CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO — The American mare swung her head frantically when the door to the kill box shut, trapping her inside. A worker jabbed her in the back with a small knife seven, eight, nine times.
Eyes wild, she lowered her head and raised it as the blade punctured her body around the withers, again and again.
At the 10th jab, she fell to the floor of this Mexican slaughterhouse, bloodied and paralyzed but not yet dead.
She would lie there two minutes before being hoisted upside down from a chained rear leg so her throat could be slit and she could bleed to death.
The primitive procedure at the Ciudad Juarez plant is now the fate of thousands of exported U.S. horses since court rulings have shut horse slaughter operations in the United States.
The roan mare was one of nearly 30,000 American horses shipped to Mexican processing plants this year, a 370 percent increase from the number recorded this time last year.
By the time she and her peers were led into this city-owned plant, they had typically traveled in packed trucks 700 miles or more, say the American traders who ship them.
Some arrive dead. Many of the others come in “fractured, battered and bruised,” said Jose Cuellar, the plant veterinarian.
No one disputes that slaughter-bound horses have it far worse today than before U.S. courts, upholding state bans, closed two plants to horse slaughtering in Texas earlier this year and the nation’s single remaining one in Illinois on Sept. 21.
Animal welfare advocates who lobbied to end horse slaughter in the United States gambled that Congress would pass legislation by next year barring horses from being exported for slaughter and preventing horse slaughter plants from opening in states that don’t have bans. But the fate of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act is uncertain.
“I think (the odds of the ban passing are) 50-50 this session,” said U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Kentucky, a leading opponent of horse slaughter who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. HR 503 passed the House last year, but a companion bill died in the Senate. The legislation reintroduced this year is pending.
John Holland, a horse slaughter opponent from Virginia, likens the fight to warfare: attack the industry from all sides and deprive it of profits, while pressing Congress for a federal law banning horse exports. “The federal ban is the name of the game and everybody in the anti-slaughter community knows it,” he said.
More than 100,000 U.S. horses were slaughtered last year for foreign dinner plates, according to government figures. There have been 15,000 fewer American horses slaughtered this year since the U.S. operations closed compared with this time last year, even counting the jump in the number being shipped to Mexico and Canada, Holland said.
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