Doing Unto Animals: Saving Baby
When I was young my love of horses was expressed through my six horse Breyer Collection. My daughter’s mother however has some means and no willpower and so her love of horses is expressed through a herd-size Breyer collection and two actual horses.
It didn’t take long for me to get uncomfortable with the traditions of old that were being suggested in how I was to raise and treat our horses. One of the most important messages I hope to get across in Do Unto Animals is that when something doesn’t feel right in your gut, it probably isn’t. You owe it to the animals that intrust you with their care to look for answers.
Jo Anne Normile has become one of my valuable teachers. When we look quickly at horses we see romance, nobility and strength. When we look more closely we see that these animals need us to pay greater attention. They may be suffering terribly and often in plain view.
More than 20 years ago, Jo Anne Normile fell in love with a Thoroughbred horse whom she nicknamed Baby. In her book, Saving Baby, she details their life together from the moment of birth:
"When he'd almost died in my arms because the amniotic sac hadn't opened and I ripped its tough, rubbery surface with my bare hands and fastened my mouth onto his nostrils to express air into his lungs; his first wobbly steps, taken before dawn, and then his galloping across the pasture just hours later; his tearing around like a giant puppy, followed by napping with his head on my lap among the dandelions or climbing the patio steps to the kitchen door to ask for a treat."
When she sent Baby out on the track as a racehorse, Jo Anne was unaware of the cruel ways the racing industry worked. When Baby broke the tibia in his back leg, shattered into so many pieces that he "could not be saved," Jo Anne heartbrokenly watched as he was put down, "sinking to his knees, then rolling over on his side, in the position in which he loved to nap." However, in the wake of Baby’s death, Jo Anne began to learn that most Thoroughbred racehorses aren’t gently put to sleep with chemical euthanasia if their bodies are beyond repair. Instead, she discovered the horrors of the brutal racing industry and decided to do her part in getting Thoroughbreds straight from the track to safe havens through her organizations, CANTER (Communication Alliance to Network Thoroughbred Ex-Racehorses), and Saving Baby Equine Charity.
Today, Jo Anne is the co-founder and current president of Saving Baby Equine Charity, dedicated to protecting and rescuing horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys from slaughter, abuse and neglect, and promoting change through public awareness and education. Saving Baby is Jo Anne's first book written. In this Q&A, Jo Anne discusses her well-reviewed book, helps us understand the travesties of the racing industry, and provides us with ways to help.
TELL us briefly about your book, Saving Baby.
Saving Baby is first and foremost a love story. It is my homage to my horse, Baby, who came into my life unexpectedly but turned out to be the horse of my dreams, the horse who changed my life. It’s a story about what happens when love is pricked by conscience, when you can make a decision to turn away from something difficult but instead make the more difficult choice to face it squarely because love is at stake. Few people have not had a moment in their lives when they were at a crossroads and had to make a decision, a painful decision, to keep their conscience intact. Many people have dogs or cats, and it’s easy for them to understand that each one has his or her own personality. They have no trouble getting the concept of falling in love with a particular house pet. But what many don’t realize is that it’s the exact same thing with horses. Each one is unique. Each one knows what it’s like to love and feel loved, to bond. Horses are extremely intelligent. They have extraordinary memories and an extraordinary capacity for learning. So for them to be treated like investments in the horse racing industry – inanimate objects to be bet on rather than the thinking, feeling creatures they are – makes their plight unimaginably difficult.
Was there a SPECIFIC message you were HOPING TO COMMUNICATE THROUGH Saving Baby?
I wrote the book to tell the world about my love story with Baby, and about all the racehorses I knew and what they endured. But I also wrote the book out of frustration. I had been trying to change horse racing for so many years through traditional channels. I would write letters and e-mails to those in the top echelons of racing, meet with government officials, submit materials to a watershed Congressional hearing in Washington, etc. But the status quo in racing remained the same; horses’ well-being too often sacrificed for the bottom line. I couldn’t deal with the frustration anymore, so I decided to take the truth directly to the public. I engaged Larry Lindner -a New York Times bestselling author and a huge animal lover- as my co-author who I had met through a mutual friend and colleague, veterinarian Doctor Nick Dodman, the world renowned Director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts. I knew I was in good hands.
What do you believe are the fundamental travesties of the horse racing industry?
Horses are not considered mature of mind and body until they are 5 years old, yet horses in the racing industry are taken from their pastures at 18 months of age -still young, developing babies- and forced to carry a rider and begin race training at sustained speeds, while being whipped to perform faster. These social, grazing animals who are genetically programmed to walk and graze 18 hours a day in a normal pasture, are instead kept for 23 hours a day in their stalls, coming out only for training. They have no interaction with other horses which causes them to have the highest incidence of ulcers and displacement behaviors, including constant stall walking, digging, pawing, weaving or standing in place and moving from side to side in their futile efforts to walk and graze as they normally would do.
But that’s not the worst of it. On the backstretch of racetracks where the horses that race live, there’s also maiming, death and destruction. When too slow or injured, 20,000 horses each year are sold for pennies on the pound for slaughter for human consumption across our borders. Horses are given illegal performance enhancers or even legal drugs so they won’t feel an injury and will be able to run faster. Bettors in the stands have to be told whether the horse is wearing blinkers, but if he has received 17 injections within a week of a race, that’s not disclosed. It’s hard to know that racing operates like this and not feel angry. It is a $40 billion gambling industry. And money and animals never mix. People may sometimes win, but the animal always loses.
How do horses end up at the livestock auction? what happens once they're there?
In 2014, 146,548 of our American horses were transported across borders to be slaughtered in Canadian or Mexican slaughterhouses for human consumption overseas. Scavenging for “meat horses” is lucrative tax-free blood money. Some horse scavengers purchase their horses cheaply from people willingly selling their aged horse for slaughter mistakenly believing it's humane. Others unknowingly sell their horse or give it away to people who fraudulently pose as “horse dealers,” promising to find the horse a good home. These horses soon find themselves in the “kill pen” or “loose pen” of a livestock auction. Those who brought them in are paid the auction price.
The finish line is also a slaughterhouse for most racehorses. The second highest breed sent to slaughter are Thoroughbred horses that are discarded by the racing industry. Horse slaughter is an economic necessity to racing as there are not nearly enough rescues to intake such a large volume of horses. Racing makes its money from the bets on the horses and the more horses that race, the more money they make. All racehorses must be able to “earn a check” and once they cannot, they are labeled “meat horses” and are sold to onsite kill buyers or taken off the track directly to auction.
Once purchased at auction, they are crammed into stock trailers and transported under extremely cruel and inhumane conditions. Some arrive at the slaughterhouses trampled and kicked by frantic horses, others arrive already dead or unable to walk. The rendering methods are indescribably horrific and many horses are still conscious when they are dismembered.
Unbelievable as it sounds, the horses we allow to be transported for human consumption in other countries are illegal for us to eat here, as horses are not considered food animals in the United States. They are filled with a vast variety of drugs to keep them healthy, and for racehorses and other performance horses, drugs to keep them performing. There has been legislation for 15 years to ban the slaughter of America’s horses for human consumption but the bills fail to even come out of committee because agricultural entities keep them from coming before Congress. The Safeguard American Food Exports Act (SAFE Act) remains stuck in committee yet it would end the inhumane collection and transport of our horses for slaughter over our borders and prevent the selling of highly tainted and poisonous meat to others around the world.
Explain the driving force behind your charitIES, CANTER AND saving baby equine charity.
After quitting horse racing in disgust in 1996, I knew I had to help the 1200 horses that were at our Michigan racetrack with only the kill buyers interested in them once their short careers were over. I started CANTER in 1997, the first Thoroughbred racehorse rescue in the country to intake horses directly from their stalls at the track – bargaining for them against the onsite kill buyer. Until I resigned from CANTER in 2006, we were intaking over 100 horses a year, the vast majority with injuries suffered in racing. The driving force? To leave them behind would have been leaving Baby behind.
I thought that it was just our cheap, bottom-level track that treated racehorses so callously but through the hundreds of horses taken in by CANTER, I learned that this was not isolated to our track. The horses at our track actually trickled down to us from the higher level tracks when their racing injuries prevented them being competitive at the top levels. It was a realization that all racehorses everywhere at every track suffer the same horrific fate and people need to know this.
how can the everyday horse-lover make a positive impact on the treatment and well-being of race horses?
Knowledge is power could not be a truer statement nor an easier way to protect these magnificent beings. By learning more about horse racing, anyone concerned with animal welfare can help change more people’s minds. That builds a groundswell. We’re on the threshold of a decision. Do we continue to exploit horses or any animal for financial gain? Or are we going to make a change, view things in a new light? Once people are aware, it will be easy for them to go where their conscience leads them, like mine did. Together we can make it happen.
A portion of every copy of Saving Baby sold helps fund the current rescue I co-founded Saving Baby Equine Charity which helps all equines: ponies, horses, mules and donkeys including wild Mustangs and burros. So people actually help save horses’ lives through my book and can follow our rescue work done with their help on our website or Facebook page.