Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

This was the title of a rather depressing movie directed by Sydney Pollack in 1969. Starring Jane Fonda and Michael Sarrazin, the film delves into the lives, lost hope, and struggle for redemption of two young people sucked into the dream-crushing and soul-destroying grist mill of depression-era Hollywood.

Jane Fonda plays Gloria, a suicide survivor who dreams of being an actress. Michael Sarrazin is Robert, an aspiring but struggling film director whose 'big break' inexplicably eludes him. Robert and Gloria meet and decide to enter a dance marathon. It is everything it is billed to be -- a cruel trial of the human spirit, an endurance test for the forlorn and desperate.

The dance marathon proceeds, hour upon weary hour. Robert and Gloria struggle to stay on their feet, to stay awake, to keep moving, to keep hoping. The longer they dance, the more Gloria's spirit weakens. She ponders death, suicide, mercy killing. "They shoot horses, don't they?" she pleads.

For the record, no actual horses were harmed in the making of this movie.

Would that we could say the same for the rash of abandoned horses that are turning up in the Fraser Valley and the lower B.C. mainland.

It appears that the looming recession in Canada, sparked by an international banking and credit crisis, is already evidenced in the abandonment of animals that owners can no longer afford to feed or care for. Ordinarily we might expect to hear stories about cats and dogs being returned to local shelters. But in the lower B.C. mainland, there is increased concern regarding abandoned horses.

"More Abandoned Horses Feared" reports the Abbotsford News.

The story is told from the perspective of Kevan Garecki, a horse hauler who rescues abandoned horses in Langley, B.C. Garecki says that he is starting to get calls more frequently from people who want him to come and pick up their horse because they can no longer afford the upkeep. Sometimes it's a riding horse, but occasionally it may even be a race horse. He even fielded a call from a fellow who had two former race horses, and wanted Garecki to tell him if there was a field somewhere where he could drop them off. (Can't you just feel the love?)

But what Garecki worries about most is the rise of the phony rescue agencies.

Garecki fears significant numbers of local owners with horses they can no longer feed will start giving them up to rescue agencies or other buyers.

“It’s definitely becoming more prevalent,” he said of the queries he’s getting. “Within the last six months there has been a noticeable increase.”

He managed to help find the Aldergrove race horses space at one of the handful of Fraser Valley horse rescue societies he trusts. They have since been adopted out to good homes.

But Garecki says there are less-reputable farms in the region claiming to save horses.

“There are a number of people who have set up shop, calling themselves horse rescues when really all they are is glorified meat brokers,” he said.

“They’re taking advantage of this situation, taking horses in on the auspices of re-homing, and then they just turn around and sell them for whatever they can get.”

That typically means sending the horses to auction, where many are bought for meat and sent to a slaughterhouse in Fort Macleod, Alberta.

According to the Abbotsford News, the BC SPCA says that it has not yet observed an increase in horse abandonment for itself.

But if Garecki's experience is borne out as the economy continues to limp along, then the answer to Gloria's question, alas, can only be "Yes, they do."

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