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The Long Road from DeKalb to Murchison: Horses Spared From Slaughterhouse Floor

Mari Mariah and her foal, Josie Sahara, arrive at their permanent home, the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch.

Cleveland Amory read Black Beauty as a child and dreamed of a place where horses could run free. Today his enduring legacy, the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Tex., opened its gates to welcome a special pair of horses. Mari Mariah and her daughter, Josie Sahara, were just days earlier sold for slaughter and inside the plant awaiting their certain death.

They were destined to become table food in France or Belgiuim. But Mari Mariah and Josie Sahara, along with 28 other incredibly fortunate animals, are perhaps the first group of horses to be inside a slaughter plant and survive so their story could be told. These "miracle horses," will all go to horse sanctuaries or adoptive families throughout the U.S. Spared the butcher block, they will all roam free for the rest of their natural lives.

Last Hurdle Cleared in Legal Battlefield

The gavel of a judge in a courtroom spared the lives of horses sent to slaughter for human consumption, in response to a federal lawsuit filed by The Fund for Animals and its partner groups. The court struck down a scheme by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) which kept three foreign-owned horse slaughter plants operating after Congress cut the funds for inspections of horse meat.  A continuing resolution passed by Congress extended the funding limitation through September 30, 2007. And Congress is currently considering the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503 and S. 311) to end the practice altogether.

When news of the court decision reached the last operational slaughterhouse in the U.S., Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill., it was shut down immediately. Hundreds of horses who were inside, suddenly, were spared. Unfortunately the reprieve was short-lived for most. Trucks appeared, horses were loaded, and the wheels turned north and south toward the horse slaughterhouses in Canada and Mexico.

The Miracle Horses

Thirty of these horses went in a different direction. Their truck pulled into a stockyard in Cheyenne, Wyo., while their owner deliberated their fate. He decided, thankfully, to contact The Humane Society of the United States, which agreed to take custody of the 30 horses and pay for their transportation expenses.

These lucky animals were deemed the "Miracle Horses." They had survived the harsh travel through many states, miraculously removed from the slaughterhouse floor, and then transported again back to Wyoming. These were not "old and lame" horses as the slaughter boosters often claim, but most were young, healthy, and energetic.

Finding Permanent Homes

The horse rescue community came out in spades to volunteer, offer assistance and give advice and support. Adopters stopped by the stockyard to inquire about one special horse or another. Horse sanctuaries and rescues opened their doors. Some were immediately adopted out; others moved to rescues so they could recover from their time in the slaughter pipeline before finding their permanent family.

Unlike the others, Mari Mariah and Josie Sahara were already a family.  This mother and daughter pair had endured an ordeal together, and it was clear that to separate them would be to break the spirit of both. The mother was quiet and reserved, almost shy. The daughter was impulsive and determined, but calmed by the presence of her mom. They moved together, ate in sync, trotted in step, always aware of the other, and would whinny if either were out of sight. Their home would be the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, where they would never be separated.

Mari Mariah and Josie Sahara arrived at the ranch and were welcomed to pasture by fellow refugees, other horses and burros who had averted tragedy and were now able to run, roam, and be free. These miracle horses deserve a permanent home, and Cleveland Amory's clear vision in creating The Fund for Animals and the Black Beauty Ranch decades ago made it all possible.

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Posted April 18, 2007