Rescuing Remy: Horse found at auction begins new life at CAPE
October 14, 2016
Spending the afternoon at an animal auction recently was one of the worst and one of the best experiences of my life; it had a decidedly Dickensian feel.
Early one Friday afternoon in September, JP Novic, the executive director of the Center for Animal Protection and Education, Erin Colvin, Ramona Howard and I left Grass Valley headed for the Central Valley town of Escalon.
The hope was to rescue a horse to bring back to the CAPE sanctuary.
A memorial fund at CAPE had been set up in honor of Rafael, a horse rescued from Mexico in 2015. After living at the sanctuary for 10 months, Rafael died in July due to the abuse and neglect he suffered while forced to work as a beast of burden on the streets of Juarez.
The funds are earmarked for the rescue and care of equines in dire situations involving neglect and abuse, or in danger of being slaughtered. This horse would be the first recipient of Rafi's legacy.
While paying to rescue animals isn't embraced by many animal welfare organizations — they consider it feeding the very system they are working to change — CAPE has a differing philosophy.
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Novic explained that CAPE's mission lies in rescuing individual animals — and sometimes that leads to such places as animal auctions.
Entering another world
Once we arrived at the auction grounds, we saw goats, sheep, and cattle crowded in small pens — hundreds of them, from young to old. Many were crying out in fear and confusion.
One cow was drooling profusely, barely able to stand, with her udder hanging to the ground. Her suffering was heartbreaking.
When we first saw the horse, who would later be named Remy, in a holding pen, he was standing with his head down, appearing to be in pain. Two of his legs were badly swollen; his hooves severely overgrown. When he tried to walk, we could tell he was severely lame.
While watching Remy, we met a woman who was a frequent visitor to this particular auction. She was invaluable in helping our group navigate the auction process.
She summed up her feelings about the needless suffering we were witnessing in front of us.
"If these people had any compassion at all, they would just shoot them and put them out of their misery," she said.
It was clear we had stepped into another world where empathy and compassion were not part of the vocabulary, at least not where these animals were concerned.
Obviously ill animals were paraded across the ring, grouped with healthier ones. A ewe with a broken leg, and another with a maggot-filled wound covering half its face were thrown in the mix. The health of the animals didn't seem to factor in the bidding; they were being auctioned off at a per-pound price — a clear reminder of their ultimate fate.
Auctioned on their own, unhealthy or old animals would fetch as little as $5 each.
A frightened ewe was not cooperating by walking around the ring, even after being hit repeatedly with a paddle. She scrambled along the walls, trying to find a safe place. The auction employee picked her up by the ear repeatedly to get her to the other side of the ring.
The number of acts of violence we witnessed was overwhelming. I found it startling that the well-being of these sentient creatures was of so little value to so many.
Making a decision
The decision to bid on Remy was based on observations of his condition, a conversation between Novic and CAPE's veterinarian, an abundance of compassion and an ironclad gut feeling. We all wanted to give him a chance at life. In our minds, he was already a CAPE horse — now to make it a reality.
The horse in the pen next to Remy was strong and muscular. We were told he was a product of a college breeding program and was no longer of any use to them. He proved to be popular in the ring, with several people joining in the bidding.
Not so for Remy; we had only one opponent. Something told me the man wasn't looking to acquire the horse for the same reasons we were. Was he seriously in the market for a horse that would need a lot of veterinary care to rehabilitate? It didn't seem likely.
Each year more than 150,000 American horses are slaughtered for human consumption, according to the ASPCA website.
While the way has once again been cleared by Congress for opening slaughterhouses in the U.S., horses continue to be shipped across the borders into Mexico and Canada to be processed for meat.
In a study commissioned by the USDA, Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University, found that more than 92 percent of horses sent to slaughter were capable of living productive lives. They may no longer be fit for rodeo work or able to win a race, but they still can lead a good life.
Grandin's recommendations included, "educate horse owners that they are responsible for the welfare of their horse.
If they do not want it to go to slaughter, they should not sell a lame or old horse at an auction or to a dealer."
The winning bid
Once bidding started for Remy, the already low initial bid dropped by half instantly. An employee of the auction, who earlier had answered our questions about the horse, signaled to the auctioneer, halting the price's free fall. She knew we were interested. The rest of the bidding went by in a blur. That split second after it ended, I remember thinking, what if we weren't able to save this horse?
The auctioneer then confirmed that we did indeed have the winning bid. There was a collective sigh of relief. Remy would have his chance.
After the bid was paid and his papers acquired, Ramona and Erin escorted Remy through the gate into the parking lot. As the horse stepped into the trailer, the full impact of the day hit, and tears welled up.
It was just the beginning, though; Remy still had hurdles to cross. Could his current health issues be successfully treated?
CAPE's veterinarian checked him out the morning after he arrived at the sanctuary.
Good news! She felt that his issues could be treated, with a good outcome likely. He received medication for his badly abscessed hooves, the swelling in his legs and to relieve his pain.
The vet confirmed he is a thoroughbred, approximately 25 years old. A number tattooed inside his upper lip is an indication that he was registered for the racetrack. If the blurred numbers can be deciphered, more detailed information on his history will be available.
Remy's health continues to improve each day. With the recent addition of shoes to his front hooves, he is now walking more comfortably. He is at ease in his new surroundings, settling into the pasture he shares with six rescued burros. He is sweet, well-mannered and enjoys the abundance of attention he receives.
There is much to be learned from Remy and the experiences he has suffered through. He was the victim of neglect, survived the animal auction process, and escaped the fate that awaits many retired race horses. I can't imagine a more gentle, patient teacher.
Welcome to the good life, sweet Remy. We all are grateful you are here.
To contact graphic designer Kim Midboe, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4251. She is a volunteer at CAPE and Animal Place, both in Grass Valley.