ANIMALS EXPLOITED FOR ENTERTAINMENT:
Dog/Horse Racing and Bull Fighting
Thousands of greyhounds are killed each year as the declining dog-racing industry struggles to stay alive. Some puppies are killed in the name of “selective breeding” before they ever touch a racetrack. Dogs who do qualify to become racers, at around 14 to 17 months of age, typically live in cages and are kept muzzled by their trainers at all times. Many exhibit crate and muzzle sores and suffer from infestations of internal and external parasites. Although they are extremely sensitive to temperature because of their low body fat and thin coats, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme conditions— ranging from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat of over 100 degrees.
Few dogs make it to the nominal retirement age of 4 or 5. Injuries and sickness—broken legs, heatstroke, heart attacks—claim the lives of many. Others—such as Randad, a dog in Alabama—are victims of track machinery. Randad jumped onto the lure rail, was electrocuted, then became entangled on the mechanical lure. Another dog, Tune Me In, suffered for 30 minutes before being euthanized after he was badly cut by a mechanical lure at a Florida track. At one track in Iowa, more than 100 dogs were injured and 18 died during the first nine months of the year 2000. The track’s general manager defended his track by claiming that “top-notch dogs run harder and are more injury-prone.”
Still other dogs die during transport from one racetrack to another. It is industry practice to carry up to 60 greyhounds in one truck, with two or three dogs per crate, and to line the floor of these “haulers” with ice rather than providing air conditioning. The backs of these trucks reach temperatures in excess of 100 degrees on a summer day, deadly conditions for animals who cannot sweat to cool themselves. In 2002, several greyhounds died on a truck during a 100-mile trip between Naples and Miami.
Text They weigh at least 1,000 pounds, they have legs supported by ankles the size of a human’s, and they’re forced to run over 30 miles per hour around a dirt track carrying a person on their back. Racehorses are victims of a multibillion-dollar industry rife with drug abuse, injuries, race fixing, and for many horses, their career ends in a slaughterhouse. A New York Daily News reporter remarked, “The thoroughbred race horse is a genetic mistake. It runs too fast, its frame is too large, and its legs are far too small. As long as mankind demands that it run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die at racetracks.”
The Starting Gate
Racehorses can cost millions of dollars and are often purchased by syndicates, which may be composed of thousands of members. There are also trainers, handlers, veterinarians, and jockeys involved, so a horse is rarely able to develop any kind of bond with one person or other horses. They travel from country to country, state to state, racetrack to racetrack, so few horses are able to call one place “home.” Most do not end up in the well-publicized races, but instead are trucked, shipped, or flown to the thousands of other races that take place all over the country every year.
Racing to the Grave
Horses begin training or are already racing when their skeletal system is still growing and unprepared to handle the pressures of running on a hard track at high speeds. Improved medical treatment and technological advancements have done little to remedy the plight of the racehorse. One study on injuries at racetracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him or her from finishing a race, while another estimates that 800 thoroughbreds die a year in North America because of injuries. Strained tendons or hairline fractures can be tough for veterinarians to diagnose and the damage may go from minor to irrevocable at the next race or workout. Horses do not handle surgery well, as they tend to be disoriented when coming out of anesthesia and may fight casts or slings, possibly causing further injury. Many are euthanized in order to save the owners further veterinary fees and other expenses on a horse who can’t race again. Given the huge investment in a horse, reported one Kentucky paper, “simply sending one to pasture, injured or not, is not an option all owners are willing to consider.” Care for a single racehorse can cost as much as $50,000 per year. Magic Man stepped into an uneven section of a track and broke both front legs during a race at Saratoga Race Course; his owner had bought him for $900,000 dollars, yet the horse hadn’t earned any money yet and, unproven on the track, wasn’t worth much as a stud, so he was euthanized.
Trainers may take calculated risks by running a horse they know is injured. War Emblem, the racehorse who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2001, suffered from bone chips in one ankle and both knees. In spite of veterinary recommendations for surgery, which would have taken away from training and racing time, trainer Bob Baffert said, “Let the chips fall where they may,” and continued to race the horse. War Emblem lost the Belmont Stakes, no longer races, has changed hands twice, and has been diagnosed with “unwillingness to cover mares” at a breeding barn in Japan. Bone chips, which occur in up to 50 percent of racehorses by some veterinary estimates, are “like taking two pieces of rock, rubbing them together and seeing pieces of sand rubbing off,” explains one veterinary orthopedic surgeon. The same trainer continued to race a 3-year-old thoroughbred after knee surgery; the horse had to be euthanized after breaking his shoulder during a workout.
Drugs and Deception
“Finding an American racehorse trained on the traditional hay, oats, and water probably would be impossible,” commented one racing reporter. Many racehorses are turned into junkies by their trainers and sometimes by veterinarians, who provide drugs to keep horses on the track when they shouldn’t be racing.
Which drugs are legal and which are not varies from state to state, with Kentucky holding the reputation as most lenient. According to The Washington Post, every horse at the 2003 Kentucky Derby was given a shot of Lasix (which controls bleeding in the lungs), and most were probably given phenylbutazone (an anti-inflammatory). Those drugs, although legal, can also mask pain or make a horse run faster. Labs cannot detect all of the illegal drugs out there, of which there “could be thousands,” says the executive director of the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium. Morphine, which can keep a horse from feeling any pain from an injury, was suspected in the case of Be My Royal, who won a race limping. Baffert has also been suspended for using morphine on a horse. One trainer was suspended for using an Ecstasy-type drug on five horses, and another has been kicked off of racetracks for using clenbuterol and, in one case, for having the leg of a euthanized horse cut off “for research.”
A New York veterinarian and a trainer faced felony charges when the body of a missing racehorse turned up at a farm and authorities determined her death had been caused by the injection of a “performance-enhancing drug.”
“There are trainers pumping horses full of illegal drugs every day,” says a former Churchill Downs public relations director, “With so much money on the line, people will do anything to make their horses run faster.”
Even the Winners Lose
Few racehorses are retired to pastures for pampering and visits from caring individuals or are glamorized in movies.
An insurance scandal cost the life of Alydar, who came in second in all three races of the 1978 Triple Crown and fathered many fast horses. After being retired to stud at a Kentucky farm, he was originally believed to have shattered his leg by kicking a stall door and was euthanized when he wasn’t able to maintain a splint. Ten years later, an FBI investigation revealed that his leg was broken deliberately with a rope tied to a pickup truck.
The disappearance and suspected murder of candy heir Helen Voorhees Brach was traced to the Chicago horse “mafia,” whose leader was known for burning barns and killing horses for insurance money.
Ferdinand, a Derby winner and Horse of the Year in 1987, was retired to Claiborne Farms, then changed hands at least twice before being “disposed of” in Japan; a reporter covering the story concluded, “No one can say for sure when and where Ferdinand met his end, but it would seem clear he met it in a slaughterhouse.”
Exceller, a million-dollar racehorse who was inducted into the National Racing Museum’s Hall of Fame, was killed at a Swedish slaughterhouse.
The United States has a multimillion-dollar horsemeat export business and slaughters tens of thousands of horses every year. One Colorado State University study found that of 1,348 horses sent to slaughter, 58 were known to be former racehorses. There are only two equine slaughterhouses left in the U.S., both in Texas, so most horses who come from other states have to endure days of transport in cramped trailers. Usually, there is no access to water or food, and injuries are common: A University of California, Davis, study of 306 horses destined for slaughter found that 60 of them sustained injuries during transport. Some must travel in double-decker trailers designed for cattle or sheep; these vehicles are are not tall enough for horses. The United States Department of Agriculture has banned the use of these trailers for horse transport as of 2006. Horses are subject to the same method of slaughter as cattle, but since horses are generally not used to being herded, they tend to thrash about to avoid the pneumatic gun that should render them unconscious before their throat is cut.
At best, the term “bullfighting” is a misnomer, as there is usually little competition between a nimble sword-wielding matador (Spanish for “killer”) and a confused, maimed, psychologically tormented, and physically debilitated bull. Supporters justify the act by calling it a tradition. Opponents maintain that no matter what its history, bullfighting is the torture, mutilation, and slaughter of animals for entertainment.
The True Story of Bright Eyes
by Steve Hindi
SHARK president Steve Hindi was part of the undercover team that documented the torture killing of twenty-eight bulls in Mexico in 1998. Bright Eyes was the fourth of four bulls slaughtered at Steve’s first bullfight.
People call them fighting bulls, but I saw no fight in this beautiful young black bull as he stood with three companions in a pen in Mexico City, Mexico. The expression on his face reminded me of one of my kitties, “Prince Paka,” when I pet him on his nose; something he enjoys immensely. Like Paka, this young bull was quiet and relaxed, friendly and nonthreatening.
He stood out from his companions with down turned horns that gave him the disarming appearance of a puppy dog with big floppy ears. But what really made this youngster stand out was his unique eyes, shiny and inquisitive. He watched me and came a little closer as I stood right by the wall that divided us.
You are “Bright Eyes,” I told him. He seemed to like the name. People yelled at me in Spanish to get away from him because he was dangerous. “Peligroso,” they said. I wondered what the Spanish word for “ridiculous” was.
A short time later, a group of men chased Bright Eyes and his companions into individual isolation stalls. I was amazed that these “fighting bulls” never tried to attack the men who were harassing them. The bulls ran from the men, doing everything possible to avoid them.
For many hours, Bright Eyes and the other bulls were deprived of light, food, water and the company of his herd, causing him to become confused, terrified and physically and mentally weakened. As each bull’s time came to go to the bullring, he was first harpooned to further wound and cripple him even before entering the bullring.
But what happened afterward only got worse. (See photos above.)
What You Can Do
Do not attend rodeos, shows, circuses, animal races or amusement parks that exploit animals. Most children love animals and enjoy seeing them whenever they can. Explain to children why your family chooses not to support these forms of cruelty.
If your local community sponsors a rodeo or circus, write to the city manager, city council members and corporate sponsors and educate them.
If you wish to enjoy a circus, support non-animal circuses instead. Tell your friends, family and coworkers not to go to the circus. Remind them that circus animals are not volunteers.
Contact the venue that will be hosting a circus or rodeo and ask management to withdraw the invitation or, at the very least, not to invite them back next year.
Watch television shows and films carefully for potential animal abuse. Point out the realities of “training” to your friends and family. Educate the media about animal exploitation.