Euthanasia of healthy animals understandably evokes emotion-laden responses.  The overriding ethical issue is whether the premature life-ending procedure is a justifiable alternative to slaughter.  Is euthanasia the better choice from two bad options?

The Humane Society of the United States has taken unequivocal stances on both slaughter and euthanasia:  “Horse slaughter is a cruel, predatory practice” and “The humane euthanasia of animals has been acknowledged by a majority of animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, as an appropriate means of ending the suffering of animals in physical distress….and to end the lives of animals who have severe behavioral problems…”  Still, neither statement gives unambiguous guidance to horse owners struggling to decide if euthanasia is a morally defensible means to circumvent their horses ever going to slaughter, especially for a vigorous animal for which a good home ostensibly can’t be found.

In 2013, the American Veterinary Medical Association issued a 100-page document titled Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals in which it stated:  “AVMA policy supports the use of animals for various human purposes, and also recognizes the need to euthanize animals that are unwanted or unfit for adoption.”

Yet equine veterinarians don’t agree among themselves about acceptable end-of-life procedures.  To illustrate, Veterinarians for Equine Welfare is categorical in its stance:  “horse slaughter is inhumane, and …is an unacceptable way to end a horse’s life under any circumstance.  We believe that it is an unethical and dangerous practice for the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) to attempt to equate horse slaughter with humane euthanasia.”

Individual horse owners are left to determine for themselves if it is the right course of action to euthanize a healthy animal rather than risk selling or giving it away.  For instance, as for risk, a slaughterhouse buyer may use an intermediary to pose as a well-intentioned person looking to obtain an off-the-track Thoroughbred for a relative or friend.  Moreover, even a caring new home could turn out to be otherwise if the owner experiences financial hardship and becomes desperate to get out from under the expenses of maintaining the horse.

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A Thoroughbred owner can choose to view a horse as a tangible asset to be employed in breeding or racing.  In this bottom-line philosophy of doing business, the animal is just another balance-sheet item to be gradually depreciated on the books and then sold for salvage value.

An alternative perspective holds that a Thoroughbred is a noble flesh-and-blood creature capable of providing its owner with monetary and psychological rewards.  Under this concept, horses that cannot compete on the racetrack or succeed as breeding stock are not to be cast aside as scrap, but rather are to be provided for in a humane way.

The business of dog breeding and sales in the United States vividly illustrates these competing points of view.  On the one hand are puppy mills that sell privately or through pet shops and who tend to see dogs as products.  By stark contrast, responsible breeders temper their monetary goal of turning a profit with a deep and abiding lifetime concern for the welfare of their animals.  Conscientious breeders will almost always take back any dog they have bred and sold, even years later, though they do not refund the purchase price.  If the breeder cannot accept the dog, foster care is arranged until a good home can be found.

From a purely legal standpoint, a horse owner’s obligation to care for the animal ends once a sale takes place and the horse is transferred to new ownership, through a private transaction, at auction, or via a claim.  Yet some owners do not view their sense of duty to the horse as terminating with a sale and act similarly to responsible dog breeders.

Centennial Farms, an exemplary example, attaches a sticker to the registration papers of the horses acquired by its partnerships noting that the horses are not to go to slaughter and including a toll-free number to call.  Further, Centennial Farms horses are tracked throughout their careers and Centennial plays an active role in finding retirement homes; many are placed with members of the management team and partners.

Whereas it is naïve and unrealistic to believe that even most owners could or would accept lifetime responsibility for their animals, it is eminently practical to develop and promote facilitators, such as the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Connect, for those owners who do indeed seek good homes for their retired horses and need assistance in locating people looking to adopt.

Copyright © 2016 Horse Racing Business


Hackers have recently revealed private emails from a variety of VIP sources, including former Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Hillary Clinton, as well as the Democratic National Committee.  Now a website called Fancy Bear (thought to be a Russian group retaliating for the ban of Russian track and field athletes from the 2016 Olympic games) has joined in by leaking documents from the World Anti-Doping Agency pertaining to the medical and pharmaceutical records of prominent athletes, including both Williams sisters and Rafael Nadal (tennis), Simone Biles (gymnastics), Mo Farah (track and field), and Bradley Wiggins (cycling).

According to the Wall Street Journal, some athletes “obtained ‘therapeutic-use exemptions’ to take medicine with ingredients on the banned-substances list.”  In order to get exemptions, athletes must apply to “an independent panel for a ruling that the drugs are necessary and will level the playing field rather than provide an unfair advantage.”  If the exemptions are granted, they are not made public.

Therapeutic exemptions are viewed, understandably, by many as a way for athletes to gain an unfair advantage via performance-enhancing drugs.

The hacked documents demonstrate that formulating drug regulations (pun intended) for athletic competition is not nearly as straightforward as it seems.  In the case of the World Anti-Doping Agency, the rule banning performance-enhancing drugs can apparently be circumvented if an athlete can demonstrate a medical need, such as to treat asthma.  One Olympic-champion runner was given a health exemption to receive “an intravenous solution of saline, morphine, and vicodin.”  Is this a legitimate medical need?  Who could argue, scientifically, that the drugs were not performance enhancing?

This story has implications for North American horse racing.  While medication reform is certainly necessary and is highly commendable, pertinent practical questions need to be addressed.  For instance, would horse trainers and veterinarians be able to circumvent a race-day medication ban by making the case to an independent panel that an animal needs drug xyz for health reasons?  (That’s how furosemide started out, as an exception for horses prone to pulmonary bleeding.)  Imagine if the exemption was for “saline, morphine, and vicodin.”  How would bettors in particular and the public in general view a race winner that had this exemption?

“Okay, it wasn’t performance-enhancing, folks, it was just a little therapeutic medication to treat the colt’s health issues.  It didn’t give him an advantage, but rather, leveled the playing field.”  Tell that to the bettor whose horse ran second.

The point is:  the devil is in the details when it comes to medication reform in horse racing.

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