While the human toll in the US-Mexican drug war has swollen the prison populations in both countries, left scores of thousands dead, and is currently creating virtual ghost towns on the border, the New York Times reports on the disturbing abuse of another group of victims – horses. (Warning: the link contains disturbing images.)
Mexican traffickers strap heavy bales of marijuana or other illegal drugs to the horses’ backs and march them north through mountain passes and across rough desert terrain. With little food and water, some collapse under their heavy loads. Others are turned loose when the contraband gets far enough into Arizona to be loaded into vehicles with more horsepower.
“We would pick up 15 to 20 horses a month, and many more of the animals would get past us,” said Brad Cowan, who spent 28 years as a livestock officer for the Arizona Department of Agriculture before retiring a few months back. “They wear poorly fitted equipment. It’s obvious they were not well taken care of. The makeshift saddles rub big sores in their backs.”
Even once rescued, the horses face an uncertain future. Since they are not from the United States, the state of Arizona must draw their blood and conduct a battery of tests to ensure that they do not carry any disease that would infect domestic livestock. Then the horses head to auction, where some are bought and shipped back to Mexico for slaughter.
Others are luckier. They find their way to equine rescue operations, which help place them with homes.
“We just got a horse in, and he’s sticks and bones, and his feet are horrific,” said July Glore, president of Heart of Tucson, a rescue operation that nurses the horses back to strength. “We get calls all the time about abandoned horses. How many do I have right now? One, two, three.”
One, named Lucky, had his tongue almost cut in half from the sharp wire bit put in his mouth. “I was told he was a drug horse,” Ms. Glore said.
As if this one misguided government policy wasn’t enough of a tragedy in the face of millions of innocent people’s lives, there is now also the unintended consequence of animal cruelty to consider. Of course, ending the drug war would stop the need to use illegitimate transportation methods and remove these horses from these barbaric, inhumane conditions. Sadly, government isn’t even moved by the human plight this war has caused, so the plight of our equestrian friends is unlikely to cause the powers that be to reconsider this policy. But the better side of human nature would consider both people and animals, and in the case against the drug war, both man and beast would be better served without it.