass slaughter of the helpless does to the slaughterers.)

These men do your killing for you. The end product is the tidy, sanitized remnant of the animal in cellophane at the supermarket.

A recent article in the Daily Mail (8 Jan. 2008) by Danny Penman describes Chinese children petting a goat at a zoo. Then zookeepers hoist the animal "nonchalantly" over a wall into a pit where she is torn to pieces by lions. The children clap with delight and 'ooh' and 'aah.' This scene at the Badaltearing Safari Park is a norm in China, a fun day's outing for the family. At another zoo, Badaling, visitors can 'fish' for lions using live chickens. "For just £2, giggling visitors tie terrified chickens onto bamboo rods and dangle them in front of the lions," Penman writes. Other abuses: moon bears with rusting steel nose rings chained in cages so small they cannot turn around; other animals, like tigers, driven insane by captivity in "cramped, filthy" cages. "Tortoise baiting" is also a craze at these zoos. So she cannot pull her head in, a band is placed around her neck and the desperate animal tries to get away as visitors hurl coins at her head. Since tortoises cannot move very fast, removing the protection of their shell renders them helpless. Cows put in with tigers is another attraction. Unfortunately, writes Penman, the "killing skills" of these big cats are "blunted by years of living in small cages… The tiger tried to kill — tearing and biting at the cow's body in a pathetic-looking frenzy — but it simply didn't know how." Zoos also have restaurants with tiger meat on the menu. The animals are factory farmed on the premises — this means life-long confinement in cages so small they cannot even turn around.

Penman makes the point that raising children to applaud cruelty can have even more devastating consequences for animals in the future. I would add for people as well since the links are obvious: those who can harm one living being will be insensitive to all living beings. Slaughterhouses and battlefield go together — as Tolstoy pointed out.

Animal rights groups, of course, will be targeting the practices at the zoos, as the Beijing Olympics approaches, along with other animal tortures in China, like the moon bears kept in 'bile' farms, with catheters permanently stuck in infected wounds in their stomachs as they are 'milked' for this supposedly medicinal substance. And the 'dog/cat' fur trade — with animals crammed into cages so small you can see no space between bodies.

The most unfortunate aspect of all this is that these animal abuses are practiced, in some form or another, worldwide. Go to any Barnum and Bailey Circus in the U.S. and you will see the big cats — caged — permanently! — in small spaces where they pace and pace and pace, back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, driven insane. They are burned on the bottom of their feet, to make them stand up. Every large animal in the circus has been tortured — to make her perform. I don't have space here to go into the electric prods applied to ears and vaginas of elephants — just the beginning of the many abuses to keep these elephants broken and docile. Every time you buy a circus ticket, you support dreadful animal cruelty.

Factory farming of pigs, chickens, ducks, quail, cows — you name it we torture it for food — is the norm for ten billion pathetic creatures a year in the U.S. It involves confinement in spaces so small animals go insane and genetically engineered bodies so sick and so pumped full of antibiotics (to keep the animals alive long enough to get them to slaughter weight) that these living beings know not one moment of health or peace or freedom.

As for the Olympics, the Greeks, those shining founders of Western Barbarism mislabeled civilization (Aristotle tortured animals in the name of false science) poisoned 20,000 or more dogs in the streets of Athens to 'clean up' the city before they put on this sporting event that is supposed to celebrate all that is fine in the human spirit.

As for zoos, although conditions in many American ones are not as dreadful as the ones in China (that is, if you enjoy seeing animals in prisons, for entertainment — I don't), there are roadside zoos everywhere in the U.S. where animals are living in squalid, depressing conditions with little or no vet care and no freedom of movement. One such is in the middle of Malibu in southern California, a small city with tons of movie star residents. Right on the Pacific Coast Highway is a petting zoo with a number of miserable inhabitants. I saw turkeys with legs so crippled they could barely walk; a lone pig (these are social animals — they need to live with other pigs) with a skin disease and sores on its legs; goats kept in cages the size of a small dog kennel, with nothing to climb on (in captivity, they need multi-layer wooden platforms to exercise their natural climbing instinct). Saddest to me were four little chickens, all in one small cage, with a wire bottom. Their feet were lacerated from standing on wire. The little guys were all sticking their heads through the bars of the cage at the same time, stretching and stretching their sad skinny little necks at me.

One animal at a time, I say to myself, but their sad skinny stretched-out necks haunt me. I did write a lot of letters, to the city officials in Malibu, and I wrote to the agents of some celebrities in Malibu — those actors who are famous for their 'social conscience' causes. One thing I pointed out is that the animals have no shelter from the cold. Winds blow in off the ocean and down the canyons, right through the zoo. I was there in mid-summer, mid-afternoon, and even then I could feel the chill winds going through me.

No response from any of the agents of the celebrities. Lots of beyond wealthy people there, in Malibu, in their mansions by the sea. You think at least one of them would have noticed this sad little group of mistreated animals, huddled in the cold, in the foothills of the mountains, in Malibu.

My point is not to discourage animal rights groups from protesting the cruelties in China. Rather my point is a simple one: all nations are torturing animals. All of humankind is complicit in this greatest act of cruelty: inflicting terrible suffering on the helpless.