Baker the Horse Butcher of Sugarcreek whines and will not pay fine (US)

Cross-posted from CantonRep.com under the title, “Horses led to slaughter”

A saddled unregistered quarter horse awaits its turn in the auction ring at a recent livestock auction in Tuscarawas County. Horses are selling at bargain prices in this economy. Government officials estimate there are 9 million horses in the United States. Roughly 100,000 of them are believed to be exported for slaughter, mostly to Mexico.
A saddled unregistered quarter horse awaits its turn in the auction ring at a recent livestock auction in Tuscarawas County. Horses are selling at bargain prices in this economy. Government officials estimate there are 9 million horses in the United States. Roughly 100,000 of them are believed to be exported for slaughter, mostly to Mexico.

By DIANA ROSETTI

Many Americans consider the horse a national icon, a spirited animal that represents the Old West and its pioneers.

But in Canada, Belgium, France, Italy, Russia and Japan, tackling a tasty cut of horse is considered a singular gustatory pleasure.

Until recently, slaughterhouses operated in the United States for transport of horse meat to those countries. The last one, in Illinois, was forced to close in 2007.

The issue now is animal activists’ crusade to flush out what is known as “kill buyers” who purchase horses for transport to Texas and then Mexico where slaughter is legal.

Last year, Leroy H. Baker, owner of the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction in Tuscarawas County, was charged with multiple violations of the Commercial Transportation of Equines for Slaughter Act. His fine, due last month, was $162,800. The charges stemmed from Baker’s shipping of horses for slaughter to Texas between 2003-07. Regular Friday horse sales are a tradition at his auction, arguably the largest in the area.

He says he hasn’t yet paid the fine.

“I told them, we’re takin’ this thing to court, boys. I had the (United States Department of Agriculture) in here last week. You get these animal rights activists who see stuff on the Internet, and 90 percent of it isn’t true. Those charges were bogus,” Baker, 55, said.

“Horses are so cheap, they’re letting them starve out there. I had one lady call me to complain about the sale, and I told her, ‘Hey, the owners wanted to sell. They couldn’t feed ’em any more. We got kids starving to death in Cleveland, and soon they’ll be freezing to death. But she didn’t care about that. You can’t reason with them.”

Baker said horses sold at auction are bringing half of what they did two years ago. Owners have abandoned horses at the sale, he added.

“The animal rights people came here last Memorial Day and put on a big show buying all 160 horses. They worry about saving horses. They don’t save them; they prolong the agony. But they think they know best. That would be like me going to LaGuardia Airport and telling the pilot, ‘Move over. I’m going to fly this thing,’” he said.

This emotional debate over the horses that nobody wants shows no signs of resolution.

Tom Lenz, former president of American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. Feb. 9, 11:20 a.m.) and now chairman of the Unwanted Horse Coalition, says the economy is a major factor. The price of feed has risen since some grains are being usurped for alternate fuel production. Euthanasia and subsequent removal of the carcass can be costly, too.

Longtime local veterinarian Dave Soehnlen said he is “amazed that in this country somebody can just say its illegal to slaughter a horse. We are in a climate now where even saying something like that can put a person like me in jeopardy.

“How do (laws) get passed against the counsel of the majority of the equine industry and against the majority of equine practitioners,” Soehnlen asked.

He notes that even horses that are old, lame or unwanted are included under the law. And Soehnlen questions what will happen to those horses?

“You see way more thin horses now at sales,” said Wilmot’s Dean Beachy, an auctioneer who sells livestock here and all over the East Coast. “I’m realistic. We can’t keep them, and there’s no market for them. I’ve seen some dropped off at auction barns.”

Government officials estimate there are 9 million horses in the country. Roughly 100,000 of them are believed to be exported for slaughter, more to Mexico than Canada.

A bill brewing since 2001 in the U.S. House of Representatives would prohibit shipment of horses to Mexico and Canada for slaughter.

WHAT OTHERS SAY

Amanda Cermak, 29, of Stow exercises horses at Thistledown racetrack. She works with Ohio horse rescue groups.

During a recent visit to the Sugarcreek Livestock Auction, she bought a pony for $10 and a standardbred mare for $20. She since has found homes for both.

“The pony that would have been slaughtered now is at a show barn where they train horses to jump. Board over there is $650 a month,” she said.

At Pegasus Farm Equestrian Center for the Disabled outside Hartville, executive director James Strang has seen an increase in the number of people offering to donate or sell their horses.

“As much as it grieves me to say, we are not in a position to accept any more horses right now. Hay and dietary supplements are up and so is the cost of trucking sawdust for bedding,” he said. “Everyone is feeling it.”

Activist Courtney Johnson Walker, of San Antonio, owns 11 retired racehorses and two rescue horses. She has lobbied state representatives and senators to take a tougher stance on the transport of horses for slaughter from the United States to Mexico.

“I tell them, ‘You need to go to some of these places. You need to see them when they get off the trucks.’ Half the people are totally unaware. They put blinders on, and that’s all they do. They’d be up in arms if we had more on television and more articles. They don’t want to be uncomfortable.”

Ashley Byrne, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals campaign coordinator, Washington, D.C., was adamant. “Any responsible horse owner should have a licensed veterinarian humanely euthanize their animals rather than shove them on a truck to be cruelly transported and slaughtered. There also are equine rescue organizations and sanctuaries.”

ONCE UPON A TIME …

Decades ago, I attended an outdoor wedding where grills had been set up to cook thick steaks for the reception dinner.

The weather cooperated, wine flowed, and guests raved about the beef, so tender and juicy.

The father of the bride glowed with pride for he had ordered them from his favorite Akron steakhouse.

The following week, the popular steakhouse was cited for selling horse meat. Today, horse meat almost never is offered in American restaurants. However, one can order it at upscale restaurants as close as Canada. www.cantonrep.com >>

— Diana Rosetti

Correction: Tom Lenz is the past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners. The wrong organization was listed in a story Sunday in the main news section, Page A-6, about horse slaughtering.

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