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Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Matter of Perception

Michele Obama has become the latest target of PETA.

The video is a part of a push by PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk to cut eggs from next Monday’s annual Easter egg roll, which Newkirk links to in a letter to the First Lady.

“I hope that after hearing their message, you will implement a new, humane tradition at the White House by using synthetic eggs that don’t require any animal to suffer,” Newkirk says in the letter.

Newkirk even takes a jab at Mrs. Obama’s “Let’s Move” Initiative, saying “cruelly sourced, unhealthy eggs” are “primary contributors to some of our nation’s top killers, including heart disease and strokes.” [ABC News]
On their website, PETA has videos that document the treatment of egg-laying hens.  Now, we know full well that PETA crafts its videos to dramatize, proselytize, and propagandize to maximum effect.  However, there's no question that the practices depicted do exist, and it's rough stuff, tough to watch.  I'm not linking to it, you can find if you want.  However, as gruesome as it may be, if you're like me, it's not going to stop you from eating eggs.  Sure, the Head Chef buys only cage-free eggs, for whatever that may or may not be worth.  But, to be perfectly honest, I don't demand documentation of such when I go into a restaurant, like in a Portlandia episode.  And I would eat them in any event.  What can I say?  I'm not particularly proud, but like much of the world's population, I'm a carnivore.  It's a benefit from being blessed enough to be a member of the species that's at the top of the food chain.  Sure, sometimes when I'm eating meat, I do pause and think about it.  And then I chew the fat off the bone.  If you're Morrissey or Chrissie Hynde, or even just half as righteous on the topic as they, you have every right to judge me, and harshly.

But more towards the topic of this blog......I watched that, and thought - wow.  Now, THAT's animal abuse.  In case one still needs the context, it makes the stuff on the Scott Blasi video (not sure why it's referred to otherwise, Asmussen himself merely makes a cameo) look even more like what it largely is; as the Daily Racing Form's Jay Hovdey most succinctly put it, a confirmation of "the fact that men will say stupid things to try to impress women when they think no one is listening."  (And I'm still curious to know just exactly how she managed to inspire such intimate trust, and access.  Where is the oppo research on this woman?)  Even the innuendo in the video is hardly on the same scale of atrocity.

I think that if you consider, in this world in which we slaughter, eat, hunt - purely just for the sport of it - and otherwise disrespect animals as living beings, a global scale of animal abuse, on a scale of 1 to 10, the treatment of racehorses in this country might rank at about 1.7.  If that much.  Of course, we'd like it to be 1.  Unfortunately, when there are peoples' livelihoods at stake, that is never going to happen.  Still, my point here is that we in the horse racing industry are not such bad guys in the big picture.  Even including the bad guys that there no doubt are.  The problem, after years of getting hammered in the Times and now with the PETA video, is largely one of perception, the main point that Hovdey makes in his excellent above-mentioned column on Frank Stronach's new medication rules.
Those who believe perception is reality are duly alarmed. At the same time, those who believe perceptions can be incorrect and can be modified to more closely conform to reality have their work cut out, especially because it is becoming increasingly apparent that nothing of a unified nature will be done from inside the game about the darkening perceptions of horse racing, even in the face of racing’s more palatable realities.
So yes, initiatives like Stronach's are an important step towards reversing that perception; and so is....I suppose....the idea of releasing veterinary records for the Derby horses.  Personally, I have no interest in the latter, and to be perfectly frank, I myself don't lose sleep over the whole uniform medication rules and restrictions thing.  Sure, I draw the line at any practice that constitutes abuse or increases the chance of fatalities.  However, there will always be those who manage to bend the rules, if not outright skirt them, no matter what they eventually come to be.  And, I dunno, when I was first getting into the game all those many years ago, trying to figure out who was getting away with what and when was part of the challenge and - dare I say it?? - the fun.  As I've said, how much integrity can one really expect or demand when you are betting your hard-earned money on dumb animals?  Jeez, we're all so serious now.

But seriously, it's something that needs to be done.  It's an important element in fighting the prevailing perception.  Also because then we would no longer have to read columns like this one by Bill Finley.  I mean, I like Finley a lot, been reading him since he was covering the game for the Daily News.  But really, how many times can one write, and read, the same appeals over and over again?  In this particular column, the appeal was framed with respect to the silly suggestion that Asmussen should not come to the Derby.

I actually agree with Finley that he should come, but not for the same reason as he, and especially in a more perfect world in which racing would have the national spokesperson/PR machine that it desperately needs every bit as much as a national drug czar.  In the wake of the video's release, there were people on Twitter who posted photos of horses receiving tender loving care, and they were actually criticized by some who said they were missing the point.  But, with all due respect, it was they who were missing the point.  This industry urgently needs to fight back with some proselytizing and propagandizing of its own.

Assuming that NBC will do their duty and note the presence of the trainer amidst the controversy, it would be an amazing opportunity for somebody representing the industry in the absence of an official spokesperson - perhaps NTRA President Alex Waldrop, from whose somewhat less than full-throated defense some of the below points are taken from - to give and to spin as good as he gets.  Something like:

"Well of course we are concerned about any allegations of abuse such as the ones you mention.  But let me be clear:  We are proud of the fact that the overwhelming majority of our horsemen treat their animals with the utmost of care and compassion.  In fact, many owners go the extra mile to ensure, at their own expense, that their horses have a loving home after their racing days are over.

In the area of medication that has generated so much news, we have made great strides in the last few years.  Regulators in states that account for 80% of total betting handle are moving towards the adoption of uniform rules, reforms, and penalties.  In New York, which accounts for 20% of handle all by itself, adoption of just some of these reforms have already led to a 40% reduction in equine fatalities. And we have seen the rise of synthetic tracks which have proven to be far safer.  We are confident and determined to do even better, and with the help of our Equine Injury Database, and with the formation of the NTRA Safety and Integrity Alliance, we will.  

I would also like to point out however that, even in advance of these new reforms, out-of-competition testing of horses racing in states including New York, California, and Kentucky has failed to yield a single positive test for illegal substances from approximately 10,000 samples.  This proves definitively and beyond a doubt that the vast majority of our trainers and owners do indeed play within the rules.

And gentlemen, take a look around on this glorious day here at Churchill Downs.  [String music swelling.]  What a wonderful crowd we have on hand; over 140,000 here, and millions across the land, taking part in one of our great national traditions; the most exciting two minutes in sports. Horse racing is a part of our national heritage; an integral part of our American culture!   Be assured that we are working to ensure and maintain a horse racing industry that is safe, humane and prosperous, and which will continue to employ hundreds of thousands of people and generate millions in revenue for state and local economies!  

Or something like that.

Read more here:


Teresa said...

I am more troubled by eating animal products than you are, and try to, wherever possible, consume eggs/milk/cheese/meat from animals raised and slaughtered humanely. I also have cut down a lot on the meat I eat, because I'm troubled by the very conditions you describe.

And I've long said that the majority of animals that are eaten in this country live far, far, FAR worse lives than the horses at racetracks. Oversee racing vigilantly, yes, by all means, but if you're eating meat or wearing leather, you might turn your attention to how those animals lived and died.

(and let's go, Rangers)

Fran Jurga said...

Just curious: Do you know if FLOTUS responded to PETA?

Maybe her thousands of eggs will be gathered by hand from rooftop organic chicken coops in underprivileged inner-urban neighborhoods.

Unknown said...

Hi Fran -

No, I have not seen a response from the First Lady.

kyle said...

One of the many things I love about horse racing - its ability,at least within in its narrow realm, to turn progressives into reasonable human beings. I often see Keynesians, who never met a tax increase they didn't love, spouting supply-side dogma chapter and verse. Here, another excellent example. An absolutely spot on post. Happy Easter.

Figless said...

You are clearly qualified for the spokesperson position should they ever create one, nice retort.

Figless said...

The first thing everyone involved in racing, at every level, needs to come to terms with is that they are hypocrites the instant they profess concern about horse welfare. Including myself of course.

The existence of this sport leads to horrible ends for most horses, and horrible treatment for many.

The best we can hope for is to minimize the occurrences and to make every effort to find good homes for those in our care.

So yes its a matter of perception more than reality, and a National PR spokesperson and media campaign is much needed.

Someone to speak for the sport as a whole as opposed to the many competing interests within the sport.

Sal Carcia said...

The NTRA gave up the role of the national spokesperson for horseracing a few years ago. Alex Waldrop did not see it as part of their charter. But, it is the charter of the NTRA to oversee integrity and safety for the game. Yet, the NTRA are almost invisible when these controversial events occur in the press around Derby time every year. I think NTRA needs to be at least more active with the press when it comes to safety and integrity.

El Angelo said...

Figless, your point isn't wrong, but if there was no horse racing, hundreds of thousands of horses would have never been born and lived happy lives with owners around the country because there was no reason to breed them. And billions of dollars in horse farms and related industries would be gone. The answer isn't to abolish the sport, it's to make it as safe as possible for the animals involved. It's hypocritical if nothing is done about it.

Figless said...

El Angelo, I am pro horse racing and the jobs it create, but acknowledge my hypocrisy unlike many in the industry.

Of course we should make it as safe as possible while they are on public display, but the minute those beautiful horses stop running fast for whatever reason they are headed to a horrible end. The average useful of a race horse is maybe two years, yet they live to be 20-30, that's a lot of unwanted horse years. Pure guess but I suspect that 75% of any foal crop is dead, one way or another, by age 7.

I suspect if there were no horse racing there would not be a pleasure horse shortage, the breeders of other breeds would increase production accordingly.

That doesn't mean I want it to end, I want more focus on after care, and have suggested on blogs programs at one time or another only to be ignored by the advocates and the industry, who both have other agendas.

Figless said...

alan, I apologize in advance for bringing this onto your blog, not the proper forum I realize.

I wrote this on Paulick the other day and didn't receive a single comment and only one "like".

I have given a lot of thought to this and even though this is a very brief synopsis I believe this could go a long way toward minimizing the slaughter problem that is, someday, going to become a huge front page story.

"I propose that any state with a breeding subsidy program, such as NY, should have in place a program to humanely end those horses lives when the time has come.

There is plenty of vacant farmland in upstate NY, much of it in foreclosure. The state could take this land on behalf of either a state funded program or just grant it to a non-profit (perhaps funded by the uber wealthy safety advocate Mr. Phipps) and use it as rehoming facility, with those unable to find a home for whatever reason within a reasonable amount of time being afforded a dignified end.

State vets would be required to provide their services a few days per year in exchange for their license. The euthanasia drugs could be obtained in bulk from the manufacturer as a donation. There are plenty of 4H club members and volunteers that would care for the horses during the rehoming period.

It currently cost only $75 to register a NY Bred Thoroughbred, raise that to $200 with the increase used to fund this operation. All NY Breds would be eligible. If each state did this it would largely end the problem.

The politicians quoted in this article could have this up and running in a few months IF they truly care.

There is no excuse for this NOT to be done right now."

Teresa said...

Figless, NYTHA started a retirement/retraining program last year, and Finger Lakes does something similar. NYTHA's program has relationship with a handful of farms, to which horses can go when their racing careers are over, to be re-trained. Most people agree that horses would rather have a job than just be turned out, unless they're too unsound to be retrained.

Any trainer/owner on a NYRA backstretch can contact NYTHA, and the horse is generally on his way to a farm within days.

Sorry for the self-promotion, but I wrote this last year about it:

The challenges are getting owners to retire the horses when they're still sound, instead of running them for one more check or dropping them down.

Anonymous said...

Alan, all positive looking, that racino owners are abandoning the city of Saratoga to set up a full scale casino. All good, and great work on your part publicizing the issue!!!

Figless said...

Theresa, aware, but its not enough.

These programs are limited by lack of dedicated resources and I am sure they would support my proposal in which they could take the lead.

Figless said...

"Thirty-eight horses went through the Take The Lead program in 2013, according to executive director Belfiore."

Not nearly enough, and my proposed program would accept ANY NY Bred horse, regardless of condition, and provide Euthanasia for those in such bad condition. Without a donation.

This program is terrific for the lucky horses that are owned by caring owners, but most are not so lucky.

I believe NYRA should actively promote Take the Lead, and other programs, run promo's on the in house TV program and install collection bins around the gates of their tracks to allow patrons to give back to the horses.

Figless said...

Does Take The Lead have a website?

Wanted to forward to interested parties and find only links to the promotion articles and one of their partners.

Alan Mann said...

>>Does Take The Lead have a website?

Doesn't appear so. It's mentioned, albeit briefly, on the NYTHA site.

Teresa said...

Take the Lead's website:

Figless, based on the rescue/retraining/retirement facilities I've worked with/talked to, relying on volunteers to take care of horses isn't a workable plan. You need a staff of professionals who are paid for their expertise, who can't decide not to show up when it's cold/wet/they're busy etc., and who know how to work with ex-racehorses.

I don't necessarily disagree with what you're saying, but I don't think it's as simple you suggest it is.

Figless said...

Thanks for the feedback Teresa, much better than the non-response I got on the other sites.

I knew there would be holes in the plan, obviously need more funding, cant rely on donations, need to think bigger.

Want to avoid hitting the takeout if possible, feel like the breeders should shoulder the cost, increased registration fees are a beginning and maybe, reluctantly, hit their breeder awards for more.

We don't have the problem without the breeders, they are reaping the rewards of the program, it incentivizes them to breed more.

I am a small government guy but sometimes the government is the only answer, and this I fear is one of those cases.

This problem is not so big that it cant be solved.

Teresa said...

If you want to talk more, Figless, let me know -- happy to share with you what I've learned through this and the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (also wrote about them last year, if you want to check it out. My e-mail: teresa @ brooklynbackstretch

Figless said...

Forwarded link to someone looking for an OTTB so perhaps we did some good today.