Declining Market for Premarin Put Thousands of Horses in Jeopardy

Online database gives adoptable horses hope

By Karen Brown


Colette Bolster says her adopted PMU mare, Belle, has many positive attributes.

Photo provided by Colette Bolster

 

In April 2005, Wyeth Organics canceled contracts with nineteen Canadian ranches engaged in the manufacture of PMU (Pregnant Mare Urine) hormone replacement drugs – leaving thousands of unwanted mares facing possible slaughter. Wyeth also indicated its intent to cancel contracts with another 33 ranchers in Canada and North Dakota, meaning unwanted PMU mares will continue to flood the market.

Wyeth saw sales of PMU drugs, such as Premarin and Prempro, plummet after a 2002 study by the Women’s Health Initiative showed that the drugs increased the risk of heart attack, stroke, dementia, blood clots and breast cancer.

The decline in popularity of these drugs offers hope that someday Wyeth will no longer exploit horses to turn a profit. However, the fact remains that the mares used in their production – and their discarded foals – are in more danger now than ever before.

Wyeth claims it will offer financial assistance to ranchers for feed and health care until horses are placed in “productive markets”. Wyeth doesn’t define productive markets, but the implication is clear. With reports that auction prices are up to 60 cents per pound and horsemeat is selling for as much as $20 a pound in Europe, most of the “laid-off” PMU mares will end up on foreign dinner tables.

This says nothing of the foals who are innocent byproducts of this industry. The Winnipeg ( Canada) Humane Society reported in 1997 that 83 percent of foals born at Premarin farms go to slaughter. We know that their mothers, once they become too old or stressed to bear foals, suffer the same fate. More than 65,000 horses were slaughtered last year in the United States alone.

United Animal Nations (UAN), which has educated women about humane alternatives to PMU drugs since the mid-1990s, responded to Wyeth’s last major round of contract cuts in 2003 by creating PMURescue.org, an online database of adoptable PMU horses. Rescue organizations and ranchers list available horses on this popular Web site at no charge, exposing them to potential adopters.

Potential adopters can search for horses based on gender, location, breed or color. Photos of each horse are included, as are notes by the current caregiver about temperament and health. Right now, 58 organizations have more than 580 adoptable horses listed on the site.

Despite being untrained, deprived of human interaction and confined in stalls for six months every year, most PMU mares can become gentle and loving companions once they are adopted into caring homes.

“People need to know that these are good horses that just need a little love and trust from humans,” said Bettye Bourne of Galax, Virginia, who adopted a pregnant mare through PMURescue.org last year.

Brenda Maher of Silt, Colorado, agreed, saying that her PMU horse, Myrtle, “went from wild to mild in three weeks.”


For Bettye Bourne, rescuing a PMU mare from certain slaughter was a rewarding experience.

Photo provided by Bettye Bourne

Colette Bolster, an experienced horse handler from Dassel, Minnesota, said she changed her mare, Belle, into a different horse in just two hours. “Just because a horse had the unfortunate luck to be born into this industry doesn’t negate all her positive attributes,” Bolster said.

PMURescue.org has already helped saved more than 600 horses. Adoption fees, which are set by each organization that uses the site, typically range from $300 to $1,500. Each organization has its own strategy to determine the adoption cost, but rarely do any ever turn a profit. For most organizations, any profit usually goes right back to pay for rescuing more horses.

Jennifer Johns of The Animali Farm in Santa Maria, California, said that health certification fees, Coggins tests, vaccinations and transportation costs for the horses brought to her facility for placement can mount quickly. “If something goes wrong – like a veterinary emergency – we pay for that, too, without adding the $1,000 vet bill to the adopter’s costs,” Johns said. “We do this work because the horses need us, and the ranchers appreciate knowing their horses are going to good homes.”

Johns said it costs $75 per month just to feed one horse, and The Animali Farm has 30 in need of adoption right now.

In addition to paying an adoption fee, adopters incur costs to transport the horse to her new home. Transport costs can vary significantly, depending on the distance to be traveled, the number of horses sharing the trailer, and the number of horses going to the same destination. Many adopters work together to minimize transportation costs. To increase transportation safety, United Animal Nations worked with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to develop transportation guidelines for PMU horses, which provide adopters with minimum standards and references for transportation companies.

UAN also offers an Adoption Incentive Program, awarding $75 cash to adopters to defray the costs of transporting the horses to their new homes.

But despite the success of PMURescue.org, PMU horses and their foals continue to die in slaughterhouses, their meat sold for human consumption in Asia and Europe.

United Animal Nations is working to increase the chances of survival for these horses in several ways. First, we are beseeching Wyeth to provide financial incentives to ranchers who put their horses up for adoption rather than send them to slaughter. PMU mares have provided Wyeth with billions of dollars over the decades and the company is certainly in a position to prevent these horses from ending up on foreign dinner tables. Many ranchers want to do right by their horses – but with mounting financial pressures, they might see an easy way out with “killer buyers.” With Wyeth’s support, the adoption alternative could be a reality for those ranchers who want to save lives, not just save their livelihood.

Second, we continue to encourage women to consider humane alternatives to Premarin and Prempro – for their sake and the horses’. If we can eliminate the market for these drugs, we can prevent future generations of horses from being exploited for profit. Women who seek support for their decision to avoid these drugs can find friendship and camaraderie on UAN’s message board, at www.uan.org. On the board, women share alternatives with each other, and a physician stops by monthly to answer questions.

Third, we are encouraging rescue groups with available PMU horses to post them on PMURescue.org and urging horse lovers to visit the site and consider adopting a PMU horse.

If you have some extra time and skills, you, too, can help PMU horses. Knowledgeable horse handlers are always helpful, but rescue organizations and ranchers also need people to coordinate transportation, talk with potential adopters, help with technical needs and act as stopover or drop off points. To learn more about volunteering, please visit www.PMURescue.org.

The plight of PMU mares and their foals is far from over. Yet, as more people who care about horses come together to raise awareness, rescue and rehome these remarkable creatures, we move a few steps closer to ending their suffering for good.

 

Adopt a PMU horse:

www.PMURescue.org

 

The Premarin industry and humane alternatives:

www.uan.org

 

About the author:

Karen Brown is the Program Director at United Animal Nations, North America’s leading provider of emergency animal sheltering and disaster relief services and a key advocate for the critical needs of animals. She spearheaded the launch of PMURescue.org and continues to work with grassroots rescue groups and adopters to further awareness of the plight of PMU horses and place them in new homes.

 

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