Greenland boy fights for horses
9-year-old Declan Gregg inspired to join effort for humane treatment of equines
GREENLAND — A shy, soft-spoken local boy is raising his voice to tell his representatives in Concord and Washington that horse slaughter is cruel and inhumane.
Nine-year-old Declan Gregg has already testified in front of the N.H. House Environment and Agriculture Committee and next month will travel with his mother, Stacie Gregg, to Washington, D.C., to present letters to Congress as part of the Million Horse March children's letter-writing campaign to stop horse slaughter.
Horse slaughter is a controversial topic in the United States. Though horse meat is not typically consumed in this country, it is considered a delicacy in places like France, Belgium and Japan, according to Joanne Bourbeau, northeastern regional director for the Humane Society of the United States.
Teresa Paradis, executive director of Live and Let Live Farm agricultural animal rescue in Chichester, said meat from horses raised in the United States is poisonous and not fit for human consumption. That is because horses are regularly given Butozone, a pain killer and anti-inflammatory, and other drugs that humans should not ingest, Paradis said.
Joan Ganotis, a North Hampton resident and member of the N.H. Horse Council, said the horse slaughter controversy is multifaceted. She is not a proponent of horse slaughter, but said there are many horses starving to death in their owners' yards.
"To me, a humane slaughter is much kinder to the animal than letting him starve to death in your back yard," she said.
Ganotis said people who want to own a horse often do not consider the significant costs. A horse will go through a $5 bale of hay in a day or two, eat a $12 bag of grain every two weeks, need hoof trimmings every six to eight weeks for $25 to $35 and horseshoes that cost $100 or more. Beyond that, horses need shots every spring at $200 to $300, teeth care, supplements and vitamins and other checkups, she said.
"They're not like a bicycle," she said. "Even in the winter when you're not riding them you've still got to feed them. You've still got to take care of them."
She and Paradis both recommended measures to promote responsible horse breeding. Ganotis said those in the thoroughbred industry often breed horses to excess and that there should be a breed registry with limits on the number of horses that can be registered in a year.
Bourbeau said that many people who give up their horses to auction do not realize that someone in the slaughter business has a good chance of buying them. She said the responsibility is on the owner to euthanize a horse rather than give it up for auction.
"More than 92 percent of those that go to slaughter are actually in good condition and could be re-homed," she said.
According to habitatforhorses.org, proponents of slaughter argue that it is done humanely, provides disposal for unwanted horses for poor people and that only sick, old and injured horses are sent to slaughter.
However, the Web site states undercover films reveal horses led to slaughter are often subjected to prolonged suffering. Panicked horses are often prodded and beaten off a truck and onto a "kill-chute," and improper use of stunning equipment means horses sometimes endure repeated blows and remain conscious during the process, which includes throat slitting.
"There is no way to humanely slaughter a horse," Bourbeau said. "They're a very different animal than (those typical of the slaughter industry). It's just horrific, horrific deaths for these animals."
The descriptions of slaughtering disgusted Stacie Gregg, who volunteers at the N.H. Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Stratham. She said she was researching the issue when her son became curious and asked if he could do anything to help.
"I could tell she was working really hard on something," he said. "I personally didn't think (horse slaughter) was right. I thought it was inhumane."
So Declan, who enjoys spending time with horses such as Barney and Betty at the SPCA, got to work. He created a blog that he updates regularly at www.children4horses.blogspot.com. He also went to Concord last month to testify about House Bill 1446, a bill relative to the meat inspection program that would except equine meat from inspection, processing and sale.
The bill would protect horses from one passed last year to establish a state meat inspection system. That bill, HB 339, was intended to help farmers who would like to send livestock to a slaughterhouse but inadvertently applied the provisions to horses as well, advocates said.
"The good news in New Hampshire is I'm sure they were not intending for horse slaughter to come here commercially," said Suzanne Bryant, barn manager at the SPCA.
Gregg will travel to Washington, D.C., next month for a three-day trip. The intent is to deliver letters to Congress showing lawmakers how many people care about the issue. There is a bill in Congress, HR 2966, known as the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act of 2011, that would prohibit horse slaughter in the United States and make illegal the shipping of horses to other countries for slaughter. Horses today are sent to Canada and Mexico, where they can be legally slaughtered.
Gregg's goal is to get 115 letters before his trip, "but I think I'll get a lot more than that," he said.
The SPCA is assisting his effort by sponsoring a letter-writing party at its Portsmouth Avenue facility March 18.
Bourbeau, who saw Gregg's testimony before the N.H. House Environment and Agriculture Committee, said she was impressed with how genuinely he spoke to the issue.
"He obviously feels very passionately about this issue and it shows," she said. "It's very intimidating the first time you do that. I thought it was really brave of him."
Stacie Gregg said she is glad her son is learning to speak up for what he believes in. "He just wants to be able to tell his government that he thinks it's inhumane and cruel," she said. "It's been great to see him find his voice. He's kind of a quiet kid. This is really coming out of his shell for him."
Help Declan's Cause
Send letters opposing horse slaughter to PO Box 614, Greenland, NH 03840
Letter-writing party at the N.H. SPCA
When: Sunday, March 18, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: N.H. SPCA, 104 Portsmouth Ave., Stratham
What: SPCA is hosting a party to help Declan Gregg acquire letters written by children opposed to horse slaughter, which he will bring to Washington, D.C., to present to lawmakers