Recently, Dr. Hogan turned her attention to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, an organization that invested a great deal of time and money on the much-ballyhooed Safety and Integrity Alliance created in the wake of the tragic death of Eight Belles in the 2008 Kentucky Derby. The Alliance has a Code of Standards that, among other things, encourages tracks to provide for the aftercare of retired racehorses, but takes no position on horse slaughter. In fact, the last time anti-slaughter legislation went before Congress, commissioner and CEO Alex Waldrop wrote that the NTRA neither opposed nor supported the bill.
In a letter sent by Federal Express to Waldrop on Jan. 16, Hogan urged him to reconsider the NTRA's neutrality on anti-slaughter legislation and not rely on the AVMA and AAEP leadership position as the NTRA's compass on the issue. “I sincerely hope you will consider my request,” Hogan wrote. “I only represent what so many people want to see happen in this sport–both the industry participant and the casual racing fan–we all want to see Thoroughbred racing survive and we cannot lose if we truly look to preserve the principles of integrity, decency, and those of equine welfare.”
The lack of response begs the question: Is anyone home at the NTRA?
Following is the complete text of Hogan's letter, reprinted here with her permission. — Ray Paulick
2525 Harrodsburg Road
Lexington, KY 40504
Dear Mr. Waldrop:
We have never met but in fact we have a great deal in common – we are both heavily invested in the Thoroughbred racing industry and we both share an obvious concern and dedication to see the sport survive. I ask that you please give me a few moments of your time and hear me out about an increasingly important issue burdening our sport.
I am a veterinary surgeon and I am fortunate enough to have the privilege of caring for some of the most valuable horses our sport has to offer. I also care for some of the least valuable – those horses that are no longer financial contributors to racing and therefore must either find an alternate career, or in too many cases, be shipped off to slaughter.
I work very closely with many retirement organizations but there is one in particular that you should know more about. It is the Turning For Home Program at Philadelphia Park and we have made a very tangible difference there- a difference for the racetrack, for the horsemen, and most of all, for the horses. Everyone wins in this program. The track shows the public that it cares about its “product” enough to institute and support a program, the horsemen now have options in order to comply with the anti-slaughter policy put forth by the racetrack, and the horses gain a second chance to serve a useful purpose. It is a great example of how members of our industry are approaching this problem effectively at the grass-roots level. I am currently working on setting up a similar type of program in New York following the recent announcement of NYRA's strong anti-slaughter policy. We are planning to connect NYRA, my affiliate hospital, Ruffian Equine Medical Center, and New Vocations, a well-established Thoroughbred retraining/placement organization together to provide the same type of network to address this issue. My point is that it can be done and it is being done throughout our industry. Wouldn't it be to the NTRA's advantage to be ahead of the story rather than trying to catch the train that has already left the station?
Surely the NTRA has reached a point where the obvious “writing on the wall” is at least visible, if not legible. Animal welfare issues are absolutely at the forefront of the public's concerns. Thoroughbred racing has never been under more intense scrutiny by the public and we just cannot afford to appear complacent or indifferent. Does it not say something to the NTRA that many of its member tracks have now independently instituted some very strong anti-slaughter policies? If these tracks can recognize both the financial and public relations value of that policy as being relatable to their own livelihood and bottom line, why cannot the NTRA see that as well and provide the leadership in that arena?
I urge you to not let the pro-slaughter position taken by the leadership factions of the AVMA and AAEP continue to be your compass on this issue. Please don't allow their special interests to become yours. I am a long-standing member of both organizations and although they serve their purposes within my profession, they do not dictate my politics or my ethics. It is important to note that it is only a very small percentage of AAEP veterinarians who are actually involved with Thoroughbred racing – the vast majority of the membership is involved with the pleasure horse industry and therefore have little to lose in regards to issues with public perception and slaughter. Yet the racing industry has, by far, the most to lose here.
I am asking you to please reconsider your neutrality on this vital issue and at least take a stand for the Thoroughbred racehorse. I am not asking you to come out politically against the anti-slaughter bills – just please consider taking care of our own interests. Those of us working in the trenches, so to speak, need your leadership on this issue. We need you to recognize that the slaughter of Thoroughbred racehorses is simply not acceptable. If the public sees that we are actively working to resolve this important welfare issue in our sport, then we as an industry will be all the better for it.
I sincerely hope you will consider my request – I only represent what so many people want to see happen in this sport – both the industry participant and the casual racing fan – we all want to see Thoroughbred racing survive and we cannot lose if we truly look to preserve the principles of integrity, decency, and those of equine welfare.
If I can personally be of service in any way to get this moving in the right direction, please do not hesitate to contact me. I will use whatever resources I can provide to continue to support a resolution to this very important issue.
Patricia M. Hogan, VMD
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Surgeons
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