Horses To Slaughter Investigation

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PHOENIX - His name is Zeke, a beautiful horse, well cared for.  It seems his former owner thought he was going to a good home.  Instead, Zeke ended up on a truck bound for the slaughter house in Mexico. His lucky break came when he fell while being loaded onto the truck. He ripped his shoulder open and, at that moment, Zeke became much less valuable.  That's when he was rescued by volunteers from the Luv Shack Ranch.

"The value of the horse has gone down significantly and that has created a market for killer buyers to buy horses, resell them to feed lots in Texas where they are transported to slaughter houses in Mexico," said Joey Ogburn from Luv Shack. 

He said while many people think when they sell their horses, they are going to a good home, really they are being sold to slaughter at auctions like the one we visited in Chino Valley.
 
The auctions are perfectly legal.  And it seems it's well known that the so-called killer buyers are there ready to shop for horses they can take to Mexico.  Our producer asked representative from the Department of Agriculture what happens to the horses.  He responded by saying, "A lot of them go to the killer for horse meat in Mexico".

"At least when we slaughter houses here in the United States," said Ogburn, "we had some regulation." 

In 2007 the last three horse slaughter houses in the U.S. were forced to close amid growing outrage over horse slaughter for human consumption.  The Humane Society of the United States obtained video inside one of those slaughter houses in Texas before it closed down.  It revealed horses being killed by bolt guns; used to drive steel bolts into the horses brain.

Canadian and Mexican slaughterhouses, which export meat to Europe, are supposed to uphold horse-welfare standards similar to U.S. rules.  Those mandate that horses be stunned -- rendered unconscious, typically with a captive bolt-gun, before they are killed.  As disturbing as this sounds, many say it was much more humane than what is now happening to horses in Mexico. 

"It's an obscenity" said Steve Long, editor of Horse Talk Magazine.  "A horror... It's something that makes me want to throw up."

The Humane Society of the United States also obtained video of a slaughterhouse in Juarez, Mexico.  The video is extremely graphic and disturbing.  The horses are crammed into a long, narrow shoot waiting for their turn to die. According to the Humane Society, the horses are stabbed in their spines so they are paralyzed, they remain conscious as their throats are slit.  Then they are hung up to bleed to death.

And it's not just the slaughter itself but the transport of these animals that has animal advocates so concerned.  It took three years for a group called Animal's Angels to get photos from the USDA through the freedom of information act.  They show just how brutal the trip to slaughter can be; horses with severe injuries their eyes gouged and missing limbs.

Since the closing of the U.S. plants, it's estimated as many as 50 thousand horses a year are being sent to Mexico, ultimately destined for a dinner table in Europe or Japan.  Currently Congress is considering a ban on the export of horses for slaughter. But legislation like this faces opposition from many livestock and horse industry groups who say a ban fails to deal with the bigger problem of America's growing number of unwanted horses, an estimated 100,000 a year.

Now remember Zeke, the horse whose fall ended up saving his life? Today he's on the mend.

"He's a real sweetheart," said Dannielle Marturana a volunteer at Luv Shack. "And he's young. We think he's only about six and yet his life would have been over. He's a stunning horse."

But the volunteers can only save so many. The rest of Arizona's horses which are abandoned or sold at auction face a grim fate, and a long painful journey to get there.

*NOTE: Footage of some of the rescues was provided courtesy of Darrah Waters Director/Filmmaker www.rah_production.org.