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Children campaign to save wild horses from slaughter
http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/cherokee/0905/29ridingclub.html

By CAROLE BODGER
For the Journal-Constitution
Published on: 09/29/05
Forty-six years ago, the impassioned efforts of school children helped Velma "Wild Horse Annie" Johnston succeed in getting the first law passed to protect America's wild herds.

The Wild Horse Annie Act, banning the use of motorized vehicles to hunt wild horses and burros on public lands, was enacted Sept. 8, 1959. Today, another Johnston and another group of children are writing letters and raising funds to save wild horses from the slaughterhouse. Thanks in no small part to such efforts, the U.S. Senate on Sept. 20 passed one of several legislative actions on their behalf.

FRANK NIEMEIR/AJC STAFF
Brittany Dunn, 12, was among the children who wrote letters seeking to stop wild horses from being slaughtered.

Christine Johnston, head instructor and trainer at the Atlanta Riding Club in Canton, has been sharing the story of the wild horses' plight with the 7- to 14-year-old riders at the center's summer camp.

"I was trying to think of some kind of educational project so that they'd get more out of their time here," said Johnston. "When the children learned that the older wild horses that are considered unadoptable could be sold for slaughter, a couple of kids asked, 'How can we stop this?,' and it went on from there. It's sort of an introduction to how they can make a difference, even if they're little. It's great for the kids to learn they can."

The Bureau of Land Management estimates 32,000 wild horses and burros roam the nation's public range lands, in addition to 22,000 animals in government holding facilities. About 8,400 have become eligible for sale under a revised wild-horse sale-authority law, which directs the BLM to sell "without limitation" animals that are more than 10 years old or have been passed over for adoption at least three times.

"How could anyone kill such beautiful creatures?" wrote Georgia Sheahan, 14, of Roswell in one of the 29 letters sent to each of eight lawmakers. "The indiscriminate killing [of] these animals, who have lived and worked alongside the American people for hundreds of years, is a crime and it shouldn't be allowed."

"I just thought it was really mean how people could buy the wild horses and then sell them for slaughter," said Georgia, who is considering a career as an equine veterinarian.

Like many of the campers, Joshua Bogan, 7, of Kennesaw added drawings of horse and rider for emphasis.

"I told them in my letter that I don't think horses should be slaughtered just because they're old," he said. "They're cute and they forgive each other and they forgive us."

"It was a neat thing that they did," said Joshua's mother, Dawn Bogan. "Kids always think that they can change the entire world, and this has given him the possibility."

Capitol Hill hears

In addition to writing letters, each child donated $10 to Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, a California-based organization working to gain support for HR 503, the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, one of several like-minded legislative efforts before the House and Senate. The contribution netted each a bright-red dog tag bearing these words: "Once lost, gone forever. In memory of one special horse slaughtered in the U.S."

"I thought it was a good thing for these kids to have the tags, and then they would be able to tell people who asked them what it was about," said Johnston, who led the project during two camp sessions.

"Kids seem to have a way to reach the ears of our government," said Jill Starr, president of Lifesavers Wild Horse Rescue, comparing the Atlanta Riding Club's efforts to the Wild Horse Annie campaign. "People tend to read the letters of children because of their honesty and innocence. And those kids have parents who vote."

Sue Golob of Woodstock said daughter Lexie, 9, wears her tag "all the time. She's even trying to get others to buy them."

"Please make a law keeping horses from being killed," read Lexie's letter, signed "Love," with a horse sketched beneath her name. "Horses should be allowed to live their full lives in the wild."

"I just think it's wonderful that these kids are trying to save these horses," said Sue Golob. "These are children who love horses and would do anything to save them."

"I love hearing from all my constituents, but I particularly love hearing from Georgia's children," said Sen. Johnny Isakson, who added that he "will take the strong sentiments of the Atlanta Riding Club campers into consideration" as he evaluates the issue.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss' office issued a statement saying he "appreciates their letters."

Both Georgia senators voted Sept. 20 in favor of the Ensign-Byrd Amendment, which bans the use of tax dollars to fund U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors at the nation's three horse slaughterhouses. The measure effectively bans the sale of horsemeat for human consumption, a lucrative overseas export.

When asked for comment on the campers' concerns, the office of Rep. Tom Price, who represents the Atlanta Riding Club's district, said he supports "only selling horses to individuals who can and will provide a high-quality home with appropriate long-term care" but acknowledged Price's votes against two congressional amendments aimed at protecting horses from slaughter.

One amendment would bar taxpayer funding of the sale or slaughter of wild horses ("I would have voted for the amendment had it not prohibited the sale of horses to welcoming homes and caring owners," Price said through his representative), while the other mirrored the Senate's Ensign-Byrd legislation.

"I don't particularly like the idea of slaughtering horses; however, this amendment cuts funding for USDA inspectors and, as a result, would endanger consumer safety," Price said through his representative.

To the contrary, amendment advocates say, without the presence of the inspectors no slaughter for human consumption or related consumer-safety risks would be allowed.

'Never too early'

Rep. John Linder, a co-sponsor of HR 503 who voted with the House majority to pass both amendments, wrote to the campers promising to continue "to cast votes in favor of America's horses." Crediting his constituents' letters with prompting his action on the creatures' behalf, he encouraged the youngsters' efforts.

"It is never too early to begin influencing the policies of our nation," wrote Linder.

Rachel Lemcke, 13, of Canton is no newcomer to political activism. The daughter of Emily Lemcke, former chairwoman of the Cherokee County Commission, let her opinions be known.

"I personally would just like the horses to be able to live out their lives and be happy and not deal with humans more than they need to. I said that I love horses and they can fulfill dreams, and if you kill them, then someone's dream could end."

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