Horse slaughter facility could be real possibility in Oklahoma

TULSA - Blue Ribbon Downs in Sallisaw isn't what it used to be.

"We call it deadtown," said Jim Brooks, a horse trainer. "I used to have the whole barn, even at one time I had 91 (horses) in training."

Now Brooks has nine.

He says the track, which isn't even open to the public, and the price of horses have seen a sharp decline.

"Just the common horse, you don't get nothing for them," said Brooks.

He says a friend sold three of his horses for $5.10 -- total.

Brooks said some horse owners are looking for other options.

"A lot of people take them to the bottoms and different places and turn them out cause they can't afford to feed them and they know what it's going to cost to get rid of them," said Brooks.

Sen. Mark Allen, R-Spiro, wants to do something about both problems.

"I'd like to see this track come back to life," said Allen. "It is the life blood of eastern Oklahoma, not just Sequoyah County, but LeFlore County, Adair County."

That's why Allen wants a horse processing facility in eastern Oklahoma.

"I think this is more humane than actually just turning them loose and setting them out there to starve," he said.

Allen's wish could come soon be a possibility.

Last November, President Barack Obama lifted the ban on horse slaughter by signing a bill that would no longer prohibit the USDA from funding horse meat inspections.

Inspections are required for a slaughter house to exist.
    
Allen has already contacted Wyoming State Rep. Sue Wallis, who created Unified Equine LLC and is working to open several slaughter facilities around the country, including Oklahoma.

"Horses are suffering mightily from a lack of a humane option," said Wallis.

Wallis says slaughter is the answer to the horse problem. She says it will revive the industry and improve the lives of horses.

The meat would be sold overseas for consumption.

"Horses with value get handled, they get taken care of, they get fed," said Wallis. "If they have no value there are no options left.  As a result, the horses suffer."

She's got her eye on both sides of the state.

"We also have a plant that is in the Oklahoma City area that we are negotiating on right now and should be coming online by the end of the summer," said Wallis.

But there is opposition.

"I don't think the people of Oklahoma will stand for a slaughter plant opening here," said Cynthia Armstrong, the Oklahoma representative for the Humane Society of the United States.

Armstrong works closely with Blaze's Tribute Horse Rescue, owned and run by Natalee Cross, where nearly 900 horses have been rescued in the past 10 years, said Cross.

Blaze's is the largest horse rescue in the state. The current tally of horses saved by Blaze's is 863, said Cross. 

She says abuse and neglect are not going to stop if slaughter becomes an option.

"These people who do this to these horses would not have utilized a slaughter plant had it been in their backyard," said Cross. "Every single one of these horses that you're seeing when they get confiscated in an animal cruelty case, these people fight, hire an attorney, fight and try to gain their animals back because they don't physically see they've done anything wrong."

Cross says over-breeding is the problem and if it stops the industry will recover.

"Animals are abused everyday, dogs and cats are abused everyday," she said. "Are we going to slaughter those for consumption overseas? No, I mean, let's be realistic."

Since the ban was lifted, potential facilities in New Mexico and Missouri have applied to the USDA for a grant of inspection.

USDA officials say their agency still needs "significant" time to update the testing process and has not specified how soon they plan to do any inspections.

There is also pending legislation in the US House to ban the funding once again.

Watch the full story from 2NEWS Reporter Breanne Palmerini tonight at 10 p.m. in Segment 2.

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