July 24, 2008

by John Holland, Senior Analyst AAHS

This week a press release from a previously unknown group calling itself the "Horse Welfare Committee" (www.horsewelfarecommittee.com) declared that it was going to perform research to determine just how bad the situation is for "unwanted horses". Atypically, the release had no contact person and offered only a website. Soon my inbox was full of questions about this new group.

I have long wished that we had better data available on a national level concerning equine abuse and neglect, so naturally the release tweaked my interest. But the announcement was vaguely reminiscent of a similar group that appeared some years earlier calling itself "CommonHorseSense.com". The beautifully designed web site of that group featured photos of running horses and claimed to have the mission of promoting horse welfare.

But from the beginning Common Horse Sense appeared to be heavily biased toward reinforcing the "unwanted horse" excuse of the horse slaughter industry. I remember chuckling at a post on an anti-slaughter board the day the site came on line. The post read "This site has the aroma of a slaughterhouse at low tide." Somehow the mangled metaphor was dead on.

By the end of the day someone had run a registration check on the site and found the site was owned by the attorney for the BelTex slaughter plant in Texas. Thereafter, whenever the site was used as a pro-slaughter reference the unfortunate fact of its ownership would soon be mentioned. This made the site's noble mission of promoting horse welfare through slaughter all the more difficult.

The message of the site was further besmirched when anti-slaughter activists launched a site with the name CommonHorseSense.net. The sibling site callously countered the original site's message with facts and an even more beautiful appearance. A few months ago the CommonHorseSense.com site suddenly disappeared.

Still, there was always the possibility that the new organization might do something useful, so I emailed them asking what methodology they intended to use in their research. I also sent them a copy of our most recent study on slaughter and abuse trends. I promptly received a courteous response saying that they intended to do real, documented research, but it went on to say that "Those of us entrenched daily in the horse industry are seeing first-hand the ripple effects of the slaughter ban (and, yes, the troubled economy) on a daily basis."

The most worrisome thing was that the email was signed only "The Horse Welfare Committee". Clearly the respondent was not interested in identifying himself or herself, and I thought I might be detecting a familiar odor.

The next whiff came almost immediately when the press release appeared in the TSCRA Daily News. The TSCRA or Texas Southwest Cattle Raiser's Association most certainly has a dog in the fight when it comes to horse slaughter. By state law, the TSCRA used to be paid $3 for every horse slaughtered in Texas.

The money the TSCRA received was ostensibly to perform brand inspections aimed at detecting stolen horses. That function might have been more demonstrably vital had they ever actually detected a stolen horse before it was slaughtered. The payments, intended to protect horses from theft, instead had the affect of making the TSCRA a loyal ally of the horse slaughter plants. Any reporter looking for a quote from "the other side" of the horse slaughter issue could always count on the TSCRA for a gem or two of horse slaughter wisdom.

So my next step was a visit to the Horse Welfare Committee web site where I found the same shy disposition as exhibited in the original press release and the email I had received. There was no "Who we are" tab to be found, nor any names of the owners.

Of course, my next move was to check the site's registration. Clearly the designers had learned their lesson from the debacle of the CommonHorseSense site. They had registered the site through a proxy service, making tracing its ownership nearly impossible. But unfortunately, the web designer had shot himself in one foot, reloaded and skillfully picked off the good foot.

The text of the tab in my browser did not read "Horse Welfare Committee", but "Faces of Agriculture". The website's author had forgotten to change the text from an earlier design. A further check of the link properties showed that the site had been constructed using Dream Weaver and it contained "faces of ag" in the source path.

And what is "Faces of Agriculture"? The site belongs to an agriculture radio program featuring Trent Loos. Trent is a factory farmer's factory farmer, and dresses for his part with a handlebar mustache and a black cowboy hat. He touts himself as a "sixth generation" rancher. Indeed, in 1999 Loos was involved with the massive Bell Farms 50,000 hog factory farm built on the lands of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe.

Unfortunately, the tribe felt they had been forced into the deal and did not want the pig farm. A tribal spokesperson said "These are the kinds of people who can pick up a phone and get a senator to use his power to force a stinking pig factory on our people." The tribe sued, eventually evicting the aromatic, sprawling farm and its picturesque lagoons of pig poop.

Loos' porcine background might explain much of the lingering olfactory sensation experienced by visitors to the new Horse Welfare Committee web site. But the new site is anything but Trent's first attempt to support horse slaughter.

Within the anti-slaughter community, Trent is probably best known for his inspired demonstration of the unwanted horse theory. For several months, Trent had bragged on his radio program that if the Illinois legislature brought an anti-slaughter bill up for a vote, he would deliver a truckload of unwanted horses to the capital steps.

When the day came, Trent kept his promise, delivering a load of toy stick horses which he passed out to some inner city children touring the capital. But the day was not to be Trent's. The bill passed easily and many of the children returned their horses when they learned that Trent was for horse slaughter. Nevertheless, aided by his well waxed mustache and his years at the pig factory, Trent kept a stiff upper lip.

Trent has gone on to demonstrate he is a man of many talents. In his book Crimes Against Nature, the environmentalist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. recounts being stalked by Trent Loos (including into a men's room) as he toured on his lecture circuit. I had the opportunity to ask Trent about that as a substitute guest on his radio program "Rural Route" some years ago.

Trent was proposing a plan to make mustangs big game animals and to sell permits to "harvest" them. The original guest had been Gail Vacca. As I recall, Gail had a severe cold which had turned into laryngitis when she was told the topic and fell into uncontrollable convulsions of laughter and coughing. I suppose if we had known the BLM would eventually propose euthanizing the mustangs we might not have found Trent's plan so humorous. Clearly it is a mistake to underestimate our government's laser like propensity for doing the wrong thing.

Still, I jumped at the opportunity to ask Trent (on the air) if Kennedy's charges that he was a stalker and "cattle rustler" were true. Trent said he had only been following Kennedy to force him to tell the truth, and then admitted that he (Trent) had indeed once pled "no contest" to cattle fraud.

The next time I am on Trent's program, I hope to ask him how his research is going and what he did with all the stick horses. There were rumors on the anti-slaughter boards that he had them slaughtered for tooth picks. Unfortunately I must have missed his call as I have not yet been invited back to his program. Meanwhile I will eagerly await the results of his "research". I expect we will see a lagoon full of it before long.

And the next time I am in Washington, I intend to ask Senator Larry Craig why he is risking his reputation as a "straight shooter" by doing the bidding of this gang and blocking the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. I am hopeful the good Senator will reconsider his position and take a wider stance on the issue.