I've been reading e-mails all morning about the slaughter issue and a lot of them have to do with different peoples' perceptions of what is or is not realistic. So let's talk about being realistic, idealistic and pessimistic. I definitely think a lot of my own positions have changed from idealism to realism in the past few years, although I certainly have my moments where I think the idealistic people are right and we have to hold people to a higher standard.
I'm interested to hear if you have also jumped from one category to another or are struggling with your positions as well. I know you won't all agree as to what is the realistic position and your thoughts on that are welcome as well.
Here are my thoughts:
Idealism: There is no horse overpopulation. Somewhere there is a loving home for every horse! We just have to find it! (I used to believe this, probably 5-6 years ago I totally believed this. I don't anymore. I didn't live near any auctions back then, and I lived in a wealthier part of the country. Now I feel like I "get it" about how bad things are.)
Realism: There are too many unwanted horses, and with the economy in this condition, we are going to have to put some to sleep, including healthy ones. There are simply not enough homes with the money to feed and care for them and the interest to do so.
Pessimism: There are too many horses, and traditional slaughter is the only solution. Don't you dare touch MY tax dollars to fund euthanasia.
Idealism: We have no right to play God and end a life. The horses have as much right to live as we do.
Realism: Horses must depend on human beings to feed and care for them. This costs money. If a horse cannot be matched up with a human being willing and able to feed and care for it, then our responsibility as a society is to put that horse to sleep in as humane a manner as possible. Horses are a pet animal in our society and deserve the same humane ending as a dog or cat if no home can be found.
Pessimism: People can't be expected to pay to euthanize an animal that can otherwise be sold for its meat. They aren't going to do it, no matter what you do. Horses are livestock and should be treated the same as other livestock.
Idealism: As a rescuer, I am going to try to save every horse I can! They all deserve a chance even if they require thousands of dollars of vet care. Every life is precious.
Realism: As a rescuer, I understand that I have limited resources and must balance my emotions and desire to save lives with my budget. If I put to sleep the horse who needs $5,000 in vet work, I can save several more healthy horses from slaughter instead. That is a better use of my resources.
Pessimism: Rescuing is stupid. We have too many horses - if some of them go to slaughter or starve, that's just the situation correcting itself.
Idealism: If you own a horse, you should have several months' horse expenses in the bank. Paying for euthanasia and disposal should be no problem.
Realism: The current economic climate has put many otherwise responsible people in financial jeopardy. Many people have lost jobs through no fault of their own. They cannot care for themselves, much less a horse. If we love horses, we have to create systems to help horses when their owners suffer these misfortunes. At the same time, we have to put safeguards in place to ensure these systems are not used fraudulently by those who are not truly in financial distress.
Pessimism: Nobody is going to choose euthanasia when they can make $100 selling their horse at auction. When people are broke, they are going to choose this option and you can't change that.
Idealism: Education is the only way to prevent backyard breeding. Surely the people who are still doing it and creating these unwanted horses don't truly understand how badly they are hurting horses by their actions.
Realism: Some peoples' actions can be changed via education. It's particularly useful to educate the young, who aren't set in their opinions yet. Others can only be changed via laws and penalties. Both approaches must be employed to have an effect on overbreeding.
Pessimism: Good luck enforcing laws and penalties! As with abuse and neglect, nobody will ever actually do anything about it. Besides, you can't tell people what they can and can't do. This is the land of the free!
Idealism: Horses are noble souls and we are privileged to be their guardians and partners. Since we are the more intelligent species, we are charged with the responsibility of caring for them. They should not have to do anything to earn this care.
Realism: Horses are like employees. Most of them need to be able to do a job in order to earn a safe home and good care. In return, we should treat them as we would treat an employee, including reasonable work hours, good working conditions, fair discipline and rules, and a "pension" plan when they have become old or disabled.
Pessimism: Horses are property and should have no more "rights" than any other form of livestock. When a horse gets old or disabled, there is nothing wrong with slaughtering it. They don't "earn" anything. They are there to do a job and if they can't do that job anymore, they have to go.
Idealism: Most people are intrinsically good and want to do the right thing with regard to their horses. Enough education and we can create a world where horses are bred and kept responsibly by people who will pay to retire them out or humanely euthanize them.
Realism: Not everyone feels a moral responsibility to animals and you can't change that. I mean, heck, in our world we have people who don't feel any moral responsibility to care for their children. As with children, laws are needed to penalize abuse or neglect and can remove the helpless party from of the situation when necessary. Stiff enough penalties are likely to scare most people into compliance. We will never get 100% compliance - as with any law. We don't get 100% compliance with laws against killing people. It doesn't mean we shouldn't try.
Pessimism: It is a waste of resources to spend taxpayer money on this. They're just animals. Most of you EAT cows which are not so different. Just put a slaughterhouse in every state and there you go, problem solved and it didn't cost the taxpayers any money.
An on-topic update:
Remember Jane Smiley? Here she blogs about why she thinks horse slaughter is necessary. Take the time to read the comments. They include some of the best argued responses from the anti-slaughter side that I have ever seen anywhere. Kudos to those of you who have already weighed in.