Sunday, August 24, 2008

Falcon Fury Breaks a Knee & is Sold 2 Slaughter

The Story of Falcon Fury:

A Report From New Holland Livestock Auction

By: Anne Russek

On Monday, July 21, 2008 Diana M. and I went to the New Holland livestock auction. We went there to gather information and documentation that Thoroughbreds from off the track were being pipelined to slaughter. We were not intending to rescue any horses as we had no funds and no trailer. We wanted to see for ourselves whether the HBO documentary had changed anything within the racing industry. We arrived at the auction around 5.30 AM. There were several large and small trailers in the parking lot and we proceeded to record DOT numbers. We were aware that some of the trucks would have been used to transport sheep, goats cows and pigs. We knew not all the trucks were the kill buyers rigs. That being said, we identified several known buyers. We also saw the truck and trailer of the Camelot Auction in New Jersey, another auction that sells for slaughter. We went into the horse area and saw that the horses were tied to a post and rail iron fence. The horses had fresh shavings to stand on and they had access to water and hay. Some of the horses were tied very short, movement was limited. Other horses were tied loose enough they could lie down, one horse was loose and standing in the aisle-way. The first group of horses were obviously grade , and a few ponies. At the end of the long aisle, we saw our first Thoroughbred. He was a chestnut gelding with two hind socks. His yellow auction tag was #613. The first thing you noticed was that his right front leg was three times its normal size and his knee was very swollen. It appeared fractured. He was pointing that leg and incapable of holding it straight. He also had two wounds under his jowl where his halter had rubbed through the skin. He was thin, but not emaciated. Diana flipped his lip and we recorded his tattoo number. Diana put in a call to a friend who could ID the horse for us. We moved some hay in the trough closer to him so he could eat and we talked about how unbelievable it was that anyone could have brought a horse in this condition to the auction. None of the New Holland employees who were working seemed to have any concern about the horse or his compromised condition. Within five minutes we received a phone call with the ID information, the horse was a three year old by Mr. Greeley named Falcon Fury. He had last run at Delaware Park on July 2, 2008. He had finished 6th beaten 12 lengths, the comment said 'lacked rally'.

Diana asked who the last trainer and owner had been. We were told the last owner was Florence Patitucci and the trainer was Juan Vazquez. We were told that Vazquez had only had him for his last two starts. When Diana inquired who had trained him before Juan had claimed him, she was told Mike Pino was the trainer. Diana went pale before my eyes. She got off the phone and told me that one of Falcon’s former owners was one of her clients and that he would want to know that a horse he used to own was at this auction. Diana called Pino and the former owner and the reaction was the same. They were furious and distressed that Falcon was injured and at an auction that sold to slaughter. Without a moments hesitation Diana had been given the orders to buy the horse and get him the hell out of there. Diana assured both men that we would not leave New Holland without Falcon. Unknown to us at this time, Delaware Park officials had already begun to investigate how Falcon Fury ended up at New Holland. It was still hours before the start of the auction and so I called Gail Vacca to tell her what was going on. Gail insisted that I get the New Holland vet to look at the horse. I told her there was no vet there at that time. I then asked an Amish employee about Falcon and he had no response or suggestion. Someone listening in on the conversation very politely told me that as long as the horse was standing up, the auction would not do anything about him. I expressed the opinion that Falcon was probably full of bute and banamine, and the response from the stranger was that although that was probably true, the fact remained the horse was standing. Left with no alternative but to wait for the auction to start, we adjusted Falcons rope so that he could shift his weight more comfortably, and we went to find more Thoroughbreds. We walked to an area where the horses were in corrals instead of tied. Some were colts, one was a mare and foal, several were sick and snotty. None were Thoroughbreds. Diana checked a few more horses, they were Standardbreds. It was still very early with few people and we walked outside of the building. We turned a corner and walked right into a pile of dead pigs and a dead calf. They were in the area where the trailers can clean out their manure. Sometime before the auction started, the dead animals were removed. We found our way to the unloading area and soon a trailer arrived. The man unloaded a chestnut mare first who looked like a Thoroughbred. She was. We didn't need to get her tattoo because he told us who she was. Her name was Torchspector's Song, and she was by Allen’s Prospect. He told us she was his neighbors horse and she could be ridden. He put a western saddle on her and led her to the pens to tie her up. Her hip # was 659.

The next trailer that arrived was quite large. First he backed up to the chute and offloaded a small herd of cows. After the cows were off, he opened a gate and started unloading horses. I noticed that he did not unload all his horses, he left five or six on the trailer and drove away. The next trailer arrived and unloaded five or six horses and ponies and while Diana followed them to look for Thoroughbreds, I stayed with the trailer. Once again, some of the horses were left on the trailer. This time curiosity got the best of me and I asked the driver why he wasn't taking them all off. He told me that the remaining horses belonged to a man in New York and he was taking them there. An Amish employee was sitting on a bench not far from where I stood. I sat down at the end of the bench and I mentioned to him that it seemed awfully expensive to drive all the way to New York with such a big rig carrying only five horses. As I suspected, the Amish man said that the truck was not going to New York, the truck was going to an auction three miles down the road called Mel Hoovers. He said that dealers would take their horses there to be picked up by the man from New York. I did not need further explanation because I already knew that Mel Hoovers is a direct to slaughter pick up point for the Bouvry slaughterhouse in Canada. I presumed that the man from New York was likely Don Nickerson, who is a well known kill buyer with a large feedlot. I regretted that I had not looked closer inside the trailer to see what type and condition those horses had been. I then called Diana and told her to follow the trailer to see where it was going. Diana wasted not time and was able to catch up with the trailer. Within ten minutes Diana called me and said, sure enough the trailer was at Mel Hoovers and they were offloading the horses. I also noticed about this time that there seemed to be more empty trailers than full trailers pulling into the parking lot. I commented to several of the obvious regulars and they said "yes" the auction seems to be slower today, you should have been here last week, we were packed." I then stopped by the USDA vet office again, but still saw no one there. I met back up with Diana and she told me that the assistant trainer for Mike Pino, Syd, had called her back and told her that Delaware Park was outraged that Falcon Fury was at the auction in an injured state. She told Diana word was spreading around the backstretch. We were very encouraged that the officials at Delaware were getting involved. Diana and I split up and continued our search. I positioned myself at the unloading area, she walked the pens. We both took turns checking on Falcon. While waiting, a livestock trailer backed into the chute next to the horse chute. More cows were unloaded, this time it was dairy cows with udders that looked as if they were ready to burst. It was actually awkward for some of them to walk they were so engorged. I thought the trailer was empty until I saw an Amish man and the truck driver enter into the trailer carrying thin whips. The next thing I saw was five or six baby calves, some with dried blood hanging from their umbilical cords. They were only days old! They were so lost, so confused...they could barely walk and keep their balance on the cement floor. The two met kept swatting them with the whips and the little calves would bellow very weakly. I do not think they were crying from any pain, they just wanted their mothers. They had absolutely no idea which way to turn or what to do. The men kept swatting, the calves kept crying, and the group slowly was pushed and swatted down an aisle into a corral. It was pathetic to watch. Another trailer arrived , more horses and ponies, but this time the driver put two or three horses into a long corral very close to the unloading ramp. No sales number stickers were put on these horses, yet they were tied like the others. I asked the driver if these horses were for sale, he told me no. I asked him why not and he did not respond. I walked into this aisle-way and flipped a few lips, no tattoos. About this time a man was watching me and when I came out of the pen he asked me if I was a rescue person. I told him I was not with a specific rescue, but I was interested in finding any Thoroughbreds that might be at the auction. He told me he had not seen too many today, but he said some weeks, the pens are full of them. I asked him if it had anything to do with the time of year, and he said no, today was just slow. I then let him know that my concern was the number of Thoroughbreds that go to slaughter. He made no comment, just nodded his head, and then muttered that was where most of them went. He said they were usually so crippled up and full of drugs, not many people wanted to mess with them. ( He was referring to the fact they were usually not bid on by anyone but meat men'. I kept pushing the envelope and told him I had been to Sugarcreek , where there were many Thoroughbreds, and had heard New Holland often had more than Sugarcreek. He told me he did not know about that, but if I really wanted to find Thoroughbreds, I needed to go to Bruce Rotz's farm in Shippensburg Pennsylvania. He told me "Rotz will take any kind of horse, he don't care what shape their in." I asked him why. He said because he has a contract with the Canadian slaughterhouse. He told me that Rotz ships three to five loads a week to Canada. I asked him how many horses in a load and he told me thirty. I asked him how long does it take him to get to Canada and he told me "Rotz can go straight up 81 and cross over at the Alexandria port of entry. He can get there in six or seven hours." I asked him do you think I could go to his farm and buy Thoroughbreds? He told me it was hard to say, but that Rotz or his son came to New Holland and I might see them here today. I thanked him and we went our separate ways. Not long after that exchange, I saw a man sitting at the table where dealers got the hip numbers put on their horses. He was wearing a baseball cap that said Rotz Livestock. I asked him if he was Bruce Rotz and he snarled back "No." I have no idea if it was him or not. By this time Diana had found a few more Thoroughbreds but she told me she had met a rescue group and they had indicated they were going to buy as many as they could and they were recording the tattoos. We went back to Falcon Fury and soon Falcons former owner called us. He was anxious to know if we had purchased him yet. Diana told him the sale had not started but we would call as soon as he was safe. The sale was about to begin and a lady came over to us and asked" are you going to rescue the horse with the broken leg?' We told her we were, and she said "you need to make sure he runs through the ring early, he will be cheaper then. Especially with his injury." I asked, will they really make him walk over to the ring and then up and down that aisle? She indicated he would sell through the ring because he could walk.

The auction started and horses that could be ridden were lining up to be auctioned. The noise was deafening, it was very difficult to follow the bidding. Anytime you heard a horse go over the $600.00 bid you could breathe a sigh of relief. I was becoming concerned about Falcon having to go through the ring, and I thought that possibly I could lead him in myself which would prevent anyone from trying to make him jog or move too quickly. I went over to the in-gate and asked two dealers how I could bring the horse in soon. The one dealer asked me which horse is it? I told him #613, a chestnut Thoroughbred. He asked me if it was my horse, and I told him, 'No, I want to buy him'.

He then told me that only the owner of the horse could move him, and he further indicated he knew which horse I was speaking of because he also said that I could definitely not move that horse because he was already lame and if he injured himself further, I would be responsible. I then asked him how I could find the owner, and he told me to go upstairs to the office and they would tell me. As suggested, I went to the office and told the lady at the desk what I wanted. She looked on her computer and found #613, and told me he was owned by David Farrell. She said I should go back downstairs and one of the Amish would tell me where and who he was. I did as she instructed, but the Amish man I spoke to indicated he did not know Farrell, nor did anyone he asked know who he was. The Amish man sent me back upstairs and said I should have him paged. Back upstairs I went. The same lady looked at her computer again and this time she said, "you need to speak to Ron Harker, he brought the horse here." I returned to the same Amish man and asked for Harker. This time he began to scan the crowd of spectators and dealers and pointed to a man on the other side of the auction ring. He called out "'Ron Harker! Over here!" I could hardly believe the same man who had sent me upstairs the first time was Ron Harker. As Harker approached me I told him thanks for sending me on the wild goose chase. He smiled and laughed, and I asked if he could have Falcon brought up because I wanted to get him out of the auction and to a safe place. (note: David Farrell never had Falcon Fury in his possession. Ron Harker apparently uses Farrell’s Pennsylvania address when he brings horses to New Holland so that he will not have to have coggins papers. This is a violation of Pennsylvania coggins regulations since Ron Harker lives in Tabernacle, NJ). N Harker then asked me if I wanted to buy him privately. I said I thought you could not do that, once they had an auction sticker, they had to run through the ring. Harker told me, "Oh no, I can sell him privately, we just have to let them process the paperwork through the office here". He then asked me what the horse was worth to me. I responded that the horse had a broken knee, and Harker nodded his head in agreement. I said that I shouldn't have to pay you anything, but rather than see him sent to slaughter, I would give him $250.00. (Harker never indicated that Falcon would not be slaughtered.) Harker said okay and we went upstairs and he signed him over to Diana. Diana and I went back downstairs and moved Falcon to another spot because he was now tied next to a horse that kept trying to kick him. We began to make calls to Mr. Ryan and a vet to see what our options were for transport. We all concurred that Falcon was full of pain killers, and since he had already been cruelly transported to New Holland, we would just have to get him to Diana's farm as quickly as possible. Diana went to broker a ride while I stayed with Falcon. Within minutes, a man waving foal papers in his hand came walking very quickly towards me. He was very excited and started talking to me in broken Spanish, asking me if I had just rescued a racehorse. I told him yes, and he looked past me and saw Falcon and declared ,"that's my horse." I corrected him and said, no, that's our horse. Who are you?. ‘I'm Juan Vasquez, I train him". Juan continued in an avalanche of information relating the story that Falcon had broken his knee in his last race, and that Juan had 'given' him to a man named Steve that had told Juan he was going to rehab Falcon for a therapeutic riding program. Juan insisted he had no idea the horse was here. Juan said the Stewards at Delaware Park had called him and told him they were going to evict him from Delaware for sending a horse to a kill auction. By now Diana had returned and she told Juan in no uncertain terms that we considered his story to be full of holes. Juan then offered to let me talk to Steve Hryckowian, the man who Juan said had picked Falcon up at the track on July 6. I called Steve and he told me that Juan had never told him Falcon had a broken knee, but he did not want to get Juan in trouble. I asked Steve if he had picked Falcon up and he said no, that Juan had brought the horse to him.(the sign out sheet at Delaware Park shows Juan Vazquez to be the person who removed Falcon from the grounds). Steve told me that he had kept Falcon for ten to twelve days. Steve said that when he realized how 'broken' Falcon was, he gave him to a man whose name he could not remember. I told him the horse was at New Holland, he said he had not known what the 'unknown ' man was going to do with him. When I got off the phone, I told Diana that Juan's story did not match with Steve's. Juan pulled a big wad of money out of his pocket and said he wanted to give us back our money, pay for the shipping, and anything else we wanted. Juan was desperate for us to call Delaware Park and tell them that Juan was blameless. Diana told him 'no can do', but we did take $450.00 to cover the purchase and the shipping. We gave Juan a piece of paper saying that he had given us $450.00, but we made him give us ownership of Falcon. We told him this matter was far from over. Diana made arrangements with a shipper and we told him we would meet him at her farm. On the way home, we stopped at Mel Hoovers. Mel was not there, but his son was. We explained to him we were both trainers, and we were gathering information to share with the different racetracks regarding the number of Thoroughbreds that are going to slaughter. We told him that recently Charlestown Racetrack had banned Peter Preston and Charlie De Hart (two kill buyers) from picking up horses at the track to take to auction or to kill pens. We told him we had heard they both brought horses to Hoovers. The son neither admitted or denied the claim. He did say that horses did go to Canada directly from this auction, but it was all types of horses, not just Thoroughbreds. I asked about the horses that had been brought here this morning from New Holland but he said that his Dad already had enough horses and they didn't get any from New Holland. (Based on what we had witnessed earlier that morning, we did not believe him.) I then asked him if we offered him more money than the meat price could we buy any of the Thoroughbreds destined for slaughter and he said no. I asked him if trainers ever brought their horses here and mandated that the Thoroughbreds go directly to slaughter and he said yes. I asked him was there any circumstance in which he would sell a horse privately that had been earmarked for slaughter and he said no. He was very clear that if an individual brought a horse to Mel Hoovers to be shipped directly to slaughter, that is what would happen. Whenever Hoover has a load of thirty horses, the Canadian slaughterhouse will send a truck to pick them up. We thanked the son for his time and we left. Once Falcon Fury was safely home at Diana's, he was x-rayed. He has a severe slab fracture of his knee. Falcon has a displaced slab fracture of his third metacarpal, that the vet indicated was about as bad as he’d ever seen. Additional radiographs will be taken tomorrow to determine if surgery is an option. Our vet is concerned as to whether or not the fracture can now be surgically repaired due to the amount of time that has elapsed since the initial injury occurred. A skyline view of the knee will allow him to determine if surgery is option. We are currently working with the Pennsylvania and Delaware SPCA to initiate charges against all three men who knowingly transported this horse across state lines with a broken knee, never seeking veterinary care at any time.



Rae Miller said...

Good work, and best wishes to you, Falcon Fury and your project.

Horse slaughter certainly needs more regulation and legislation, but I do not think it should be banned in this country. These horses are doomed to long, tortuous travel to slaughter plants in Canada and Mexico. Even though we do not eat horse meat, other countries do, and food is in short supply in many countries.

What about all the other slaughter animals? I say it's time to clamp down on inhumane treatment of ALL animals bound for slaughter. Horses are an especially sensitive issue in our culture, but banning horse slaughter is not going to improve the situation.

CJ said...

Ray, the answer to the "long haul" problem is stop the export. And while I do not deny that there are food shortages in some parts of the world, but most of the people seriously effeced by it could never afford the cost of horsemeat. A "prime cut" costing up to $15 and $20 per lb! Poor people will never benefit from the slaughter of the "wasted meat" theory is dispelled. As for admitting that "Americans dont eat horses" but being "OK" with the idea of supply the world with them to eat,.....well, I just dont understand how one could be against eating horses but being "ok" or "advocating" exporting them to other countries for foreigners to eat just dosent set right with me. Americans dont eat horses on moral grounds in the belief that as horses, having a special relationship with us, we find it MORALLY OBJECTIONABLE to eat them so why in the world would be be Ok with anybody else eating them? Am I mad to think the two "ideals" are morally conflicting? Am I crazy? Am I the only one?
As for "the other slaughter animals," I can only say this and Ive said it before and I'll say it again I imagine but here it goes;
Slaughter is slaughter and is always inhumane, and the only REAL accernable difference between the slaughter of horses (equines) and anyother slaughter animal is this: The USDA has an "official" list of USDA approved "food chain" animals....and the horse (and the cat and the dog) are not on it, and us anti-horse slaughter folk intend to keep it that way. Horses are not an "offical" food chain aimal. Thats it and thats all. Its THE ONLY "difference," but a good one, dont you think? Remember where you are blogging at here,....the U.S. AGAINST Horse Slaughter spot....
Thanks for sharing anyways....'preciate yer input.

Anonymous said...

I am Falcon Fury's new owner. He has taken five years to come to his final home. He had an extensive sinus infection which time will tell us more about but appears, after much expense, much love and much worry. His knee is looking good with the help of low dose nsaids and is the least of his problems. If he had that knee repaired he'd be 100% at this time. for more info. Please donate if possible. We have spent unexpected thousands to get him back to reasonably good health which has been difficult to say the least. Falcon's best days are ahead.

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