The use of double deck trailers for the transport of horses to slaughter facilities was banned effective December 7, 2006. However, until now current regulations pertaining to the ban have allowed for their use when horses are taken to a feedlot or other collecting facility, even when owned and operated by slaughter concerns.
Animals' Angels has persistently objected to the loophole, providing USDA officials with ample documentation of the cruelty involved in double deck transports. Now, in the recently released report from the Office of Inspector General (OIG), the USDA has promised to close the loophole.
According to the OIG Report, the USDA "has drafted a proposed rule that would increase its authority over slaughter horses being transported throughout the United States," noting that "currently, the program's regulations apply only to horses being shipped directly to a slaughter facility"
|Inside of Double Deck Trailer |
The proposed rule would require that horses are identified as slaughter horses at the sale barn (or any other location where the horses are being loaded on the trailer) and that the regulation which bans the use of double deckers would apply from that point forward. Explicitly the report states the new regulation will "include horses that are delivered to feedlots or intermediate holding facilities before being shipped across the border for slaughter."
The USDA states in the report the rule will be published by the end of the calendar year and implementation of this regulation will be immediate. However, until this promise is actually and fully fulfilled, hundreds of horses continue to suffer.
|Trailer at La Junta Auction |
The Animals' Angels investigation of the double deck transport of horses on October 29th and 30th supports yet again the complete, above-board revision of the rule and the closing the double decker loophole for good. AA investigators followed a double deck transport of horses from Winter Livestock Auction in La Junta, CO to a collecting station owned by well-known slaughter buyer Baker in Stroud, OK.
Kill buyers for Baker and Charlie Carter were present at the auction. Each bought 40 horses in minutes. Several of the horses were lame, several more were emaciated and one mare was very pregnant. Two foals were taken from their mothers. The buyer for Baker bought the mares and a private party took the foals.
|Horses in Kill Pen|
Investigators believe the impending use of a double decker was made worse by the response of the foals and mares. The separated foals seemed to go to pieces, crying shrilly for their mothers that were now in Baker's kill pen. The mares seemed equally distressed. Horses in the crowded pen became increasingly agitated and soon were fighting, kicking and biting each other.
The fighting continued even after the kill buyers' horses were moved to the loading pen. Baker's double decker pulled up and investigators realized these horses were to be transported on a double decker. The horses seemed to be in both 'fight' and 'flight' mode, alternating fighting with running to the rear of the pen away from the loading ramp where they were being forced. The horses were clearly very frightened to go on the steep ramp leading to the upper level of the trailer.
|Driver hitting horses at ramp|
The kill buyer drivers were immediately impatient, hitting the horses hard on face, head and back with their wooden stick. This continued for several minutes until the frightened and agitated animals finally rushed up the ramp. Once up there, AA investigators could hear them kicking the sides of the trailer and loudly hitting their heads on the low ceiling.
The drivers immediately began loading the lower deck despite the loud, hostile noises coming from the upper deck where horses were still kicking and fighting. The drivers again showing no patience used their sticks to excess as they attempted to move the horses forward, harshly jabbing the horses with their sticks through the holes of the trailer. Finally, all 40 horses were packed into the double decker.
|Foals calling for mothers |
The foals continued to cry out for their mothers throughout the ordeal. The horses were extremely unsettled as Baker's double decker pulled out at 3 p.m.
AA investigators followed at a distance. Once en route investigators felt their suspicions confirmed, that the truck was overweight, after the driver chose a less efficient route but one that skirted the scales in Lamar, CO.
After several hours on the road, investigators were able to check on the condition of the horses while the driver was eating.
|Horses on lower deck |
There was little to no space for the horses to move. Taller horses were forced to stand with their heads down low, readily subjecting them to head and eye injuries from the kicking of other horses. The horses were still very agitated.
The Baker double decker arrived at the Stroud, OK collecting station at 2 a.m. The horses were unloaded in the pitch black. Investigators were unable to see to observe the unloading and the condition of the horses.
Investigators returned the next morning. The truck from La Junta was still parked in the chute area. Two other trucks were parked on the premises with Baker's DOT number. Investigators estimated 200 horses in the pens. Several had the green USDA slaughter tag attached.
|Baker Collecting Station |
Though AA investigators were observing the facility from a public road, they were suddenly confronted by a man in a pick-up and ordered to leave. Minutes later a law enforcement vehicle arrived, following them until they crossed the county line.
This investigation provides additional support for the promised revisions to USDA regulations that would close the double decker loophole. We found the use of double deck trailers for slaughter horses is still common despite the fact that it is inhumane, and both dangerous for horses and a threat to public safety. Our observations confirm that the taller horses are unable to stand normally and therefore at greater risk of suffering from injuries and exhaustion.
Animals' Angels strongly supports new USDA regulations if they perform as promised. A complete and total ban of double deck trailers for any transport of any horses is long overdue.