Jean and Bob Gross don’t mind driving hundreds of miles or spending thousands of dollars each month to rescue horses, because they hate the idea of a horse ending up on expensive dinner plates in foreign countries.
“We are totally against slaughter,” said Jean, on a Thursday afternoon at her three-acre ranch in Star Valley.
“We just think that horses are such majestic creatures and we want to help as many as we can have a chance at a better life.”
The Grosses started the nonprofit New Hope PMU Equine Rescue two years ago to save at-risk horses from certain death. So they buy horses at auctions where many of the other horses bought end up at slaughterhouses.
All that in an effort to offset some of the effects resulting from horses being used at PMU farms.
There are about 450 PMU farms operating in Canada and 50 in the United States, according to the United Pegasus Foundation in California, based on 2001 figures.
At the PMU facilities, pregnant mares are hooked to urine collection devices to produce pharmaceutical drugs from October to March in large barns. The mares are re-bred yearly within weeks of foaling. The 2- to 5-month-old foals are taken from their mothers in early September and generally sent to auction in September.
Each spring, 6,000 foals and mares born on PMU farms are sold at auction, many going to slaughterhouses, Jean said. New Hope buys as many of those horses as they can, as well as other horses in danger. The group then works to make the horses adoptable. Sometimes, that requires rehabilitation to ease a skittish fear of people. Sometimes, that means restoring their health. So far, the couple has adopted out 10 horses and have four more up for adoption.
PMU or pregnant mare urine farms harvest the urine from pregnant mares for women’s hormone replacement drugs, such as Premarin and Prempro. The estrogen in the urine is extracted and used in the pills.
The foals produced as a byproduct of the process are sold to private buyers or sent to auction houses. PMU farmers cannot sell to ordinary rescue organizations because Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, which makes the drugs, banned such sales after several investigations resulted from bad publicity.
“Any farmer that does sell to a rescue runs the risk of losing their contract with Wyeth, so they are under a hammer,” Jean said.
Slaughterhouses sell the meat to foreign markets such as France, Belgium and Japan, where people consider the meat a delicacy. No slaughterhouses still operate in the U.S., but horses still go to Mexico and Canada.
“Over 92 percent of horses slaughtered are young and healthy,” Jean said. “A lot of people have the mistaken idea that only old and crippled horses are sent to slaughter, but that is just not the case.”
Recently Bob and a volunteer drove 3,000 miles in the course of three days, nonstop to Marion, Ill. to purchase two weanlings from auction for $625.
The tan and cream and black and cream spotted horses were timid when they arrived at New Hope, but the gentle, loving treatment by Bob and Jean has made them sociable and responsive.
“They stayed away from us for a while, so we just picked up their stalls and then when they saw we were feeding them, they changed,” Jean said. “Most have been handled with sticks, so they are traumatized when they get here.”
The recently arrived horses will be examined by a veterinarian, then they are de-wormed, vaccinated and have their hooves trimmed to get them ready for adoption.
A potential buyer must go through a three-month probationary period to determine if the horse is a good fit.
“We are finally getting the help and grants we need,” Jean said. “But we need more volunteers and donations.”
For more information, call (928) 468-1514, visit www. newhopepmuequinerescue.org or send donations to NHER at HC4, Box 29T Star Valley, AZ 85541.