| Kate Thurlow of Roxbury with two friends. Photograph by Laurie Gaboardi|
The horses that are destroyed in the foreign plants are done so not for their sticky, gelatinous cartilage (which can be converted into glue-thus the phrase "glue factory"-or mixed into gelatin), but for the meat on their bones, which in countries such as France and Japan is a delicacy that sells for $20 per pound or more.
But horse activists across America still fight to see that horses, so many of which are young and healthy, don't find their way to the chopping block.
Kate Thurlow, a Roxbury resident who in the past five months has rescued five horses from becoming another person's dinner, is one such activist. In a New Milford stable she rents from a New York City family, Ms. Thurlow tends to six horses (she already owned one) on her own dime and her own time.
"I do what I can," said Ms. Thurlow. "But I can't do everything, as I'm limited on time, space and money." She only has five stalls in the stable she rents. Two of the horses are ponies, so they are small enough to share a stall.
Ms. Thurlow spends between 50 and 60 hours a week caring for the animals, and she shoulders the financial burden by selling antiques over the Internet. As Ms. Thurlow nuzzles up to Luna, a 4-year-old brown mare, she seems to love every minute of it.
What would be a grueling chore for many is a moral obligation, even a pleasure, for Ms. Thurlow. She's so dedicated to these animals that she even has a couch in the stable, just in case a horse gets sick and she has to stay the night to be near it.
"If I had more room, believe me, I'd have more horses," she said, lamenting the fact that she can't afford more stalls.
Ms. Thurlow, who is 25, has been working with horses in some capacity for the past two decades.
She obtained the rescued equines-Luna, Chuck, Mack, Ruger and Panser-through the organization Another Chance for Horses, which attends horse auctions in Pennsylvania to outbid buyers who would potentially sell the animals to a slaughterhouse.
Ms. Thurlow believes many people are under the misconception that destroyed horses are decrepit, diseased or dangerous creatures that need to be put out of their misery. But almost all of the horses she has rescued are still in the prime of their lives; Panser is only 2, and Luna is 4.
Christy Sheidy, the co-founder of Another Chance for Horses, said that USDA studies found that of all the horses slaughtered, 90 percent of them are in perfectly good shape.
"These slaughter plants try to make it sound like they take care of our unwanted horses," said Ms. Sheidy. "But they don't do evaluations on the personality or disposition of a horse, so how do they know if they are taking care of our dangerous horses?"
Ms. Sheidy has operated her organization, which saves as many as 1,000 equines annually, for the past 15 years. She speaks highly of Ms. Thurlow and the work that she does, because Ms. Thurlow is ultimately interested in rehabilitating horses and getting them to good homes.
But Ms. Sheidy has divorced herself from the grief that may haunt others in her line of work. Though she says horses have "always been a passion of mine," she is also concerned about the irresponsible nature of some horse owners and the negative impact it has on the economy.
As she explains it, the upkeep of a single horse will bring a lifetime of revenue circulating through the American market. But by selling the animal to a slaughter plant, it's a one-time payment that winds up in a foreigner's pocket.
Here's how it happens: A trainer buys a young horse for tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of dollars. If that investment doesn't pan out as hoped, meaning a horse can't race or show efficiently, then its owner may choose to put the horse up for auction, which is a considerable loss on the investment but cheaper than paying for upkeep.
The unwanted equines are auctioned off, every single Monday, for a nominal price. Luna, before she was saved, went for $250. Once the horses are secured, the buyer then sells them for double the auction sale price to the slaughterhouse. After the animals are shipped across the border, which the slaughterhouses pay for, they have their throats slit and are hung upside down to drain their blood. The meat is then flash-frozen and sent overseas.
"It's horrible," said Ms. Thurlow. "It is absolutely disgusting, and it turns my stomach just to think about it."
Indeed, it is a grisly death for these equines, unless activists outbid other buyers or work with the buyers to prevent the exportation of the animals. But many horse lovers hold out hope that all this will come to an end soon.
Just last week, congressmen John Conyers (D-MI) and Dan Burton (R-IN) introduced the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act (HR503) to the U.S. House. If approved, this bill would prevent the deportation of animals to foreign slaughterhouses. This isn't the first introduction of a bill to prevent further horse cruelty. Perhaps HR503 will succeed where the others failed.
If not, Ms. Thurlow may have to find a way to afford more stables. The horse-rights activist can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.