Where in the “Humane” is the HSUS?

(January 8, 2010)  A recent post at the Cloud Foundation weblog asked if a “humane society” was looking out for the wild horses being captured and corralled (and “euthanized”) by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in the Calico Complex in Nevada.  Paraphrased:

I was wondering if anyone from the humane society was seeing that the penned horses get  fed and watered and sheltered.

I have been wondering the very same thing.  Back in October, 2009, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) “expressed cautious optimism” about a proposal by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar to relocate America’s wild horses and burros from their historic herd areas in Western states to holding pens in the eastern and midwestern United States.  In the meantime, the BLM is capturing wild horses at an unprecedented pace and taking them from their Western rangeland homes, most likely to meet the objectives of the current Administration’s “fast-tracked” energy initiatives.

The BLM’s “Standard Gather Operation Operating Procedures (SOPs) set the standards for rounding up wild horses, and “apply whether a contractor or BLM personnel conduct a gather.”

For us regular folks, the HSUS publishes a “Complete Guide to Horse Care” and other articles on horse health, safety and welfare from time to time.

I wondered how the BLM’s SOPs stack up against the HSUS guidelines for humane treatment of horses.

The HSUS recommends “at least 8 gallons of water” a day be provided for horses to drink.

The BLM’s SOPs provide

The Contractor shall provide animals held in the traps and/or holding facilities with a continuous supply of fresh clean water at a minimum rate of 10 gallons per animal per day.

So far so good.

The HSUS recommends that horses be fed “need to have hay or pasture throughout the day” and “need to nibble or graze throughout the day rather than have one or two meals a day.”

The BLM’s SOPs provide

Animals held for 10 hours or more in the traps or holding facilities shall be provided good quality hay at the rate of not less than two pounds of hay per 100 pounds of estimated body weight per day.  An animal that is held at a temporary holding facility after 5:00 p.m. and on through the night, is defined as a horse/burro feed day.  An animal that is held for only a portion of a day and is shipped or released does not constitute a feed day.

Less than ten hours in holding means no feed required?  Not so good for the wild ones.

The HSUS, in an article entitled “Responsible Horse Ownership,” suggests owners choose “humane euthanasia by a licensed veterinarian” for a horse that “has become incapacitated and cannot recover.”

The SOPs provide

The [Contracting Officer’s Representative/Project Inspector] COR/PI will determine if injured animals must be destroyed and provide for destruction of such animals. The Contractor may be required to humanely euthanize animals in the field and to dispose of the carcasses as directed by the COR/PI.

The SOPs do not always require a veterinarian to be present at the capture site; that decision is made by the BLM during its “pre-capture evaluation of existing conditions.”

Destruction by a contractor’s rifle versus euthanasia by a qualified veterinarian? No requirement to determine whether a horse has become “incapacitated and cannot recover” before pulling the trigger?  Definitely not good for the wild ones.

How about shelter?

An excerpt from the HSUS “Complete Guide to Horse Care” (“What to Know Before Making the Commitment“) cautions:

6.  Don’t forget about shelter

Horses need constant access to a dry, safe, comfortable shelter to protect them from rain, wind and snow.

[. . .]

At a minimum, you should have a well-constructed, three-sided shed into which your horse can retreat at all times

The BLM does not provide shelter for horses at capture sites or in holding facilties, including the brand new feedlot at Fallon where “excess wild horses” from the Calico Complex are being shipped.  One excuse given for the lack of shelters is that the facilities are for “short-term holding.”

But these are specifics.  What about general welfare?

Holly Hazard, the HSUS’s “chief innovations officer” offered these Comments on New Horse Welfare Code” drafted by the American Horse Council:

The Humane Society of the United States is encouraged that these horse industry groups have endorsed a code of practice to better ensure the safety and welfare of the horses from which many of their members make a livelihood [. . . ]

In all equestrian pursuits, it is paramount that the welfare of the horse take precedence over the goals and desires of breeders, trainers, owners, competitors and other industry stakeholders.

A land where the welfare of the horse takes precedence.  Not BLM land.

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