COLUMBIA — Community members were invited to hear about the problem of unwanted horses and discuss solutions at a meeting hosted Monday night at the Animal Science Research Center by Tom Lenz, a veterinarian and chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition.
Although Lenz said he will not take a side on the issue of horse euthanasia, he hopes these kinds of awareness programs will help people recognize the need to discuss it as a solution.
One of the goals of the coalition is to provide information on life-ending decisions and the need to euthanize rather than neglect unwanted horses. Lenz's opinion is that more people will turn to euthanasia now that Texas and Illinois, the only states that contained plants processing unwanted horses, have banned the practice.
"I think this is going to be hard for veterinarians," Lenz said. "But the difference between you, me and the horse is we look forward to next Christmas, to grand babies and summer vacation. Horses aren't looking down the road a week or a month or a year."
The issue of unwanted horses has been a growing problem, but after the failure of the federal government to pass legislation in 2006 preventing unwanted horses from going to slaughter, solutions to the problem are being discussed at local levels. Missouri has not banned the slaughter of horses, but Texas and Illinois lawmakers put a stop to the practice in 2007, effectively bringing horse slaughter in the United States to a standstill.
During the presentation, Lenz said he thinks the public will never see another processing plant in this country because of "America's love affair with horses" and the desire to find any other solution in lieu of slaughter. The problem with animal rights groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, is that they don't think about other possible solutions, Lenz said. The Humane Society considers slaughter an unnecessary practice and supports anti-slaughter legislation at state and federal levels.
Sheila Short, a board member with the Missouri Equine Council, said after the meeting that opponents of humane slaughter need to avoid thinking of horses as pets.
"I consider it as a direct attack on my personal property rights," Short said.
The idea that there is no humane way to euthanize a horse is foreign to Lenz, who said he's done it himself about a hundred times. He said he doesn't understand how animal rights groups can believe what he does is inhumane.
"As far as animal welfare groups, we're all in the same camp," Lenz said. "But animal rights groups have been more difficult to interact with."
Participants were given the opportunity to ask questions after Lenz's presentation. Of the 60 people in attendance, few had anything to say after the hourlong program. But Lenz was able to dispel one myth after a crowd member asked about the gunshot method of euthanizing a horse. Many believe the horse skull is too thick for this method, but Lenz said it's the only way he euthanizes his own horses and explained the proper procedure to the audience.
But regardless of how people feel on the issue, Lenz said he wants people to consider whether it's more humane to let a horse starve than to end its life quickly.
"In the past, we haven't thought about it because we could always just take them to the sales barn, and they went away," Lenz said.