Some readers may have seen a recent parody video produced by The Onion, that offers some important (though likely coincidental) insights into the world of human-animal relationships.
The video I am referring to is a ‘news clip’ that features the ‘parents’ of gymnast Shawn Johnson explaining their difficult decision to ‘euthanize’ Shawn with ‘a quick shot to the head’ after she suffered an injury that would have put an end to her career.
The video itself is humorous, but also very profound, as it shines a stark light on commonly-held prejudices by humans toward non-humans.
As explained by Professor Gary Francione:
“By applying the language that we hear when injured race horses are ‘put down’ in a context involving a human, we get an interesting insight into how even those who claim to ‘love’ animals often commodify them and regard them exclusively as means to our ends.”
As the video demonstrates, animals used for human entertainment are viewed as any other commodity – as expendable items, not as living beings with an interest in the preservation of their lives.
Horse racing in the United States is a 40 billion dollar business. As is the case with the animal food industry, that degree of profitability essentially makes the industry exempt from the restrictions of animal welfare laws, which exist (in theory) to protect animals from unnecessary suffering.
Despite the fact that animals are injured and killed on the race track every day, the general public seems quite happy to ignore the fact that this brutality occurs for no acceptable reason. Horse racing exists only to serve the selfish desires of people who, for some reason inconceivable to me, refuse to see that these animals are being forced to put their lives on the line, simply so humans can experience the thrill of betting and watching them race around a track. Every day, people who are otherwise kind, decent and in other ways quite civilized, have no qualms about watching animals be forced to run – literally at break-neck speed – risking their lives for human entertainment.
As stated in the New York Daily News:
“As long as mankind demands that [horses] run at high speeds under stressful conditions, horses will die at racetracks.”
Horse racing is, simply put, a socially acceptable form of animal abuse.
Although there have been a number of occurrences where the hearts of ‘fans’ around the world have been won over by injured ‘celebrity horses’, these stories, as tragic as they are, are only the tip of the iceberg. Barbaro and Eight Belles – two recent examples of high-profile animals euthanized after having their limbs broken – were but two of over a thousand horses every year in the US alone who end their lives as sacrifices on the altar of human entertainment.
In horse racing and (the even more dangerous) steeplechase jumping, injuries such as those inflicted on Barbaro and Eight Belles are not only commonplace, but moderate, compared to some of the more horrific endings to the lives of horses, as this powerful 90-second video produced by Animal Aid demonstrates.
According to a 2008 Associated Press survey,
“Thoroughbred racetracks in the U.S. reported more than three horse deaths a day last year and 5,000 since 2003, and the vast majority were put down after suffering devastating injuries on the track… Countless other deaths went unreported because of lax record keeping.”
This number does not even include horses who were killed simply because they had grown beyond the age where they were able to compete. What happens to horses who are no longer ‘useful’ for racing? For the most part, they are either sold for breeding or they are sent to slaughter for human and animal consumption. According to Gary Francione, approximately 75 percent of all racehorses end up at the slaughterhouse.
As stated on ABC News Online,
“Of the 80,000 horses shipped out of the United States to slaughter each year, horse advocates estimate 10 percent (8,000 per year) are former race horses… The most famous example may be Ferdinand, who won the 1986 Kentucky Derby, and was later slaughtered in Japan for food.”
Horses must think humans have a strange way of showing appreciation.
Laurie Lane is the New Jersey chapter president of ReRun, an organization that pays farms to rehabilitate race horses.
“I think it’s a terrible injustice,” Lane said. “Because I don’t think you’d do it to a football player that won a Super Bowl one year and hurt his shoulder the next year.”
But again, this brings us back to the initial issue, which is that when it comes to animals, our collective moral conscience is in a state of serious atrophy.
As Professor Francione articulates:
“We think that it is acceptable for us to use animals as long as we treat them ‘humanely’… As the Onion video demonstrates, we would regard that as absurd in the human context… It is only our speciesism that makes us unable to see that it is equally absurd in the animal context.”
There are a few basic rights that all animals ought to be afforded. Even the legal language of this country states that animals are entitled to live a life free from unnecessary suffering.
As Francione states in his book, ‘Introduction to Animal Rights’,
“Whatever differences we may otherwise have, we must agree that if the prohibition against unnecessary suffering is to have any meaning at all, it is morally and legally wrong to inflict suffering on animals merely for our amusement or pleasure.”
I would hope that everyone reading this would agree that this kind of cruelty in human entertainment is not ‘necessary’. I am confident that everyone would agree that experiencing broken legs, broken ankles, broken necks, broken backs and eventual death can rightly be described as ‘suffering’.
The stubborn prejudice of horse-racing apologists is summed up perfectly by one horse trainer, quoted online as saying:
“Animals don’t have a say in it, but when they get to this level, they have a pretty good deal going.”
I understand that this is referring to the care that racehorses receive while they are still valuable to their owners. Obviously, there is a lot of time that goes into keeping a prized horse fit for racing. But I think anyone would be hard-pressed to believe that there was any ‘good deal’ going for Eight Belles, Barbaro or any of the other 5000 racehorses who were killed between 2005 and 2008.
He is right about one thing, however. Not a single one of these animals had any say in it.
Originally published on Care2.com