October 2013 Issue - page 6

Page 6
October 2013
by Suzanne Bush
What’s it like to be the
veterinarian on duty at the New
Holland Sales Stables? “I’ve had
death threats, my office has been
broken into, I’ve had my tires
slashed,” says Dr. James Holt, of
Brandywine Veterinary Services.
Clearly there’s not a James Her-
riot vibe here. The beloved vet-
erinarian in the classic book
Creatures Great and Small
not recognize this level of hostil-
ity. Holt, however, is practicing
in a vastly different venue. As he
reflects on the disturbing threats
from people who are supposedly
acting out of compassion for the
animals that are at the sales barn,
he is philosophical. “You pick
your road and keep going,” he
The New Holland Sales
Stables, home of the largest
livestock auction east of the Mis-
New Holland Auction Veterinarian
James Holt Undaunted by Threats
sissippi River, is a raucous mix
of commerce, animals and often
profoundly disparate perceptions
of what is best for the thousands
of animals that pass through the
vast facility on a weekly basis.
Emotions can run pretty hot.
There is no shortage of critics of
the auction, of the so-called kill
buyers who purchase horses for
the abattoirs in Canada, and of
the people who are presumed to
be responsible for the health and
well-being of the animals that are
for sale.
The auction has been tar-
geted by equine rescue groups
and animal welfare activists for
years, largely because many of
the horses wind up being sold
to the meat buyers who haul the
horses to Canada for slaughter.
Additionally, the activists have
frequently reported that there are
horses in the sales lot that are
underweight, sick, and unable
to bear weight on all four legs.
There is no law prohibiting the
sale of horses to the meat buyers,
but activists and bloggers have
complained that Holt and others
who are supposed to look out for
the welfare of animals are not
doing enough.
Where Law Falls Short,
Standards Are Applied
Holt has worked for New
Holland for 15 years—12 years
with the horse sales. On a recent
Monday morning, he fielded
questions from prospective buyers
and sellers as he drew blood for
Coggins tests, examined horses
and wrestled with one feisty mini
horse in an effort to determine
whether or not it was a gelding.
He’s assisted by his wife, Am-
ber Holt, and Lori Eberly, who
complete the paperwork for the
blood tests, and help Holt locate
horses he still needs to examine.
“Sometimes it’s like a scavenger
hunt,” Amber Holt explains, as
her husband races ahead through
aisles crowded with horses and
Holt is not defensive or
argumentative when asked about
reports from activists who say
that they’ve seen horses at the
New Holland stables that are
too sick or thin or injured to be
sold. He says he pulls one or
two horses out of the sale every
“Pennsylvania law says you
can’t sell a horse that can’t be
worked or used,” Holt explains.
“But the law doesn’t define
what that means.” It is a com-
plicated issue, as Pennsylvania’s
cruelty statute seems almost
deliberately vague when it
comes to the treatment of horses
and cattle.
The statute details the many
instances in which an individual
could be charged with cruelty:
“A person commits a sum-
mary offense if he wantonly or
cruelly illtreats, overloads, beats,
otherwise abuses any animal, or
neglects any animal as to which
he has a duty of care, whether
belonging to himself or other-
wise, or abandons any animal, or
Dr. James Holt of Brandywine Veterinary Services prepares to draw
blood for a Coggins test on a horse scheduled to go through the New
Holland Auction.
(Continued on page 21)
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