Animal Welfare Council

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This article is part of the Center for Media & Democracy's spotlight on front groups and corporate spin.

Animal Welfare Council (AWC) is an industry funded lobbying organization for the rodeos and affiliated industries in animal commerce and agriculture and web front of Cindy Schonholtz. [1]


Cindy Schonholtz is also vice president of the National Animal Interest Alliance (NAIA), [2] a similar group. The Animal Welfare Council primarily represents rodeos, but also ranching, horse slaughter, the Premarin industry, circuses and carriage operators. In addition to rodeo associations, "members" also include the California Cattlemen's Association, Carriage Operators of North America, Ringling Brothers and Americans for Medical Progress, which represents pharmaceutical and animal testing industries.[3] AWC is a self described "non-profit, tax exempt 501(c)(3) organization established for charitable and educational purposes." [4]

Horse slaughter & industry lobby

Horse slaughter, Premarin production and rodeos are the focus of legitimate animal welfare groups, private citizens, rescues, sanctuaries and even groups not traditionally involved in animal welfare. For example, the New York Racing Association sponsors the "Ferdinand Fee" for retired racehorses in honor of Ferdinand; a former Kentucky Derby winner who went to slaughter. [5] According to the disturbing headlines from NAIA Director, Cindy Schonholtz; the U.S. horse industry is "struggling to address issues surrounding the processing of unwanted horses". In this letter, she references figures from her own website; the Animal Welfare Council.

"Now that animal rights groups and ban supporters have been successful in legislative efforts to shut down almost all of the U.S. horse processing plants and legally hobble the last remaining one, we have them to thank for the current sad state of welfare for U.S. horses." [6]

Horses going to slaughter are shipped on crowded, double-decker cattle trucks without food, water or rest for over 24 hours. Pregnant mares, foals, injured and blind horses are shipped for slaughter. Under cover footage obtained by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) shows fully conscious horses being shackled and hoisted by their rear leg to have their throats slit. It is particularly difficult to align them to the captive bolt gun that renders them unconscious, since horses are skittish by nature. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), 92.3% of horses sent to slaughter are not in danger of abandonment or neglect. The remaining 7 to 8% may require rescue or have to be placed into one of over 400 horse rescues and sanctuaries in the U.S. or simply be humanely euthanized. According to HSUS, it is "market forces" which dictate the horse slaughter industry. At least 5,000 horses have been imported into one of the three foreign-owned slaughter plants in the U.S. since August of 2004. In California, where horse slaughter was banned in 1998, there was no corresponding rise in cruelty and neglect cases. However, horse theft dropped 34% after the ban. There are hundreds of equine rescue and retirement facilities which rescue horses from slaughter. [7] See also War on Animals.

Tracking incidents

The AWC tracks isolated incidents of "abuse, neglect and abandonment" in order to push a horse slaughter agenda. According the AWC:

"The state of equine welfare in the United States has suffered since the closure of the processing plants with no provisions put into place, many supporting a federal bill have indicated that this is not the case." [8]

However, the articles refer to over breeding, lack of education and the need for for humane options such as adoption, sanctuaries or at least humane euthanasia. There is no indication of a grassroots movement in favor of horse slaughter. [9]

Causes & options

According to Keith Dane, director of equine protection for HSUS, there is intentional over breeding of horses in hopes of obtaining valuable animals such as champion racehorses:

"Nobody eats horses in this country, and nobody raises horses to be eaten, so to end a horse's life in this way would be inhumane". [10]

Other factors include education, identification and spay/neuter programs. According to Lisa Jacobson, a veterinarian and board president of the Montana Horse Sanctuary:

"Maybe it's time for people to start thinking differently about horses. There are a lot of things we need to look at ...I don't think any one person has all the solutions; two possible answers are sending more horses to sanctuaries and spaying mares. The nature of spaying has changed and pain management has improved. Cats and dogs are spayed, so maybe it could be acceptable for horses". [11]

Les Graham, executive secretary of the Montana Auction Yards, recommends education in horse care:

"They should not only learn about pastures, vaccinations and nutrition, but about the eventual disposal of their horses, even if those deaths are 30 years away. If someone buys horses, they need to learn what's involved." [12]

Industry generated reports

There are also erroneous, sensationalized reports generated and circulated by horse slaughter lobbies and proponents. For example, within a week of the recent closing of two Texas horse slaughter plants, after a long battle over a 1949 law prohibiting the sale of horse meat; a "shocking investigative report" was published around the world under such titles as "Kentucky, land of the thoroughbred, swamped with unwanted horses!" The article was based on privately owned horses observed free grazing at a reclaimed strip mine in Eastern Kentucky. Kentucky state officials from police and animal control immediately debunked the story. However, it raised such a furor that state governor Ernie Fletcher felt compelled to issue a letter describing the article as "filled with inaccurate statements and information". Undeterred, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA), a leading horse slaughter proponent; sent the McMurray article to its member veterinarians as proof of the "dire effects of a ban on horse slaughter". According to Steven Long, Vice President of the Greater Houston Horse Council; even in conditions of severe hay and water shortages in Texas, owners do not abandon their horses:

"Last year in Texas we had a horrible hay shortage when stocks were depleted by the commercial suppliers, not only did we suffer a hay shortage, we had a frightening water shortage when the stock tanks dried up. Yet I don't know of a single case of an abandoned horse." [13]

Premarin & horse slaughter

AWC focuses on a hand full of accounts while failing to mention the leading culprit for horse abuse and neglect (next to arguably, rodeos) and a major supplier to the horse slaughter industry. These are "Premarin" or "PMU ranches". Premarin is a drug derived from pregnant mares’ urine (PMU) and prescribed for "symptoms of menopause". Despite the availability of humane and safer alternatives, Premarin is one of the most widely prescribed and profitable drugs in America. The urine is collected from mares confined in barns on over 70 "PMU ranches" in the U.S. and Canada. The industry is "self-regulated" through Pfizer's "Code of Practice". Mares suffer from abrasions, leg swelling, excessive boredom, stress and early death. They are strapped to urine collection bags six months out of the year and tied to narrow stalls where they can neither turn around nor lie down. They are also denied free access to water. There is no minimum requirement for exercise or even that they be exercised at all. Mares foal every year for 8 to 9 years and are then sold for slaughter (normal life expectancy is 20 to 25 years.) Every year thousands of PMU foals sent to auction and also end up in slaughterhouses for meat markets in Europe and Japan. [14]

Yet, according to AWC:

"The Pregnant Mare Urine (PMU) ranching industry is one of the most highly self-regulated animal industries." [15]

Pfizer is on the board of Americans for Medical Progress, [16] which is listed as a "member" of AWC. In a shameless bid for public damage control, the company actually prohibited contract PMU ranchers from working with rescue groups. The rationale being that these abused, neglected horses, who along with their foals, are destined for slaughter; do not need to be rescued. [17] See also Premarin.

Rodeos & horse slaughter

Sending horses to slaughter is nothing new to the rodeo industry. Dr. C.G. Haber is a veterinarian who worked for 30 years as a slaughterhouse inspector and saw scores of animals from rodeos sent to slaughter. Although toughened to animal suffering, the condition of rodeo animals sickened him:

"so extensively bruised that the only areas in which the skin was attached (to the flesh) were the head, neck, leg, and belly. ...I have seen animals, with six to eight ribs broken from the spine and at times, puncturing the lungs. I have seen as much as two to three gallons of free blood accumulated under the detached skin. Bullfights are merciful compared to rodeos. It's high time this cruel sport be outlawed in the United States." [18]


According to Dr. Peggy Larson, a former bareback bronco rider turned veterinarian:

"Driving blunted spurs into the hide of an animal is painful, and it drives them into a frenzy." [19]

Flank straps are used in the bucking and bull riding and torment horses and bulls who buck wildly due to the restricting band. Without the use of spurs, tail twisting and bucking straps, terrified horses won't buck and are forced into action by electric prods, neck twisting, yanking tails and legs and other forms of battering. Physical and emotional trauma endured by rodeo horses is obvious even to casual observers who report horses foaming with eyes rolling back in their heads. In roping, terrified calves run after being let out of the chute. They often sustain injuries when being roped and yanked to the ground.

AWC & Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association

According to critics, complaints about rodeos are forwarded to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). The PRCA then sends a "soothing letter", assuring them of their "humane rules". However, on the rare occasions these rules are actually enforced, the fines are small in comparison to prize money.[20] According to the NAIA board members page, Cindy Schonholtz is a "long-time animal welfare consultant for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association." [21]

Member organizations

  • American Association of Equine Practitioners
  • Americans for Medical Progress
  • American Horse Council
  • American Quarter Horse Association
  • California Cattlemen's Association
  • Carriage Operators of North America
  • Clyde Beatty Cole Brothers Circus
  • Feld Entertainment, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey
  • Friends of Rodeo
  • Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo
  • National High School Rodeo Association
  • National Western Livestock Show & Rodeo
  • New York State Horse Council
  • North American Equine Ranching Information Council (NAERIC)
  • Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association
  • Women's Professional Rodeo Association[22]


  • Cindy Schonholtz [23]

Web address:

Articles & sources

SourceWatch articles


  1. Who We Are?, Animal Welfare Council, accessed January 2009
  2. NAIA Officers & Board, National Animal Interest Alliance, accessed January 2009
  3. AWC Members, Animal Welfare Council, accessed January 2009
  4. Who We Are?, AWA, accessed January 2009
  5. Myths About Horse Slaughter, Humane Society of the United States , October 2007
  6. Cindy Schonholtz Animal Rights Win, Horses Lose! NAIA Newsletter: October 12, 2007
  7. Myths About Horse Slaughter, HSUS, October 2007
  8. Federal Legislation & Regulation, AWC, accessed January 2009
  9. Amy Hunter Neglect Case Strains Horse’ Caretakers To Breaking Point, Bristol Herald Courier, July 2008
  10. Stephen Schmidt Old & unwanted, The Gazette, February 2008
  11. Evelyn Boswell Horse experts seeing more unwanted horses, The Prairie Star, August 2008
  12. Evelyn Boswell Horse experts seeing more unwanted horses, The Prairie Star, August 2008
  13. John Holland Holland Refutes AVMA Claims,, accessed January 2009
  14. Premarin, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, accessed January 2011
  15. Professional Opinions, AWC, accessed January 2009
  16. Board of Directors, Americans for Medical Progress, accessed February 2009
  17. About Premarin: What has the pharmaceutical company done to help?, United Animal Nations, accessed January 2011
  18. Stephanie Heckman Are Rodeos Sport or Animal Cruelty?, Helium, accessed January 2009
  19. Stephanie Heckman Are Rodeos Sport or Animal Cruelty?, Helium, accessed January 2009
  20. Stephanie Heckman Are Rodeos Sport or Animal Cruelty?, Helium, accessed January 2009
  21. NAIA Officers & Board, NAIA, accessed January 2009
  22. AWC Members, AWC, accessed January 2008
  23. Who We Are?, AWC, accessed January 2009