Local man fights for horses--Popular bartender devotes life to saving horses from slaughter.By Jed Herrington, REPORTER BG News Independent Student Press, June 14, 2005
"I've been told when you find your passion, follow it in life," says Craig Lundgren, who is one of the more familiar faces of Bowling Green nightlife. "Something always brought me back to horses." Lundgren, the bald-headed, fast-moving bartender at the
nightclub/sports bar, Uptown/Downtown, is known in Bowling Green for mixing up drinks, and is now gaining even more recognition as a horse rescuer.
After tiring of the city life as a postman in Seattle, Lundgren decided to make the move to Ohio in order to pursue a more relaxed pace, which he hoped would entail spending time with horses. He bought three and with support from his friends, ended up taking on more than that. Now Lundgren is watching over 21 of his favorite animals, 17 of which he rescued from being slaughtered.
In the United States, three slaughterhouses deal exclusively with horses. The Belgian-owned Cavel International in DeKalb, Ill., and BelTex Corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, along with the French-owned Dallas Crown in Kaufman, Texas, buy and kill horses for human consumption.
According to Lundgren, Ohio and Pennsylvania send the most horses to death than any other states in the country, many of them ending up in either Texas or Illinois.
"Last year there were 65,976 horses slaughtered in the United States alone for human consumption," he said.
Many equate horse meat with dog food -- which it was until the latter part of the 1960s, when the Fair Packaging and Labeling Act forced pet food companies to disclose to consumers what their canines where really eating.
Horse meat is a popular dietary staple in some international markets today, especially in Europe and Japan. Specialized butcher shops, like the boucheries chevalines in France, sell the meat from $14 to $25 per pound.
Horses end up at slaughterhouses for a variety of reasons, ranging from old age and overpopulation to acquisition at auctions by the slaughterhouses themselves. Many are purchased by "kill-buyers," which are traders that ultimately function as middlemen for the horsemeat companies.
Lundgren disapproves of the auctions, especially their end result. He believes they are too accessible to kill-buyers and would rather see the animals succumb to euthanasia than face the slaughterhouses. He said places like the University of Findlay "put them to sleep" for approximately $225.
He sees many horse thefts as being fueled by the equine gourmand trend and is weary of becoming too well-known as a rescuer because of what he labels as a "horse mafia" operating within the trade. He said a friend from Kentucky called him one evening and said she had a horse stolen from her barn, so he drove all night to a sale in Illinois where he believed the animal might have been.
"I searched all the back trucks, all the parking lots, all the kill-pens, but no horse," he said.
Lundgren also said one particular method of horse transportation exemplifies inhumanity. According to Lundgren en route to sales, owners file the animals into crowded, double-deck trailers, which are illegal to haul horses in.
After the auctions, many of the horses purchased by kill-buyers don't go straight to one of the three foreign companies. Some are kept at feedlots, where they are fattened until they reach the girth desired by the slaughterhouses.
"The bigger the horse, the better," Lundgren said. "They want something with meat on them."
Lundgren has rescued two horses from the feedlots, which he deems "deplorable," but it is the process at the slaughterhouse that may be what causes the most concern with animal enthusiasts like himself.
Before the horses are killed they are rendered unconscious by bolt guns. Sometimes, as shown on the Web site, sharkonline.org, (SHARK stands for SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness) it takes multiple shots to knock them out, and even then it may not be enough. Some videos from the Web site show shaky handling of the guns, with shots missing the head and landing instead on the animal's neck, shoulders or face.
"When they are in the pens waiting, they sense it, they feel it," Lundgren said.
Whether or not they are already dead or unconscious, the horses are put into kill-chutes and then hung by their hind-quarters and then slit across the throat.
"It's cruel and inhumane the way they slaughter these horses," Lundgren said. "It irks me that we call ourselves a civilized society when we treat our animals like this."
He also said it is a misconception that only old, sick or crippled horses are killed for their meat. "They'll kill anything that's over six months old," he said.
There seems to be a lack of vocal proponents of the horse-for-consumption industry in the United States, and Web sites for the three slaughterhouse companies are brief and list only product availability and ordering information.
Even a victory at one of America's biggest sports spectacles won't guarantee a detour of the slaughterhouse.
After winning the 1986 Kentucky Derby and being crowned "America's Horse of the Year" in 1987, Ferdinand, a golden chestnut, was retired into breeding in Kentucky. Rendered inadequate as a stud, Ferdinand was sold to Japanese breeding interests and was eventually "digested" by the horse disposal system.
Lundgren hopes to save other horses from the same fate as Ferdinand.
Hobbies Horse Stables and Sanctuary is owned by brothers Jeff and John Hobbie, who also operate Uptown/Downtown. The Hobbies are Lundgren's biggest supporters and help him with expenses such as veterinarian costs and compensation for his staff of seven.
Lundgren also says he receives support from students and residents when they order a drink from him.
"All the money students give me in tips goes right out there to those horses," he said.
On many occasions Lundgren travels to auctions in places like Shipshewana, Ind., and Sugarcreek, Ohio, and when he can, he brings a horse back to Bowling Green with him, sometimes paying $500 to $750 for each one. At other times the animals are brought to him, some in dire need of assistance.
On one occasion, he received an injured mare covered in blood and near death. He said he took the animal into one of his barns, cradled it and spoke soothingly into its ear.
"This girl let out a deep sigh, like a sigh of relief," he said. "I could sense she knew she was safe, that she wasn't in trouble anymore."
Raised on a cattle farm in Northern Minnesota, Lundgren witnessed many slaughters, and says he can still differentiate between horses and other livestock, even though he elects not to eat red meat.
"Horses aren't classified as livestock animals," he said. "They are classified as companion animals like cats and dogs."
Lundgren is partly of Native American decent and derives many of his spiritual beliefs from this heritage. He is especially excited about one of the horses born from a mother he rescued. The new offspring ended up being a "Medicine Hat," which get their name because of the unique coloring on top of their heads that is absent on other parts of the body. He said Native American warriors used to ride Medicine Hats into battle for good luck.
His other horses make his work a rewarding experience as well. He said he rescued his best horse, "Hippie," from one of the Texas slaughterhouses. He is also very fond of a mare named "Lady," which he saved while she was pregnant.
"I haven't had one problem with her," he said. "She is an absolute sweetheart."
Amanda Mossman, a trainer at the sanctuary, is supportive of Lundgren's aide to equines.
"I think it's awesome," she said. "They definitely need help and someone out there needs to help them."
Lundgren trains the horses to get them ready for adoption, which he deems important. He was near-fatally kicked in the head by one of his first horses, but blames himself for not being careful enough with it. He now works extensively with the animals in hopes that he will find an owner that matches up well with each horse. He charges an adoption fee of $500 and asks owners to sign a contract.
"When I adopt a horse to somebody, they have to sign an adoption agreement that says they will not sell to a slaughterhouse or a horse auction house," he said. "They also have to agree to provide appropriate veterinarian care for the animal and take care of it as best as possible."
Lundgren also requires that if someone receives a horse from him and can no longer take care of it, he will be given first choice of whether it will be brought back to his sanctuary.
Lundgren is not alone in his concerns.
Numerous organizations, such as the Equine Protection Network and the International Fund for horses, work to sever the connection between auction blocks and slaughterhouses. They spread news on the topic, push for horse-friendly legislation and bring animal welfare advocates together.
Lundgren uses the Internet to access horse-advocacy Web sites, as well as Yahoo chat groups to keep him on top of legal developments and news on the commercial trade. He said he is not affiliated with any particular group and makes sure he strays from being labeled an "activist," because he believes education will do a lot more for the horses than "shouting."
"We're not animal activists, we're animal welfare people. We care about the welfare of the animal," he said. "Basically, we love horses."
A big setback for the equine advocacy movement came this winter when a 3,000 page federal appropriations bill was signed into law that contained an amendment of less than 200 words that some think was possibly overlooked by many legislators and even the president.
Rider No.142, authored by Sen. Conrad Burns, R-Mont., requires the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management to sell horses that are either older than 10 years or have been unsuccessfully offered for adoption three or more times "without limitation" at auctions or livestock sale facilities.
The growing overpopulation of wild horses such as mustangs throughout ranching regions like Montana poses an economic problem because the horses compete for grazing grass with cattle. According to the Billings Gazette, Burns said the revious adoption system run by the Bueau of Land Management wasn't working and left many horses in feedlot conditions.
"These are horses with hearts and free spirits,'' he said. "They are being held in confinement, not on the open range."
On April 25, 2005, BLM director Kathleen Clarke suspended all wild horse transactions after it was reported that 41 horses sold under the BLM's new authority had ended up in slaughterhouses.
According to the Society for Animal Protective Legislation, on May 19, 2005, the U.S. House of representatives passed an amendment to ban the slaughter of wild mustangs, and just last Wednesday, it passed an amendment to the agriculture appropriations bill that poses a significant threat to domestic horse slaughter in the United States. The Sweeney amendment, named for its sponsor, John Sweeney, R-N.Y., passed 269 to 158.
The amendment aims to stop taxpayer funding for federal inspectors at the three slaughterhouses, and if the Senate passes a companion bill, the slaughterhouses will be shut down for twelve months, beginning October 1, 2005.
The said co-sponsors Ed Whitfield, R-Ky, John Spratt, D-S.C., and Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., will work with Sweeney in efforts to pass The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (H.R. 503), which aims to permanently end horse slaughter in the United States.
Even with the progress on Capitol Hill, Lundgren continues his crusade locally. He plans to give presentations that echo his message of "Rescue Don't Breed," to local groups, such as 4-H, and has already went to the Bowling Green Rotary Club in hopes to gain support for non-profit status for his sanctuary. He said that even if slaughter stops altogether in the United States, his services will still be needed.
"They're going to ship them to Mexico, they're going to ship them to Canada," he said.
He and a friend from Cincinnati are talking with various pro-horse publications with hopes to run an ad designed to raise awareness about the death-for-consumption trade. Lundgren says the ad, which will also be a poster, will have pictures of horse eyes set in rows -- a layout that seems to sum up his stake in the cause that is becoming his life's work.
"My problem is," Lundgren said, "as soon as I look a horse in the eye, I can't turn away."