August 2015 | by Diane M. Sullivan and Holly Vietzke
Diane M. Sullivan, Assistant Dean, and
Holly Vietzke, Professor of Law
As Professors we teach animal law and tell our students that the status of animals is marked by companionship and humaneness, and our laws reflect that new status. This is not true in horse racing. The romance, grace, and sport of it all is a mere illusion. Our romanticized image of this sport is really a fraud, but the suffering and or pain, and deaths are real.
Daily, horses suffer injuries and hundreds, if not thousands, die each year as a result of racing. There was Eight Belles, who was killed on the track during the 2008 Kentucky Derby, and Barbaro, who fractured three bones in his ankle in the 2006 Preakness Stakes and was killed eight months later. And don’t forget the 2005 Horse of the Year, Saint Liam, who broke his left leg while “backing away” from his handlers. Saint Liam was killed as well.
We celebrated when Suffolk Downs hosted its final day October 6, 2014, nearly 170 years after the passage of our state’s first animal anti-cruelty law, which was enacted in response to a race that ended with both horses dropping dead. We thought we were shutting the door on cruelty to horses in Massachusetts. But money talks, and horse racing and the gambling that goes along with it represents big bucks. We are saddened to hear of ongoing attempts to bring horse racing back to Suffolk Downs. The Massachusetts legislature and/or the gambling Commission may have to approve it, or the legislature may need to pass a bill to allow it. We would like to think humaneness trumps dollars and cents, but we are not optimistic it will. With a recognition that horses are sentient creatures capable of experiencing great pain should come a realization that horses are not mere property – not innate objects. They deserve our protection, not our abuse.