Editorial: “Rescue” should not perpetuate the problem
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2002:
Nine years ago, in April 1993, ANIMAL PEOPLE first brought
the plight of the Premarin mares and their foals to the attention of
the humane community.
Citing a previously unpublicized investigation by Tom Hughes
of the Canadian Farm Animal Care Trust, we pointed out that the
farms that gather the pregnant mares’ urine from which the estrogen
supplement Premarin is made typically keep the mares stabled and
connected to collection tubes from September to April each year.
Rarely were the PMU mares released for outdoor exercise then, and
their holding conditions now seem little different.
“Most of the foals from the average PMU farm will be sold
purely for meat,” Hughes explained. Some of the meat went for human
consumption, but most went for dogfood, or to feed mink and foxes
who were raised for fur.
There was no other significant demand for the foals.
Three of the five largest newspapers then serving New York
City picked the story up from ANIMAL PEOPLE and soon published their
own investigative reports. Protests, direct mailings, and
“investigative reports” by animal advocacy groups followed.
Nationally, one household in four donates to animal
protection causes, and more than half of all the donors are women
over age 40, in or approaching the age bracket most likely to use
estrogen supplements to ease the symptoms of menopause. These
demographic facts should have given animal advocacy groups the
consumer clout to launch and sustain an immediate international
boycott of Premarin, and to expedite the ongoing transition of
demand to synthetic estrogens. The synthetic alternatives were
already easily available in 1993, and are even more abundant and
But “Boycott Premarin!” was not an especially effective
fundraising slogan, since it does not contain within it an
emotionally compelling reason to send money to an organization.
Anti-Premarin campaigns were soon relegated to newsletter items and
production of brochures sent to people who were already interested
enough to ask for information.
Premarin is therefore still very highly profitable.
The manufacturer, Wyeth-Ayrst, has meanwhile developed
great tactical sophistication in suppressing and deflecting criticism.
Early in the campaign, advertising agencies representing
Wyeth-Ayrst were heavyhanded about reminding some popular women’s
magazines about the size of their accounts. They suppressed
publication of articles and animal advocacy advertisements that
criticized Premarin, at cost of encouraging media without
Wyeth-Ayrst accounts to hit both Premarin and their larger, richer
rivals. That kind of mistake is apparently no longer made.
In March 1998, a major PMU foal dealer beat up Project Equus
founder Robin Duxbury after she attended an auction. Animal
advocates are not beaten up any more, either.
Instead, the PMU industry has learned to copy the tactics of
the greyhound and horse racing industries, establishing the pretense
that the victim animals will be rescued instead of killed. Today
when the dealers see animal advocates coming, they sell the
advocates as many horses as the advocates can afford to truck away.
Then the PMU producers breed as many horses as ever to sustain the
growing rescuer demand at the same time as sustaining the strong
European and Japanese demand for horsemeat, following widespread
panics over “mad cow disease,” hoof-and-mouth disease, and
antibiotics contaminating poultry.
Only the offal from PMU foals is rendered into dogfood or
feeds mink and foxes now. Instead of dumping surplus foals at any
price to offset the cost of breeding them and bringing them to
auction, some PMU dealers are actually breeding mares who are not on
the PMU lines just to have more foals to auction off, and
auctioneers in the PMU-producing provinces of western Canada are
reportedly importing foals from elsewhere.
Animal advocacy direct mailers have learned meanwhile that
although “Boycott Premarin!” does not convey an urgent appeal to
give, “Save this baby!” does.
Thus animal protection donors are now induced to pump more
than $1 million a year into sustaining the profitability of PMU.
The most foolish actually bid on foals in direct competition
with the killer/buyers, helping to sustain the auction prices.
Others buy the foals whom the killer/buyers reject as unlikely to
survive transportation to a feedlot and then slaughter. These foals
are sold at a loss–but any price paid is a gain against the
anticipated loss for the auctioneer and the seller.
Even if the foals were given to animal advocates free of
charge, however, taking them does nothing to reduce the sum of
animal exploitation and suffering. Currently, horsemeat demand is
strong enough that for every foal removed from the slaughter traffic,
another is bred to be slaughtered. Should the demand for horsemeat
slump, the pace of breeding might drop back to the level needed to
sustain PMU production, but the net effect of saving a few babies
would still be to economically support the industry by helping it to
make money from disposing of animals who are in effect the waste
products of a manufacturing process, giving the industry an
effective public relations shield into the bargain.
And even then, all the PMU foal rescue efforts among them
would not actually save even one horse life. If all the adoptive
homes for horses and all the horse sanctuaries are filled with PMU
foals, who will on average live for 15 to 30 years each, more
“retired” race horses and wild horses will go unadopted and will be
sold to slaughter.
Only horses removed from U.S. federal property by the Bureau
of Land Management are protected from slaughter under the 1971 Wild
and Free Ranging Horse and Burro Protection Act, and then for only
one year following adoption. Because the adoption demand for these
horses is so weak, and because the BLM is mandated to remove more
horses from leased grazing land that it has facilities to keep,
there is growing pressure within Congress to amend the 1971 law to
allow the BLM to dispose of wild horses as expeditiously as other
agencies–meaning, allowing it to sell horses directly to
The major players in the PMU industry, and direct mail
fundraisers for “PMU foal rescuers,” will be laughing all the way to
the bank for decades at how they have hoodwinked animal protection
donors into depleting their resources in a self-perpetuating cause.
Simultaneously, “PMU foal rescue” gives donors a feel-good, dilutes
and diverts the anti-Premarin message, and ensures a need for
ongoing fundraising to keep the “rescued” horses fed, from which the
fundraisers can continue to collect their cut.
Any value the “rescues” may have in educating the public to
boycott Premarin is marginal. Now that the message has become mostly
“save this baby,” the emphasis–as in many other campaigns–is on
endlessly soliciting and re-soliciting established donors, with
little or no attention given to the plight of the mares.
Puppy-millers may be watching, wondering if they can get
animal protection donors to similarly subsidize their industry by
purchasing their culls at a fancy price.
Maybe the Korean and Southeast Asian dog-and-cat meat dealers
will copy the tactic next. They could continue to breed as many dogs
and cats as anyone cares to butcher at the same time as selling as
many to “rescuers” as the “rescuers” could ransom, and because all
the donor money would be diverted into buying and maintaining the
“rescued” population, the dog-and-cat meat dealers would never have
to worry about animal advocates finally figuring out that the way to
end this atrocious traffic is to take the campaign directly to the
Korean and Southeast Asian public with humane education and
The humane movement made no progress against pet
overpopulation until the cause gradually learned that “saving” a
relative handful through adoption placement was a meaningless gesture
until and unless the seemingly endless supply of puppies and kittens
was stopped. That required a generation of educating the public
about the importance of sterilizing pets, and of making pet
sterilization surgery more convenient, affordable, and socially
acceptable than the consequences of getting caught shooting,
drowning, or dumping surplus litters.
The humane community had to teach donors about the importance
of preventing puppy and kitten births, and had to acknowledge that
saving lives through adoption can be accomplished at a meaningful
level only if the numbers of animals born do not exceed the numbers
of homes available. Otherwise the adoption process is just a matter
of choosing which of the surplus will be killed.
The reduction of the U.S. animal shelter death toll from 115
dogs and cats per 1,000 human residents in 1970 to 16.8 in 2001 was
not achieved by “saving” animals one at a time. It was achieved by
preventing up to a dozen animal births with each sterilization
surgery, which was in turn achieved through effecting an enormous
change in public attitudes. The most important part was using
advertising, news coverage, direct mail, in-school humane
education, and every other medium available to encourage the public
to look ahead and act now to prevent future suffering.
Now that the numbers of surplus puppies and kittens are down
to a much more manageable level, one can at last make real gains
through adoption and rescue toward reducing the shelter killing toll
to the level of true euthanasia–meaning that the animal is killed
only to relieve immediate suffering which cannot be relieved in any
The recent dramatic growth of no-kill shelters and
sanctuaries, high-volume adoption centers, shelterless rescue
groups, and neuter/return projects to assist feral cats (and street
dogs, in nations which have them) all represent the beginning of the
mop-up phase of the movement against pet overpopulation. They
demonstrate the appeal to donors, volunteers, and the public of
saving animals’ lives. They reinforce the message that animal life
has value. ANIMAL PEOPLE has provided material support to such
efforts ever since our debut, by sending a free subscription to
every nonprofit animal protection group in the world.
Along the way we have ceaselessly exploded the fallacies that
keep catch-and-kill animal control going, by illustrating with hard
statistics that catch-and-kill does not lastingly reduce any
animal-related problem, and costs far more over time than responses
which begin with the premise that animal life is not to be taken when
kinder alternatives exist.
Catch-and-kill persists only because of a myopia which fails
to recognize that some creature will always fill a habitat niche: if
not free-roaming dogs, then more rats, feral cats, pigs, or even
Yet the alternatives to catch-and-kill are also funded
primarily by people who respond to the sight or story of a suffering
animal by reaching into their pockets or writing a check to help that
animal immediately, right here and now.
The impulse to donate to an animal rescue program and the
impulse to demand that someone kill a problem animal are each
acculturated responses. Humane work succeeds or fails to the extent
that it replaces the urge to kill with the urge to help. We work to
connect the urge to help with considered and considerate action, but
no matter how effectively we teach our readers and public
policymakers to broaden their understanding of the issues, it is
unlikely that fundraisers are ever going to voluntarily abandon
appeals to donor emotions, or that most of the public is ever going
to be able to take as informed a long view about animal issues as the
minority of advocates and donors who read ANIMAL PEOPLE.
This places an extra burden on this most committed minority:
to support and sustain the projects that keep the humane cause
growing, advancing, and looking outward. Impulse donors may be
relied upon to fund the work that provides an immediate
feel-good–and will fund it, whether productive or not. Only the
wisest donors contribute to longterm cause-building, yet longterm
cause-building brings by far the most effective results.
Longterm cause-building includes advertising in mainstream
media, holding conferences that better equip humane workers to do
their jobs, reaching young people with the humane message, funding
animal protection institutions in underdeveloped nations,
maintaining informative web sites, organizing voters to support
humane legislation and candidates, and of course publishing ANIMAL
PEOPLE, now reaching the decision-makers at more than 9,000 animal
protection organizations worldwide, as well as offering our most
important content online in English, French, and Spanish.
The most effective fundraising appeals typically tell you
about the one animal your donations help to save, who represents all
those who are not yet helped. But the truth is that there is not
enough money in the world to save every animal in distress today.
Only projects that build awareness and activism offer the
hope of fundamentally changing human attitudes and practices.
Animals need both kinds of help: help for the immediate needs of
however many can be saved now, with an equal investment in building
a future where there are fewer animals in distress to begin with.