Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Animal Lives Matter

"The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
-Mahatma Gandhi
If you don't live in Virginia and maybe even if you do, it is likely that you haven't heard about a terrible tragedy where over 100 horses, dogs, and cats were found on a farm in Orange County.  Neighbors had filed complaints about the number of animals on the property, but no one was prepared for the atrocities that they would find.  One of the rescuers posted these words about his experience on the Virginia Horse Network Facebook page:

Hey Folks, I know you all know me. Yeah Im the Mad Tack guy. I normally don't do posts like this, but I just had to share my experience from yesterday. I got called out to Somerset to help with horse transportation. When I arrived, I seriously cant tell you the horror story that was going on out there. The pictures that the news stories have been showing, don't even come close to whats out there. There were multiple dumpsters being loaded with carcasses of dead animals. The stench was unbearable. There were horses in every shape imaginable. I met the owner and she seriously has some mental issues and Im sure there will be a lot of legal proceedings and such Im not even going to go down that path. For the courts to decide. I hauled horses out of there from 11am to 7pm non stop. Please don't thank me or give me a pat on the back, that's not why I was there. The real ones that need a thank you are as follows. Orange County Sheriff and deputies. They did an amazing job and a lot of the deputies are not even horse people. I witnessed a deputy spend 40 minutes trying to get a horse to gain enough confidence with a little grain to slip a halter on, and once he was able to get the halter, realize that the horse was missing a chunk of his head. The vets and vet assistants there were unbelievable. They did a fantastic job!! And to all the rescues that were on sight, Hope's Legacy, CVHR, and Gentle Giants. (Im sure there were more, im sorry I don't know their names) They worked like a well oiled machine getting those horses moved out of there. They all deserve a round of applause. But heres the thing now. The rescues need some serious help and donations. They have all been flooded with horses that need some major care. All of the rescues have FB pages and websites and all have ways that monetary donations can be made. Saddlery Liquidators is a drop off point for CVHR and/or Orange County Animal Shelter. Mad Tack is a drop off point for Hope's Legacy Equine Rescue (and I saw somewhere that the new tack shop in Crozet has offered to be a drop off point. I apologize I do not know their name and please don't hold me to it if I am mistaken about that) Here's what we need desperately right now. First aid supplies (vet wrap, vetericyn, wormer, blu-kote, rain rot med, etc.) BLANKETS ANY SIZE, feed, hay (sorry I don't have equip to move round bales, only square), and of course money. Money for vets, farriers, fuel, etc. etc. I also want to let you know that these rescues are being inundated with calls, and messages, so please be patient for a reply, and don't be offended if they miss your comment on one of their posts. They are all working overtime. I know there is a major issue with cats and dogs too and honestly I wish I could answer your questions, but I do not know how to, I am only involved with the horse side of it. I would tell anyone interested in cats and dogs to call Orange County Animal Shelter to find out how to help. I was also told that Madison County Animal Shelter is taking over flows. Im sure all the surrounding counties have pitched in. So please contact any of them to see about help.

It's a pretty horrible situation.  And yet...It is not the lead story on any of the major news networks and even local TV stations and newspapers are reporting only very basic information.  If these animals had been people, this story would be blowing up news outlets all over the country and maybe even the world.  Reading about it makes me simultaneously want to throw up, cry hysterically, and wish that I was even a minor deity so that I could bring down the full wrath of a supernatural and almighty being on the woman who has done this to these animals.

Some may argue that animals aren't as important as people.  That the story of a white man killing a black man or the mass murder of school children or the suffering of tens of thousands in a foreign country is far more deserving of front page news.  And I would argue back that it is because we do these things to animals that we also do them to other people and that makes every case of animal abuse and neglect a big deal.  If a person can hate a puppy, there is no end to the hatred they can have toward another human being, especially if that person is different.  If a person can look into the eyes of a starving horse and feel nothing and do nothing or even intentionally cause it, there is no hope for any compassion toward a human being.

While I strongly suspect that anyone who reads my blog already cares a whole lot about animals, today I am writing for me.  I cannot be silent on this issue because hardly a day goes by when I don't read about things like a horse being dragged to death behind a trailer not 15 minutes from my house and criminal charges are not filed.  Or see the Humane Society commercials with Sarah MaLachlan singing in the background as images of shivering, dirty, starving cats and dogs fill up my TV screen.  

But it isn't just these horrifying cases where law enforcement steps in that bother me.  It is also all the average horse owners out there who haven't taken the time to educate themselves about basic horse care and so they don't know that throwing 2 flakes of hay twice a day to their horses isn't good enough.  They don't know that having a farrier who may or may not be any good at trimming feet work on their horses' feet every 12 weeks isn't good enough.  And it is all the amateur competitors out there who don't know that keeping their horse inside for all but 1-2 hours a day isn't good enough.  And it is all the professionals out there who use techniques like soring and rollkur and tying a horse's head to its side as if the horse is simply clay to be modeled into some idiot's vision of beauty.

It is also all the "farmers" and "ranchers" out there who raise livestock in Confined Animal Feeding Operations where the animals are housed in crowded conditions standing in their own feces, fed diets inappropriate for their species, or in the case of chickens, denied the ability to even peck at their food because part of their beaks are cut off, or in the case of pregnant sows, confined to a pen so small that they cannot turn around so as not to suffocate their young.

It is all the dog owners out there who don't understand even the very basics of dog communication and behavior and run around yelling, "He's friendly!" when their dogs bolt off leash and run enthusiastically toward my cowering and terrified dog.  It is all the guinea pig owners who don't know that guinea pigs are social animals and need another guinea pig to keep them company.

And it is even me, when I look back on what I did with my animals when I didn't know better.

I don't know how to stop the tragedies, except to write about them.  To expose them to the light of day so the full horror of what we permit can be viewed in its naked entirety and judged by the harshest standards.

I don't think hate crimes or school shootings or mass murders or genocide will ever stop until we learn how to treat every animal with compassion, whether it is with us for only a short while until it is slaughtered for food or if it is with us for decades as a faithful companion.  We need to do better when it comes to caring for our animals.  I need to do better.  

One of the major things that attracted me to the sport of endurance is how fundamentally important the welfare of the horse is.  Because of that emphasis, I am more knowledgeable about horse care and my horse's life is improved because of it.  But my learning isn't over.  I have vowed that I will never stop trying to educate myself about the animals whose lives are my responsibility.  They have forever homes with me, and I will never stop trying to meet their needs and finding ways to improve their environments, diets, and interaction with me.  Because their lives matter.


  1. I've been watching this story unfold and it makes my stomach turn.

  2. This story breaks my heart...not only for the animals, but for all the people who care about them. :-(

    You touched on a lot of things in this blog entry....thank you!

  3. This story breaks my heart...not only for the animals, but for all the people who care about them. :-(

    You touched on a lot of things in this blog entry....thank you!