The Canadian Horse Defence Coalition was founded in 2004 for the sole purpose of ending the horrific practice of horse slaughter in Canada and the export of live horses for the same purpose. As a committed vegan, I am opposed to the exploitation of any living being, so it was after a great deal of thought that I decided to develop a campaign to specifically help the horse. There were several reasons for my decision. One, I had been involved in the rescue of PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) foals since 1997 and had horses of my own. These animals had touched my heart simply because I spent a lot of time observing their ways and trying to learn their language. They had impressed me as being intelligent, intuitive, and loyal. I could tell many stories about how wonderful they are, but one easily illustrates the depth and sensitivity of horses:
On a cold, slippery winter day, I slid down to the paddock to give my horses, Montana and Misty, their feeding of hay. Right after I had thrown the flakes of hay into the feeder, I slipped and fell on my back. Misty, who had grabbed a mouthful of hay as it was dropped, stopped in mid-chew and left the feeder to lean over the fence toward me. When I eased myself to my feet, she carefully inspected my back, up and down. It was clear that she was concerned about the accident and wanted to make sure that I was not badly injured. Of course, horses themselves, being "prey" or "flight" animals, are extremely concerned about falling, thereby making themselves vulnerable to predators. She had extended that concern to me. I then realized that I was part of the herd.
I also felt that stopping the slaughter of horses (possibly humankind's "third best friend" after the dog and the cat) seemed to be an easier battle than asking the country to stop eating meat altogether. Of course, there is nothing less cruel about the mass butchery of cows, pigs, sheep, and other sentient beings, I argued with myself. But horses are "flight" animals with long, mobile necks; they become agitated very easily, and are thus extemely difficult to kill humanely. For this reason, their suffering in the stun box, I reasoned, may be more prolonged than that of other species. But, in truth, they ALL suffer and are terrified, I countered. Slaughter is inherently wrong, no matter who the target. It is the ultimate act of betrayal toward another living being with whom we share the earth.
The horse won, at least for the time being, because I had to start somewhere.
First, I decided to gauge public opinion in Canada on the topic of horse slaughter. In May 2004, an Ipsos-Reid poll showed that 2/3 (64%) of Canadians are opposed to the slaughter of horses for human consumption. This was a healthy majority (even with very little public awareness work having been conducted in Canada up to that point), so I knew that a campaign could be launched with confidence. The next job at hand would to let the world know how Canadian citizens feel about horses being slaughtered for meat, so a media release was sent out and a website started, Canadian Horse Defence Coalition. The response was nothing short of amazing. E-mails and telephone calls began to pour in. Horse lovers from all over the country, even from the United States (where the battle to stop horse slaughter had already been raging for years) contacted CHDC to offer their help and support. The movement to stop horse slaughter seemed to develop a power of its own. It would be several years before the coalition would become a dissemination arm for undercover work conducted at Canadian equine slaughterhouses. In the meantime, we organized ourselves with a board of directors and several strong writers who cranked out articles and letters to government and to other organizations. Some excellent donors stepped forward with their support. We started to send out "alerts" in order to let supporters know how they could help. Through the assistance of an international society called WildAid, we were able to do a launch of our campaign to end horse slaughter in Canada: the spokesperson was actor Bo Derek, well-known for her advocacy work for horses and wildlife. By this time we had secured hundreds of supporters, and their numbers continue to grow.
I'm proud to be working with the amazing group of people who form the board of directors of CHDC. Although differences of opinion can occur, decisions are quickly made after democratic discussion, and no one is left feeling like they are "not heard". There appear to be no ego issues within the group. These are mature, sensitive - yet logical - individuals who share the same goal. Over the years, we have developed pat answers to deal with those from the other side of the fence who attempt to undermine our work. For example, pro-slaughter people are forever trying to pummel us with their propaganda, somehow thinking perhaps that we will cave to their arguments. A favourite question is, "What will happen to all the unwanted horses if you succeed in stopping horse slaughter?" We respond with a long list of where the so-called unwanted horses can go, but the most important point is the fact that an end to slaughter will automatically result in a reduction of careless breeding practices since the slaughter option will have been removed. We usually don't hear from those folks again, because they are often breeders who send their "culls" to slaughter.
When horse slaughter becomes a chapter in Canada's history books, we will still be working. CHDC runs a program called "Horse Protection Initiatives", which encourages the adoption of horses from qualified rescue centres (rather than from breeders), and assists with euthanasia costs for elderly, lame, sick and otherwise compromised horses who would benefit from a quiet, peaceful ending to life. We have talked about expanding this program to include assistance with gelding (castration) costs. There will be plenty to do when the gruesome, cruel practice of horse slaughter grinds to an end.
We have learned many things while running this campaign. These points seem to have worked for CHDC:
- Pick your battle. There are many issues out there
- pick one and vow to give it all you've got.
- Remain focused on your goal. There will be many diversions
- stay with it.
- Create a website.
- Gather your supporters by sending out alerts and involving media when you can.
- When you ask for donations, show your supporters how the money will be spent and what has been done with it in the past. A good track record of hard-hitting campaign work is effective. The public will appreciate those efforts and will know that if they donate to you, they will get results. This works better than begging for money.
- If your campaign involves lobbying the government, do it relentlessly. Write letters to the editor (and ask your supporters to) in order to create a good, strong grassroots presence. Arrange meetings with elected officials. Start a petition, but make it official
- stick to the government's rules if you want the petitions read in Parliament. Online petitions are great for public awareness.
- Don't give up. Remember what Mohandas (Mahatma) Gandhi said: "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win".