2006-08-03 / Front Page

Equine surgeon urges U.S. to stop slaughtering horses

BY JANE MEGGITT Staff Writer

BY JANE MEGGITT
Staff Writer

UPPER FREEHOLD - A local veterinarian took her concern for horses before members of Congress last week.

On July 25, local veterinarian Dr. Patricia Hogan joined people like T. Boone Pickens, a legendary Texas oil man, in testifying before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce subcommittee to support the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act known as HR 503.

The American Horse Slaughter Act would end the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and the domestic and international transport of live horses or horseflesh for human consumption.

Although estimates vary, most experts believe that between 80,000 and 100,000 American horses are slaughtered each year at three plants in the United States, two of which are located in Texas and the other in DeKalb, Ill. Horse meat is considered a delicacy in some European countries, as well as in Japan.

Hogan, one of the country's few female equine orthopedic surgeons, is an Upper Freehold resident who practices at the New Jersey Equine Clinic in the Clarksburg section of Millstone. She has treated some of the top racehorses in the country, including Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, the 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

In her speech to the subcommittee, Hogan said, "I urge this subcommittee to swiftly send the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to the House floor and call upon the House of Representatives to vote to end horse slaughter, once and for all."

Hogan told the subcommittee that she is surprised no one ever openly discusses the "absolutely deplorable way these animals are treated on their way to the slaughterhouse.

"Once these horses enter the path to the slaughterhouse, their treatment is not humane in any way," she said. "I dismiss the triviality of the studies detailing the number of whinnies per hour or the number of horses that arrive with or without a broken leg as statistical evidence of humane treatment."

Hogan told the subcommittee that sometimes veterinarians, the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) hide behind the term "humane." She said the word is often used as the catchall phrase to make us feel that things are done correctly and within the letter of the law.

"However," Hogan said, "the whole act of being taken from an environment that is familiar, then thrown into a hostile herd environment, shipped very long distances without food or water, and then placed in an assembly line where they can see, smell, hear and sense the terror of what is happening in front of them is not humane."

Hogan said there are levels of intelligence dictating the rank of species in this world and at some point someone must draw the line.

"Horses are very intelligent and can perceive fear in a different manner than other forms of livestock such as a chicken or even a cow," she said. "The concept of humane treatment entails different basic requirements for different species."

To illustrate her comments, Hogan told the subcommittee that the American culture does not accept consumption of dogs or cats, while other cultures in this world do.

"That being said, Americans do not eat horse meat and in poll after poll, the American people say that the practice of horse slaughter is unacceptable and should be stopped," Hogan said. "Yet we allow our American horses to be slaughtered for foreign consumption. Where is the difference here?"

Hogan told the subcommittee that horses are not, nor have they ever been, raised as food animals in this country.

"Horses have traditionally been work animals throughout our history," she said. "But as society changes and evolves, so has the role of the horse changed in our culture."

Most horses, according to Hogan, are now more commonly companion or sport animals.

Hogan told the subcommittee of a time she visited the slaughterhouse as a surgery resident while in Texas.

"I found it to be a disgrace," she said. "I was not there on an announced visit as those who defend horse slaughter were. I was absolutely revolted at the way the horses were treated and the behavior of the people that were employed there."

She explained that she had also visited a beef and a chicken slaughter plant.

"The treatment of and reaction by the horses was very much in contrast to that of the other livestock I had observed," she said.

Hogan defined the differences between euthanasia and slaughter for the subcommittee.

"Horse slaughter is not euthanasia by anyone's definition," she said.

According to Hogan, euthanasia is a peaceful process that most commonly involves an overdose of an intravenous anesthetic drug administered by a veterinarian.

"The horses are not afraid, and there is no fear of anticipation," she said. "In most cases, the animal is sedated and then euthanized in a familiar environment."

According to Hogan, horse slaughter uses a method called the captive bolt, which involves aiming a bolt gun at the forehead of a partially restrained horse in what is commonly termed the "kill pen."

"This pen is at the end of an assembly line of horses that are fed through the plant," she said. "If the bolt is applied properly, the horse is rendered unconscious upon impact and drops to the ground so that the carcass can then be bled out prior to death."

Hogan said there is a great deal of room for human and technical error with the captive-bolt method. She also said the recommendation for "adequate restraint" is loosely defined and open for interpretation.

Hogan offered to show the subcommittee videos of euthanasia and slaughter.

"We are all concerned about the fate of unwanted horses if and when horse slaughter is eliminated, but allowing the practice to continue is not the right answer to the problem," she said. "Surely we can do better."

Besides passing the act, Hogan told the subcommittee that cruelty awareness and responsible horse ownership education has to also expand across the country. She also said the horse industry needs to clean up its overbreeding, cruelty, neglect and proper long-term care.

"People must be educated and made responsible horse owners," she said.

In conclusion, Hogan said, "We have the opportunity to rid ourselves of a form of cruelty by passing the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, something that should have been done years ago.

"We need to make sure that as we try to clean up this complicated problem," she added, "we continue to do whatever we can to continue to care for horses."

Hogan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in Philadelphia and has completed several years of specialty training in Kentucky and Texas in order to refine her veterinary focus to the surgical disciplines of the horse. She is a board-certified surgeon and has been practicing exclusively in the field of equine surgery for the past 10 years.

Hogan has also received international recognition for her work in the treatment of equine sports injuries, arthroscopy and internal fixation of fractures. Her clientele is somewhat exclusive, according to Hogan, who works on some of the best thoroughbred and standardbred racehorses in the country. Often, the market value of some of her patients runs into the many millions of dollars.

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