By Tom McGhee, Denver Post
The refusal of federal and state authorities to prosecute a La Jara cattle hauler who sent more than 1,000 federally protected wild horses to Mexican slaughterhouses sends a dangerous message to those who would illegally sell mustangs to buyers who will kill them, an advocate for wild horses said.
Between 2008 and 2012, rancher and livestock hauler Tom Davis bought 1,794 horses from the Bureau of Land Management's Wild Horse and Burro Program.
When investigators from the U.S. Department of the Interior's Office of Inspector Generalconfronted Davis about the purchases and asked him how many of those horses had been resold for slaughter, he told them, "Probably close to all of them."
The Interior Department referred its findings to the U.S. attorney's office and the 12th Judicial District.
Both offices declined to prosecute Davis.
A spokesperson for 12th Judicial District Attorney David Mahonee told The Denver Post that her boss had no comment.
"I think it is dangerous that nothing at all happened. Shouldn't Tom be an example if people are worried about horses going to slaughter? I think he should be made to pay," said Ginger Kathrens, executive director of the Cloud Foundation, a nonprofit that advocates for wild horses.The U.S. attorney's office doesn't comment on decisions not to prosecute, said Jeff Dorschner, spokesman.
According to the report, Davis sold many of the horses to buyers near the Mexican border. Investigators found records indicating at least one of those buyers transported large numbers of horses across the border to slaughterhouses in Mexico.
Davis told investigators that he assumed the wild horses would be slaughtered, saying there was only "one place to go ... to the kill plant."
In a telephone interview, he told The Denver Post that he hadn't been prosecuted because "they didn't have any evidence."
He never sold horses to buyers near the border, he added.
"That is what the newspapers put out. They're ... liars. I read what was in the newspapers. Everybody knows more about my business than what I know."
The European Union has banned imports of horse meat from Mexico, where many American horses are butchered, and the animals cannot be slaughtered in the U.S.
Even so, wild horse advocates say they remain in peril. "Canada is still a market for them," Kathrens said.
Multiple surveys have found that Americans overwhelmingly oppose slaughtering horses.
In 2007 the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled it is illegal for horse slaughterhouses to pay the U.S. Department of Agriculture to perform health inspections, ending the kill plants in the U.S.
In 2013, 144,656 horses, most of them unwanted domestic animals, were sent from the United States to slaughterhouses in Mexico or Canada, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.
While the Humane Society and other animal welfare organizations oppose horse slaughter, the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Quarterhorse Association and others support the practice.
Without an effective way to eliminate large numbers of domestic horses, they say, many of the animals are neglected, leading to the starvation and abuse of thousands of animals.
Those opposed to killing them say that for a horse, a trip to an industrial slaughter plant cannot be humane.
The animals enter the plant, and an employee handling a pneumatic device called a captive bolt injects a bolt into each animal's head, rendering it brain-dead.
The carcass is hoisted by the rear legs onto a mechanized line and the throat cut to release the blood.
It then travels to different stations where it is cleaned, the hide is removed and the carcass is turned into cuts of meat.
In slaughterhouses, most horses are improperly stunned and are conscious when they are hoisted by a rear leg to have their throats cut," according to the website of Wildhorse Ranch Rescue, a nonprofit dedicated to saving wild and domestic horses from abuse and death.
But Temple Grandin, a Colorado State University professor of animal science, who has designed handling systems intended to ease fear and suffering of animals in slaughterhouses, disagrees.
"That's bullcrap," she said.
If done properly, the bolt is an effective means of rendering the animals unable to feel pain. She said she has seen horses slaughtered humanely at meat plants in Texas, before they were closed, and in Canada.
"Of course, they knew I was there, so all I'm going to say is when they are on good behavior, it can be done right. It gets back to management."