Dawson Creek: Inside the Auction
I showed up at 8:30am in Dawson Creek, got my bidding number, and began my walk through the pens, checking out the horses that had already been dumped there. It was raining and very cold; horses were soaked, shaking, and slipping around in the muck in their over-packed pens. There were horses of all ages: as young as 4 months old, up to a 30 year old mini, and they all looked sad, scared, and defeated.
More horses were coming in by the hour. Soon, there were over 300 horses awaiting their fate.
I met up with two ladies from Humanity for Horses Foundation, and we consulted with one another about which horses our private buyers had requested, and at noon, we went in to find a seat. The place was packed. We said to each other, "This is good, this means that lots of people are looking for a horse." The auction started with the Clay Anderson weanlings, who were going for $600-900 a head. Safe. Then we moved into riding horses. Some were going for $2,000+, safe. Others though, to our surprise, were just barely skimming above the bids of the meat man; horses that in the Kamloops auction would have soared over $1,000 easily, were just barely getting above the value of their weight in meat. This is where the panic set in... We didn't expect to have to save any ride through or halter broke horses. Why wasn't anyone bidding? Still, we were at the mercy of the wishes of the private buyers and the small budget of fundraising that HFHF had collected.
The run throughs started, and we started to find some horses for our private buyers. We felt better actually being able to bid on the occasional horse. There were other private buyers bidding as well, which we were happy to see. Still, many unwanted horses were going to "bidder #1 up top." We were shaking. We knew it would only get worse as the stands started to clear. Many yearlings, especially blue roans, were going well above meat price, but anything bigger, anything older than 2 or 3, pretty much had a sealed fate.
Over halfway through the auction, I got a message from Carly saying that we had gotten a very generous donation and that she was sending me money to bid for the rescue. It was the good news I needed at that point in my day, as we were watching horse after horse go for $200-400 for meat. So I started bidding.
I have since had the question, "How do you choose which ones you bid on?" Honestly, it's the hardest thing to do. I don't believe there is one horse that "deserves" to live more than another. I don't think there is a right way to choose which horse gets saved and which horse goes to slaughter. You sit there shaking and want to save them all. I tried to get the most that I could for the funds that we had available, so we ended up with a lot of young ones. I bid $75 on a 4-month-old weanling who was going to go to the meat man for $50. A lot of it was gut feeling in the moment. I got into some bidding wars and had to bow out due to budget constraints. With some, I kept bidding because I couldn't stand to lose another one to the meat man, I couldn't handle to feel like I had given up on them all.
19. We pulled 19 horses, for our private buyers and the rescue combined. It felt like a lot. I went out after the auction and looked in the pen, and I thought, "Wow. This is beautiful. You guys are all safe now and you have no idea how much love is coming your way." I teared up a little. I felt peace for these beautiful animals. Humanity for Horses saved 14. Between the two rescues, that's 33 horses that get a new beginning, and that is absolutely worth celebrating.
And then a lady from the livestock yard came out and asked us if we were pulling any more horses from the kill pen "because they're out there painting them as we speak and getting shipped first thing tomorrow." Trigger. I instantly panicked, handing her my papers to make sure none of our horses were in a kill pen. But the ones that were... The ones that we couldn't help, and whose fate was sealed... My heart shattered, being reminded of the hundreds that we couldn't save. The hundreds that are also terrified, sad, anxious, but who will stay like that until the moment they die. Wondering where their human went. Wondering where they are, where their friends are, and why they don't have a warm, familiar barn to sleep in anymore, while aggressive strangers climb into their pens and paint them.
I went home that night and tried to distract myself. It was late, so I went to bed pretty soon after. I tossed and turned and had all sorts of weird dreams, but in the morning, I felt better.
We headed back to Dawson Creek the next morning to load the first trailer to head south. When our hauler showed up, we went for a walk through the pens so I could show her which ones she was taking, and there they were. In every pen surrounding the one our horses were in, as far as we could see, were horses with yellow numbers painted on their backs. Slaughter bound. Triggered again. We walked by them and stopped to pet any that would let us, knowing that we were probably showing them the last bit of compassion they would ever see. They looked so defeated.
The thing about auctions, is that everyone has an idea in their head of how they go. Whether it's old horses, sick ones, lame ones, or downright aggressive ones, they get sent to auction to be put out of their misery. The reality is, any horse can end up there. The number of healthy, beautifully put together, colourful, desirable horses far exceeded the number of worn out ones. Yearlings out of registered breeding stock were going to meat for $200 a head. Registered broodmares who had only ever been used for profit. Ranch horses. They were all there and they were all at risk of going for meat. Most did. And even the ones that were older... Is this their repayment for a lifetime of serving you? It makes me sick to my stomach, and it breaks my heart.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is why we do what we do. I hope this piece helps you understand the horror that even I didn't understand prior to attending. Thanks for reading.