Loving Them to Death in KentuckyPosted by Joyce Tischler, ALDF's Founder and General Counsel on May 19th, 2008
Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby and the media reported that this
victory earned him(?) $1.4 million. I hope he doesn’t spend it all in
one place. Just a few days later, Big Brown went on to win the
Preakness and all of America was smitten. We love a winner, whatever
the sport, and when it comes to race horses, we glorify those who make
it to the top of the heap. Rarely do we question the exploitation
involved when an industry makes large amounts of money from the use of
But, in this year’s Derby, there was a large shadow cast on Big Brown’s victory. Eight Belles, a three year old filly broke both front ankles after crossing the finish line and was "euthanized" on the track. For once, the media stopped marching in lock step with the racing industry and began to raise questions such as whether races should be run on a synthetic surface instead of dirt, given the evidence that fewer fatal accidents happen on the former. Some columnists criticized the fact that the horses are raced at 3 years of age instead of starting at 4; others raised the concern that American horses are less "durable" than they used to be and less "durable" than race horses in other countries. A major reason for this is that in America, drug use is legal for race horses. Horses can be given Butazolidin and corticosteriods to numb pain and they can be given the diuretic, Lasix. With the drugs, they can run more often and make more money for the people who own them. But, they also break down more often. No one, other than animal rights protesters, raised the question: should horse racing be stopped altogether? Of course not! This is the U.S.A., land of the free, home of the brave and it would be un-American to suggest that it is morally and ethically wrong to exploit animals for profit. It was refreshing to see the racing industry taken to task, but they need not worry, the furor will die down and it will be back to business as usual… until the next fatal breakdown.
Down the road apiece, where the television cameras don’t roam, Kentucky horses face a different kind of race: the race to survive in the grip of owners who don’t bother to feed or care for them. In a recent case in Jessamine County, 74 horses were found starving and in extremely poor condition. They were seized by animal control and the Jessamine Humane Society is working to bring them back to health. The Humane Society bemoaned the fact that it has only been able to raise $5,000 from donations, and it will take about $9,000 per month to care for these horses. I wonder if Big Brown could dip into his $1.4 mil and loan them some hay.
In another horse neglect case, in Rockcastle County, police found 5 dead horses and 21 others still alive, but in very poor condition. The Rockcastle County Animal Shelter is caring for and feeding the surviving horses and the owners have been charged with cruelty.
But, here’s the most egregious recent report from Kentucky: in Harrison County, 30 abused horses, 3 of whom were tattooed thoroughbreds were found. Sixteen of the horses were already dead. Where were the television cameras for those horses? Did anyone watch as they slowly and painfully died? Did anyone care? Apparently not. County Attorney Charles W. (Bill) Kuster refused to remove the horses from the property and ignored ALDF’s offers of assistance. The defendants were given a slap-on-the wrist plea agreement and the horses remain with the very people who neglected them. Yes; those are the facts; no; I’m not kidding.
Those of us who work at ALDF carry a vision of a day when stories like these will be a thing of the past, when animals will not be abused or exploited to serve the human ego or human greed. That’s what keeps us going. But, there are times when the present day realities seem overwhelming and hope seems naïve. By the way, in November 2007, we released a report in which we ranked all of the states’ animal protection laws. Kentucky came in dead last. Is anyone surprised?