I am soooo glad that Brittany got her horse Scribbles back and that they both got a second chance together. What an amazing story! ~Declan
Cape teen rescues beloved horse from slaughterhouse
A Harwich teenager and the horse she grew up with have become a leading face of the latest national effort to ban slaughtering horses and exporting them for meat.
In a one-in-a-million happenstance, Brittany Wallace found her childhood companion, Scribbles, hours before the mare was to be shipped to Mexico or Canada to be killed and eaten.
Last month, Brittany testified in the U.S. Senate, telling the story of how her 17-year-old pet — born five days before she was — became lost and, in the nick of time, saved.
In an interview last week, Brittany said of transporting horses for slaughter, "It's honestly America's dirty little secret. ... It's happening every day, and unless we step up and do something, it's not going to stop."
The story of Brittany and Scribbles' reunion begins at 6 a.m. Nov. 13, and reads like a novel.
The Wallace family was awake early, comforting their much-loved dog, Kona, who was dying of kidney failure. Brittany went online to research a paper she was writing on horse slaughter. She saw a brown mare with a grisly leg wound on the Facebook page of Omega Horse Rescue and Rehabilitation in Pennsylvania, a nonprofit organization.
"I saw a picture of her head and I saw her eyes," Brittany said. "I told my mom, 'I think I found Scribbles.'"
Brown mares are as common as mud. Omega's founder, Kelly Smith, thought the Wallaces were another family carried away by wishful thinking. But she agreed to look for the scar they said would be on the horse's backside.
"I thought there's absolutely no way this is remotely possible. When you have a brown horse, there are just so many of them, maybe 200 to 300 a week. What are the chances? But I picked up the tail the next day and saw a half of a horseshoe scar, just as they had described. There were tears on both ends of the phone," Smith said.
Brittany's parents, Scott and Kay Wallace, said the family bought Scribbles for their daughter when she was 8½. "When she was a little girl, she would lay down in the paddock with Scribbles and a book. She and Brittany grew up together," Scott Wallace said.
With all the passion of a little girl with her own horse, Brittany taught Scribbles to bow, extending one leg and lowering her front half.
"I've reunited racehorses with their owners because racehorses have a tattoo on their lip. But I've never reunited a horse that had no visible (obvious) markings," Smith said in a telephone interview from Pennsylvania.
'It was incredible'
As the story circulated, via social media and a Pennsylvania newspaper, there were skeptics. One man called Smith a liar and accused her of working for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
But Smith was there the December night the Wallaces came to collect Scribbles.
"The horse knew them instantly. She knew her family. When Brittany went in the stall, (Scribbles) just started bowing and bowing and bowing. She went on and on. In all my years of dealing with horses, I have never witnessed what I saw that night. It was incredible," Smith said.
"I do believe things happen for a greater good. A horse who nearly lost her life brought a whole new awareness that sometimes people's horses are wanted; not all (horses in the kill pens) are old and ready to go to slaughter. Look at all the good that has come from this one situation."
The Humane Society of the United States used part of Brittany's March 12 testimony in a YouTube video, which urges passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to prohibit horse slaughter in the U.S. and end the export of more than 150,000 American horses a year that are slaughtered as food for human consumption. The bill was introduced this year in the Senate by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. A similar bill was introduced in the House by Reps. Patrick Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.
"We have made ending the slaughter of America's horses for human consumption one of our top priorities," Keith Dane, the society's director of equine protection, said in a written statement. "Americans don't eat horses, and 80 percent of voters strongly oppose slaughtering horses for their meat. That's because American horses are our trusted companions and partners in recreation, work and sport — not dinner."
The Wallaces said they sold Scribbles to another Cape farm after Brittany, now 17, got older and started riding more competitively. But the family retained the right of first refusal, meaning they could buy Scribbles back if they didn't approve of anyone else trying to buy her. They visited for a couple of years, but found the horse gone one day. Kay Wallace said no one could explain where she was.
The Wallace family had actually adopted another horse from the feedlot at New Holland, Pa., never dreaming they would one day find their brown mare there.
Dealing with horse traders
Every week for the past 25 years, Smith has visited the New Holland pens where scores of horses await auction, most of them destined for transporters who buy them and truck them to Mexico or Canada, where they are slaughtered as meat.
She gets praise, and hate mail, for the relationship she has developed with horse traders, who generally sell horses to her nonprofit organization for $50 over what they paid. For Scribbles, it was $360 and finding a vet to sew up the artery she had hurt in her leg.
"We buy horses healthy enough to be rehabilitated for a second chance or old and sick enough that we're able to euthanize them humanely," Smith said of Omega, which has saved an estimated 2,000 horses from the feedlot and seen some of them go on to win national competitions.
There are other rescue organizations, including Helping Hearts and Camelot, which try to find homes for animals from the New Jersey auctions. On the Cape, more and more people are providing those homes.
Deb Bell, who had her first horse growing up in Cotuit, co-owns the Don't Forget Us Pet Us farm in North Dartmouth with Jill Tigano. They recently adopted two miniature donkeys after seeing them on the Helping Hearts website. Jeremy the donkey visited Newtown, Conn., in January to comfort the families of rescue workers after the school shooting that killed 20 children and six adults.
Stephanie Miller of Harwich, who has a barn in Marstons Mills, found her first horse, Jasper, on a rescuer's website, as time was running out.
"I couldn't get my credit card in fast enough. They were literally loading my horse on the truck at 2:30 a.m. when my card went through," Miller said.
Horse meat dangers
Fueled by social media, the effort is growing steadily, but rescued animals are a tiny percentage of the estimated 150,000 horses a year being exported for human consumption.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Animal Behavior Department of Clinical Sciences at Tufts University, emphasizes that he speaks as an individual, not representing the university, when he speaks out against the inhumanity of slaughtering horses — some of whom are cut up while still alive, he said — and of the dangers of people eating horse flesh.
"All horses, but especially racehorses, are given drugs the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have deemed unfit for human consumption," Dodman said, rattling off a list of substances such as painkillers found in retired racehorses as they make the "seven days from stable to table" trip.
In 2006, Dodman testified on behalf of HR503, a proposal to federally ban the slaughter of horses in the United States and the export of horses for slaughter. It passed the House of Representatives but was not taken up in the Senate.
Although the federal law failed to move forward, a combination of state bans and public opinion has effectively shut down U.S. horse slaughter facilities since 2007. But this year, Oklahoma's House and Senate have each passed bills designed to end the state's 50-year-old ban and allow a facility to open that would package horse meat for export to other countries. The Associated Press reported last month that the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Oklahoma Quarter Horse Racing Association have each offered support. Proponents of the Oklahoma move say a local facility could ensure humane deaths and prevent neglect and abuse.
But opponents say horses are fight-or-flight animals who know they are facing slaughter, and that it is inhumane to make them face a tortured end. They should be retired, supporters say, and, when medically necessary, euthanized, rather than being sent en masse to a slaughterhouse.
Brittany Wallace, who is back home in Harwich with Scribbles, is trying to garner support for the SAFE Act. She urges anyone who wants to help to contact their legislators; learn more about the issue through the Humane Society, the Animal Welfare Institute and horse rescue sites on social media; or email her firstname.lastname@example.org.