In a statement issued Tuesday, Shelly said the tribe will pull back its support for the plant and suspend horse round ups while it works with the foundation and other groups to develop and implement alternative policies to manage feral horse populations. Possible solutions include equine birth control, adoption, land management and public education.
“Our land is precious to the Navajo people as are all the horses on the Navajo Nation. Horses are sacred animals to us. Both the land and the animals must be responsibly managed,” Shelly said in a statement. “For too long this issue has gone unaddressed putting us in the situation we are today where chapters are facing real problems with uncared for animals damaging local land and domestic livestock. I am thankful we can partner with agencies that have resources to help us find real long-term solutions.”
Richardson said that persuading Shelly to change his position on horse round ups and slaughter “is exactly the outcome horse advocates, such as myself, had hoped for.”
Congress effectively banned horse slaughter by cutting funding for plant inspectors in 2006. The ban was lifted in 2011, and Valley Meat Company has been battling ever since for permission to open its converted cattle slaughterhouse. The USDA issued a permit this summer, but litigation by animal protection groups has delayed its planned August opening.
The return to domestic slaughter has divided horse rescue and animal welfare groups, ranchers, politicians and Indian tribes about what is the most humane way to deal with the country’s horse overpopulation. Much of the debate also focuses on whether they are companion animals or livestock.
Supporters of a return to domestic horse slaughter argue that it is a more humane solution than shipping animals south of the border to facilities with unregulated and often cruel circumstances.
Opponents have been pushing for a ban that would also outlaw the shipment of horses across the border.