Posted in Diary Entry on November 10, 2011
Earlier this year, during the deep biting cold of February, a group of twenty nine wild horses from the Twin Peaks area of California were bumping their way toward Michigan in a semi-enclosed stock trailer. The trip was 2184 miles from their homeland where they had lived as their ancestors had for centuries; free.
Although revered as symbols of freedom and the spirit of the American West, the horses now found themselves on a long journey taking them further and further away from home and freedom.
Their journey began with the Burns Amendment to the Wild and Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act. The amendment allows any rounded up wild horse or burro over the age of 10 to be sold—not adopted—to anyone, anywhere for as little as $25. This amendment opened the door for the Twin Peaks horses to be bought by a woman in Michigan who had plans to sell them to private homes for a profit.
But when the horses arrived sick with strangles, and obviously untamed, the potential new owners backed out turning her plans for a profit into a nightmarish struggle to feed a lot of hungry mouths that included mares with foals.
The once majestic and freeborn horses, torn from their home and families, exposed to strangles and shipped to Michigan, were now confined in small pens in a converted hog barn and reduced to eating the wood of the barn walls in order to quell the pain of hunger.
Life for these treasured symbols of the west had become grim.
When the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition became aware of the horses condition they contacted law enforcement and then starting calling around to see where the horses could go if they were removed from their situation.
As soon as DreamCatcher Wild Horse and Burro Sanctuary - which is only 25 miles from the horses original Twin Peaks home - found out about the plight of the California wild horses, they teamed up with the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition and with a group of dedicated volunteers began working to do everything possible to bring as many of the horses back home to the west where they belong.
Getting possession of the horses was no easy task. Law enforcement proved to be ineffective and the owner did not cooperate, trying her best to off-load the horses to anyone—other than animal welfare groups— regardless of their intent, including to a horse trader in Florida who admits to sending horses to auction which means only one thing….slaughter. Fortunately the shipment to Florida was stalled giving the team more time to acquire horses and arrange transport.
But even transport posed a challenge for not many shippers were equipped to carry truly wild horses. Eventually Bob Hubbard Equine Transport offered to help and retrofitted one of their vans so the horses could ride home in comfort.
With transport in place the push was on to get as many of the horses as possible for this first trip. A week before the ship date of September 9th, 2011, the final count was three geldings, four mares and one mare/foal pair.
So once again the horses began a journey. This time they headed west. Back to the familiar sights and smells of sage, juniper and high desert grasses. And back to freedom, for DreamCatcher is a 2000 acre natural habitat sanctuary where wild horses get to be wild once again.
It seemed fitting that these symbols of freedom arrived back home on September 11th. As the horses burst out the trailer everyone who had gathered to welcome them home gasped with joy as they watched the horses do what they had not been able to do for over a year; run free.
As one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln once said “freedom is the last, best hope for earth”. Everyone could feel that hope as the horses thundered across the expanse of their new home.
DreamCatcher and the Michigan Horse Welfare Coalition continue to work on bringing more of the Twin Peaks horses back from Michigan. Another shipment is planned for early spring.
Posted in Diary Entry on November 10, 2011
December 8th of last year - while many of us were thinking about the holidays - a large group of wild horses were crammed into a forty foot metal transport for a three day journey to Kansas. The horses had been rounded up a few months earlier from the Twin Peaks area of California. Torn from their families, the horses were branded, sorted by age and gender, exposed to strangles (which is a horrible, sometimes fatal and always highly contagious disease) and kept in areas with no shelter until the BLM determined who was adoptable, who would go back to the wild and who would disappear into the long-term holding facilities in the Midwest where this group were now headed.
Amongst the terrified, cold and strangles compromised animals bumping along the nation’s highways toward the Midwest, was a grey gelding whose body bore the many badges of fights over mares and territory. His name was Braveheart. In the world he came from he was a king. In the world he was traveling in, he was reduced to a number among countless numbers of wild expatriates; a transport crammed with paupers, bereft of family, land and identity.
For Braveheart, the journey was ironic. For unlike his companions in the cold transport, Braveheart had been slated for sale to a Sacramento area family who were then going to sponsor him to live out his life at our 2000 acre DreamCatcher Wild Horse Sanctuary a few miles from his original Twin Peaks home. He was to live out his life, in relative freedom as an intact stallion.
And it is this irony that made Bravehearts story of immediate significance for we are involved in a historic legal battle with the BLM over, you guessed it, the Twin Peaks roundup and resulting annihilation of important Twin Peaks DNA. The Sacramento family and DreamCatcher wanted to keep Braveheart from being castrated and sent to long-term holding.
Communication with the BLM went on for weeks with Bravehearts sale put off until January 2011 due to the strangles outbreak. In well documented communications, the purchasing party had been led to believe all was well for the sale. But when January rolled around they were horrified to discover Braveheart, without notification to them, had been castrated and shipped to Kansas.
When the Jones’s family demanded an accounting of what happened to Braveheart, the BLM abruptly denied he had even been rounded up. For the Jones’ this was a call to action. For weeks they wrote and emailed up the BLM chain of command, demanding to know where the grey horse had gone and that he be returned so the sale could be finalized.
What the Jones’s did not know, was within a few days of arriving in Kansas, during one of the worst winters in years with blizzards and 23 degree below zero weather, Braveheart’s body - compromised by the long journey - could not hold up. He was dead by December 15th.
It only took the BLM a little over five months to do what twenty some years in the wild could not do; bring a majestic part of the American west to his knees.
To the Jones family - who had no contact with wild horses before this incident – what happened to this one lone horse was just plain wrong. Now, like a growing number of Americans, they want to see BLM wild horse policies change. After all, the wild horses belong to the American public and live on public lands set aside for them by law. The BLM are only stewards of that which the public deems important enough to be protected. Its time the BLM is held accountable for that stewardship.
Posted in Diary Entry on February 28, 2010
In a recent documentary about the problems involved with the reintroduction of the nearly extinct Mexican wolf, a rancher was quoted as saying “we don’t want them”. No science. No statistics. No reason or clear argument. Just “we don’t want them”.
That statement is the crux of the whole problem facing animals in the west today and the basis for Ken Salazar’s opinions as to how to manage the dwindling herds of wild horses. The ranching community still believes in the notion of manifest destiny: the right to claim the west for human endeavors.
And this is no small notion. For Salazar, a product of five generations of ranching, the belief that the west belongs to ranchers and by extension cattle, is deep and pervasive. For over one hundred fifty years the livestock industry, by sweat and blood, has clawed its way across the continent in search of the ever needed forage for hungry cattle and sheep. This neo-exploration was and still is backed by the government through subsidies and ridiculously low grazing fees.
And even though the prairies and rangelands had once supported millions of grazing wildlife including buffalo and mustangs, by the beginning of the twentieth century the once lush rangeland west of the Mississippi had been reduced to stubble, with native grasses obliterated and alarming damage done to waterways.
Anything and anyone that threatened this quest for manifest destiny or was seen as competitors for forage, was soon eliminated. Native Americans were pushed off of ancestral lands and whole species were slaughtered in the name of protecting livestock and grazing. Wolves, coyotes, eagles, bears, ground squirrels and wild horses all found themselves in the cross-hairs of powerful weapons with the full support of our nation’s leaders.
The American government wanted the west. The ranchers gave it to them. And in no small way this has made cattle and all the issues surrounding them, politically untouchable.
So it is no surprise that with the appointment of a fifth generation rancher to head the Department of the Interior, the president, who espouses change - but is granting a $26 million dollar increase in budget for Salazar to remove horses - has opened the door to an increase in the agonies that accompany manifest destiny. Wolves, coyotes, ground squirrels and wild horses are fighting for their very lives.
Wild horses, which have a clear fossil and DNA linage to our continent, are being pushed off of lands set aside for them by congress in unprecedented numbers in the dubious name of saving them from starvation or protecting eco-systems. Yet observers at roundups continue to see healthy horses being captured, thriving rangeland and most notably, no decrease in the number of cattle allowed to graze the same supposedly sensitive areas.
This rush to sweep the wild horses off the rangeland has the full support of Salazar. And why not? When he looks at the mustang, he sees them through a hundred and fifty year lens of ranching. Wild horses are competitors for forage, inhabit areas wanted for mining, the powerfully backed Ruby Pipeline and California Heliostat projects, and do not generate hunting fees. So Salazar wants them removed. But not only removed, he wants them transplanted back east……somewhere, on pseudo-sanctuaries, at a cost of $96 million dollars, where he believes people will actually pay to watch once wild horses eat grass all day.
His plan, therefore, to move them to areas in the east, is not surprising, nor is his revisionist view of wild horse history. It is the final chapter in the long saga of claiming the west. Soon the horses, like the buffalo and the wolf and so many other beings, will be mere shadows of the species they once were. And our president, and his appointees, can go down in history as those who stole the magnificence of the west from our children.
Posted in Diary Entry on September 30, 2009
Lately, every time I pick up a horse publication, listen to horse or animal talk radio, read blogs and chat room verbal wrestling matches, I hear the same stories over and over: Horses are being abandoned by the thousands due to a horse market that is bulging at the seams with unwanted horses and no way to deal with the overload since we no longer have slaughter.
Help…its raining horses.
During the hay day (no pun intended) of equine slaughter in the late 80’s to early 2001, over 300,000 horses were processed yearly. There were also only a handful of active equine rescue and sanctuary organizations trying to bring to light what really happens to ole dobbin when he is sent to the local auction.
By the late 90’s not only had Prop 6, the anti-horse slaughter legislation passed in California, but the demand for horsemeat and the number of operating slaughter plants in the US was also declining. So the number of horses processed went from the mid to high 300,000 to approximately 70,000 which spared, conservatively, three million horses from ending up on a dinner plate in France.
So, what, pray tell, happened to the three million horses? Were they running wild in the streets? Were they abandoned or turned out on the range with wild horses? Were they left to rot and starve in someone’s back yard? Were their bodies piling up in landfills? The answer is no to all. What the AVMA, the AAEP and numerous horse registries do not tell you is the fact the three million horses were simply absorbed and the horse market took care of itself.
During that downturn in slaughter of horses no one was running around telling us the sky is falling. There was no increase in abandoned horses. There was, however, one difference. The slaughter industry, and by that I mean the whole funnel that shoves horses toward that end, was not trying to reassert itself on US soil. They were still processing horses, just fewer of them. Therefore there was no reason to manufacture the mystical urban legend that we now have being reported as fact.
And here is another fact the chicken little crowd are not telling you; with the decrease in demand for slaughter horses, the passing of Prop 6 in California and the Cavel plant in Illinois burning down - which eliminated over a third of the processing capability in the U.S. - the number of cases of horse abuse and neglect and theft started to decline.
All of this does one thing to the supposition that horse slaughter is driven by the need to dispose of unwanted horses; exposes it for the lie it is. Slaughter is a market driven business. When the demand for horsemeat is up, more horses are needed for slaughter. When it is down, fewer horses are needed. Slaughter horse buyers are not suedo animal control agents who, as John Holland put it “go around the country like dog catchers gathering ‘unwanted horses’ as a public service.
So, let’s call all this erroneous information what it is….. fabricated manure…..regardless who is producing it.
Watch for my next op-ed piece about the term “unwanted horse”.
Posted in Diary Entry on April 25, 2009
I am listening to plaintive howls that fill the clear evening air. On a normal night the howling would roll across our small valley and be joined by other voices from the ridge as well as our various dog enclosures. All of it blending into a canine chorus singing some ancient song.
But this night, like the last few nights, the sound is different. None of the dogs join in, no answering howls from across the valley or along the ridge. There is just the one voice and I can barely see the backside of our Malamute mix Takaani as she points her muzzle up to the stars and sounds out her requiem for her siblings.
Until recently, Takaani spent her life in close proximity to her brother Juno and sister Siku. They ate, slept and played together, and followed the ranch truck as we did chores. They were inseparable.
Like most Malamutes, Takaani, Siku and Juno were large but harmless. They would run to greet visitors but had no inclinations as watch dogs. So when they noticed the strangers on our property across the street the three of them trotted over to investigate. Their innocent curiosity delivered them into the sights of three well armed coyote hunters. And even though they were seventy to eighty pounds larger than coyotes and had distinctive Malamute face and body markings, Siku and Juno were shot and killed, their bodies left to rot amongst the sage.
This type of wanton heartless killing is not new to me. Since establishing our wild horse sanctuary in the Northeastern section of California I have been in conflict with the coyote hunting community in my efforts to protect the numerous pairs of coyotes who keep our hay fields clear of ground squirrels.
I have seen coyotes shot from low flying aircraft, chased by trucks, shot at from main roads out of passing vehicles, and hunted in every way, shape and form one can imagine, their bodies hung on fence lines to thwart other coyotes; a myth that will not go away despite research that proves the practice to be silly and without any preventive value.
This war on coyotes has been going on for more than one hundred years. In California alone, more than a half million coyotes have been killed by any means necessary at a cost of thirty million tax dollars. There are those who believe that coyotes are necessary for a healthy ecological balance. Others feel the coyote is responsible for the loss of young livestock and even the decline in some game animals. But biologists, who have long studied coyotes, agree that as a whole coyotes are not that destructive and may even be helpful as rodents make up a large portion of their diet.
But despite research and the budding success of non lethal predator control methods, the myths persist and fueled by a surge in predator hunting magazines, there is a new interest in killing coyotes by urban weekend hunters using AR-15 assault rifles equipped with sophisticated scopes.
Unlike agricultural interests, who at least believe they are protecting their livelihood, this nouveau urban army has one interest only; to kill. Even the most cursory search of coyote hunting forums reveals a callus disregard for suffering as hunters brag about lung shots and long blood trails from animals trying to drag themselves to safety.
And so, it was into this controversy and burgeoning interest in killing coyotes as sport that our young innocent dogs wandered. They were oblivious to the arguments, studies, and rationalizations. They just wanted to say hello. The irony of their innocence confronting the human propensity for violence was as real as the nauseous waves of grief that rolled through me as I struggled to carry Siku’s heavy, lifeless body up the hill to my truck.
No matter how I cut it, paint it, excuse it, there was no reason for Juno and Siku to have been killed. And in this month of April, which is animal cruelty awareness month, perhaps each of us needs to examine why any animal should die like they did; needlessly.
As I see Takaani sleeping alone in the living room I remember the pain and sadness of her siblings’ deaths and I want to do what she does, howl into the night sky.
(this op-ed piece will apear in the Lassen County Times April 28 09) There is a $2000 reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible, on animal cruelty charges.
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