~ by Theresa Nolet, Critteraid’s Project Equus Coordinator ~
When you watch the footage of Atticus being led into the trailer to leave the Kamloops stockyard, it is difficult to imagine that this is a wild stallion from the scrubland of Deadman’s Valley. In fact, we were in awe of the ease of not handling this horse. When that trailer door closed and the truck pulled away, the tears came. They came because Atticus is a horse that so deserved to be saved from slaughter.
You will understand the strong sense of morality and justice that comes with the name “Atticus” if you’ve read the book, or seen the film, “To Kill A Mockingbird”. We call him “Atticus”, as a fitting start to the rescue of these horses from slaughter.
Does Atticus have any idea of what his fate would have been had Critteraid not intervened on his behalf and on behalf of the other horses? Some people say that once a horse gets to the stockyard for auction, they know – they sense the impending doom. Like human beings, some may clutch on to hope. As volunteers with Critteraid’s Project Equus, we can only speculate and retreat from the possibilities that might have been and quickly erase those thoughts from our heads as we concentrate on “what is”.
Atticus is our first Ministry horse. Steve Thompson, the Minister of Natural Resource Operations, used his discretionary power and had the horses surrendered to Critteraid. By taking this action, he changed the fate of these horses and prevented them from going to auction, which ultimately means, slaughter. They are auctioned for the price of meat. It is hard to believe that these incredible, free-spirited and magnificent beasts are reduced to such an end. The word “slaughter” simply cannot be candy-coated.
On the other hand, we also understand the hardship that the overpopulation of these horses creates upon the land itself. This situation is addressed at length in the Project Equus documents. The land cannot sustain the wild or feral horse populations. The increase in the number of horses on the land prevents the natural inhabitants of that land to flourish, let alone survive. That includes animal and plant life. From the overgrazing of the horses, the land becomes barren and can, and does, die. The law gives the Ministry the power and the authority to impound these horses and keep them for a period of ninety days to allow time for an owner to come forward and claim their horses. In most cases, nobody does come forward and the horses are then dispatched to whatever means are available. Up until now, we speculate that 99% of those horses were slaughtered. Bravo to Minister Thompson and the men and women of the Ministry of Natural Resource Operations for taking the road less traveled and allowing the alternative. It can’t have been an easy decision for them to make and we are truly grateful to them for their insight and courage to make this change.
Another part of Project Equus, and of equal importance, is the application of the equine birth control to the mares living freely on the land. Over the last few years, Critteraid has provided training for this application to one of the members of the Penticton Indian Band. The mares have to be darted with the vaccine and record keeping and cataloguing of the horses in this part of our program is vitally important to the success of Project Equus. By controlling the population of these horses without causing permanent sterilization to the mares, will allow the land to regain life. It addresses so many more possibilities that provide a future without horse slaughter as an option.
The receiving of these horses from Minister Thompson’s representatives in Kamloops was not an original part of Project Equus for Critteraid. In fact, it is our hope that horse rescue groups will continue to come forward as they are doing and work with us to care for, train and find good homes for the animals in our care. Our volunteers are working out protocols and will continue to develop procedures whereby working relationships with individuals and rescue groups will benefit the horses. In order to do this, we call upon the public’s help with financial contributions, foster homes for the horses after they complete their training, and permanent homes where individuals and families will provide the stability and care for these horses that were destined to be intertwined with people. And most of all, it provides the love and respect that they so deserve. We believe that these horses have souls, a belief that is shared with many, including First Nations peoples.
And we are off to a good start with Atticus. Our trainer, Darryl, says he is a fine, fine horse. He is smart and he is thoughtful – you can see him process what is happening and reason when Darryl works with him. Perhaps, most of all, he is trusting Darryl. One week later, he is wearing a halter and even has a horse blanket and a small, jockey saddle on his back. All this, from a wild stallion.