It’s my property

The death of Melbourne Cup favourite, Admire Rakti, was avoidable.

The death of Melbourne Cup favourite, Admire Rakti, was avoidable. There remain a number of unanswered questions in relation to the horse’s death. Why did the betting on Admire Rakti ease the night before the race? What moved the Racing Victoria chairman of stewards Terry Bailey to call the chief vet the night before the race? The novel has the unique capacity to explore the potential of humankind – for good and for evil. In Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky explores our potential for malicious behavior. “Get in, all get in,” cried Mikolka, as six men clambers into his cart. “She will draw you all. I’ll beat her to death. “He thrashed and thrashed at the mare,” the story continues “…beside himself with fury.” When members of the gathering crowd protest, Mikolka responds: “Don’t meddle! It’s my property and I’ll do with it what I choose.” The mare tries to move the cart but fails, such is the weight of the men who were showering blows upon the beast like hail. Others rush from the crowd to join in, delivering blows to the horse’s ribs. The horse can no longer move. Mikolka picks up a long, thick shaft and delivers two blows to the mare’s spine. The mare continues to breathe. “It’s my property,” repeats the ignorant peasant. The belief that horses are property, and that owners will do with them what they choose, informs the treatment of horses within the racing industry today. The worth of the animal is limited to its commercial value. Decisions that affect the wellbeing and ultimate fate of the horses are informed by a commercial instinct. Terry Bailey later explained that he had doubts, and was duty-bound to make sure the Australian public was protected. He was not compelled by a desire to see that the horse was protected. The horse is ‘our property’ but punters are ‘our customers’, and it is clear which comes first in the racing industry. The jockey, Zac Purton, reportedly warned the owner before the race that the horse should not run. So reluctant to run was the horse immediately before that race that it had to be cajoled then forced into the gate. The closing of the gate sealed the animal’s fate. Its heart exploded upon returning to its stall after the race. The industry was keen to describe Admire Rakti’s death as ‘rare’. The death may have been a freak occurrence but the circumstances surrounding the tragedy illustrate the attitudes of those who control the racing industry. The indignation expressed at those who expressed concern at the welfare of the horses is redolent of Dostoevsky’s peasant: “Don’t meddle! It’s my property and I’ll do with it what I choose.” The condition that killed Admire Rakti may be rare and the percentage of racehorses that die on the tracks may well be infinitesimal. According to the Australian Racing Board, only 125 horses died in races or barrier trials during the last season (although it is unclear if this includes country races). Devoid of commercial value, many thousands of horses are discarded every year. The vast majority are slaughtered, their meat sold for human consumption or as pet food. This is an unworthy end to the lives of gracious, powerful and intelligent creatures, whose lives should not depend on their ability to run fast enough to help their owners to turn a profit. Given space to roam, these animals are an athletic expression of the joy of living – a joy too easily extinguished by human arrogance and greed. Has our attitude to animals evolved since the end of the 19th century, when Dostoevsky imagined this disturbing scene? Should we even care? German philosopher Max Scheler once wrote that “…there is not enough love in the world to squander it on anything other than the human race.” It is true that there are surely issues of far greater proximity that concern human suffering on which we should focus, such as crime and poverty, injustice and inequality. But if Scheler was correct and there is insufficient love to be squandered on animals, it is lamentable to think that we are comfortable with such moral squalor. There is no reason to accept the limits that Scheler has imposed upon human kindness. A commitment to treat with kindness creatures at our mercy is one of fundamental moral clarity for a modern society. To our great shame, we appear to have conceded what progress has been made on the treatment of animals to the truth of the free market (live exports, factory farming) or to fulfil a need for simple amusement (horseracing). “Mikolka stood on one side and began dealing random blows with the crowbar. The mare stretched out her head, drew a long breath and died.” Andrew Hunter is Chair of Australian Fabians @AndrewHunter  

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