The Kill Pen: Shipping horses to slaughter

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BASTROP, La. (KNOE 8 News) - In part 2 of this special report, we continue talks about the Bastrop Louisiana Kill Pen and shipping horses to slaughter (a multibillion dollar industry). A South Arkansas family, with business dealings in Bastrop, is said to be at the center of it all, accused by KNOE sources of animal abuse and neglect.

Courtesy: KNOE

The Bastrop Louisiana Kill Pen generally has two purposes: Selling horses bought from auctions to give them a second chance at life, and shipping those that don't sell to slaughter houses in Mexico and Canada for their meat. Slaughter houses for horses are illegal in the U.S., but it's still legal to ship horses to facilities over the border, and the USDA sets the rules for it all.

On Friday, November 11th, 26 horses were posted for sale on the Bastrop Ship Pen Facebook. Four were sold, with a total price of $2625. Some say it's a business of giving horses a second chance at life, while others say kill pens are simply a stopping point for horses shipped to slaughterhouses over the border.

The USDA sets basic guidelines all shippers must follow which include:
-Providing food, water and rest six hours before going on the trucks
-Providing adequate floor space
-Shippers can't confine horses to trailers for longer than 24 hours without food or water

The problem, according to Sonja Meadows, President of the Animals Angels non-profit group, is that several shippers don't follow protocol.
She says she's looked into several different cases, including cases against the Stanley family and their kill pens in Bastrop and throughout Arkansas, so we talked with her via- Skype.

"We found quite a substantial amount of severe violations," Meadows said. "In a nutshell, we found that the USDA has had five cases, and [the Stanleys] were fined a total of over $40,000 for shipping horses that were blind, horses that were unable to bear weight on all four legs."

Meadows says when they get a complaint, or in this case series of complaints, they look into them, sending an investigator to the property in question.

She says when they looked into the Bastrop Kill Pen, they found muddy pens, poor hygiene and a lack of proper follow up by local law enforcement.

"To put it mildly, they seemed hesitant to take any action. After several phone calls, they finally sent an officer out, who told them [one of the] horses needed veterinary care, but then that horse miraculously disappeared," Meadows said.

Several people have spoken out about alleged abuse at the Bastrop Kill Pen, but others have stepped forward to defend the Stanleys. Over the phone, Maria Vitale said she's bought several horses from them before.

"I walked through the pens. They were not standing in feces. The area where the horses were kept was very clean," Vitale said.

We talked with Bastrop Police about recent abuse complaints, and they say they've looked into every single one. Police say so far in 2016, there's been three animal abuse complaints, but overall Meadows says they're part of a bigger picture of shipping horses to their deaths.

The Canadian Horse Defense Coalition provided us with several videos from inside slaughterhouses in Canada. In one of the videos, a slaughter house worker uses a .22 rifle to shoot a horse in the head, but it takes two or three shots before the horse is dead.

The controversy over eating horse meat has continued for years. Some countries consider their meat a delicacy, while others consider it a risk. Sonja Meadows says there's been several studies done on the subject, which suggest it's hard to track what an individual horse eats, what condition it may be in or what kind of medication its given.

Meadows says this lack of information puts people who eat the meat at risk.

In 2015, Chapman University made a surprising find after testing 48 samples of ground meat, bought at specialty food websites. Researchers say they found two samples of ground meat with horse meat inside. Just to clarify, the meat wasn't sold in any type of grocery store, but it was listed on specialty sites for bison and lamb meat.

On a local level, shipping horses to slaughter is a business. Families like the Stanleys make money per pound of horse they're able to deliver.

Maria Vitale says the bigger issue is over breeding.

"If everyone came together, instead of bashing everyone on Facebook over differing opinions, and worked toward the same thing, we might be able to get something done with the breeding," Vitale said.

Rachel Ramsey has bought horses from the Stanleys before, along with the Equine Assistance Project, and while she says she understands why kill pens exist, she wishes there was more oversight into how they operate and more consequences for missteps.

"Did we forget to put someone on the payroll for things like this," Ramsey asked.

We've tried reaching out to the Stanleys several times by phone and by email, but we still haven't heard anything from them.

We have, however, heard from several viewers. Jacque White wrote in and said, "This is heartbreaking. I can't imagine what these animals are going through. I couldn't watch the video. I hate them."

Jessica Ross wrote in as well and said, "Kill pens aren't as bad as you think. Without them, the market for horses and people who make a living that way wouldn't be good at all."

Renee Paxton says she pulls horses from the Bastrop Ship Pen frequently, and as long as she has worked with the Stanley's, their pens have been clean and horses taken care of. Paxton says when one of her haulers was last at the pen Thursday (11/17), she said the pens were clean as well. Paxton tells KNOE she likes the opportunity the Stanley's give to the public, selling horses instead of shipping straight to slaughter, and says recent criticism is ultimately "not fair to the horses" because of the possibility the Stanley family will stop selling horses to rescues.

We will keep you updated if we hear any new information.