While recent national headlines have been filled with the likes of Canadian singer-songwriter Jann Arden protesting at Calgary International Airport over the export of Canadian horses for slaughter, in Squamish, the headlines aren't news to Kris Latham, who established a horse rescue in 2016.
"These guys are jammed — four big draft horses to a crate," she says stretching her arms to show how small the space is that the horses are transported in for flights overseas.
Under current Canadian regulations, the total travel time an exported horse can go without feed, water, and rest is 28 hours.
At the 28-hectare (70-acre) Second Chance Cheekye Ranch in the Squamish Valley, Latham told The Chief — as one of her 'babies,' a gelding called Dexter, sauntered up to give her an affectionate nudge — that she and her supporters have taken in 130 rescues to date.
Horses make up the lion's share of rescues, but the ranch has also taken in donkeys, mules, and pigs.
Currently, 30 rescues are at the ranch.
Horse meat is eaten in Europe, South America, and Asia.
In 2019, 1,626 live horses, (excluding pure-bred horses) were exported from B.C. at a value of $17 million, according to Statistics Canada. Of those, about 1,150 were destined for Japan, worth $4 million.
According to the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition, tens of thousands of horses are routinely killed in Canada for human consumption.
The practice has been illegal in the U.S. since 2007; therefore, horses from the U.S. are shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter.
Latham, who has been a vegetarian since she was 15 years old, aims to divert the horses from their deadly fate and bring them to the ranch, where they are nursed back to health if need be, cared for, and ideally adopted out to loving homes — after a rigorous adoption process.
So far this year, 25 horses have been adopted out from Second Chance.
"The whole volunteer base and our trainers care so much about the horses and where they are going and how they are brought up," Latham said. "We are like proud parents."
Some of the animals rescued arrive in rough shape and are barely able to stand. "They can barely even walk because their feet are just a mess," Latham said.
"On the whole, most of them aren't bad: a lot of deworming and vet checks."
Other animals come to the ranch because their owners can't care for them any longer or they were seized due to abuse.
"With COVID this year, we've ended up with a number of people losing their jobs, not being able to work and not being able to afford their animals ... A lot of them are getting surrendered and it is heartbreaking for [the owners]. Some know what the options are when they take them to auction, some of them don't," Latham said, adding some people think once a horse is at auction, it will be certain to go to a good home as a companion, but that is not likely the case.
A horse Latham calls Mr. Milwaukee was saved in 2016 on his way to be shipped for slaughter.
"We were on the phone with the driver: 'Don't take him right; take him left,'" she recalled, while petting the gentle gelding.
"He's such a good boy."
A couple of rescued yearlings arrived at the ranch about a month ago. They were very skinny and one had repeated abscesses. That horse is now with an Abbotsford vet who removed two pellets that were causing the issues. The yearling is healing well and is due back at the ranch any day now.
Hank, a pig, was seized from a location in Surrey.
Each of the animals becomes Latham's baby and each has a unique character.
Hank, for example, is a bit of a wanderer, prone to excursions off the ranch.
"We picked him up in Paradise Valley," Latham said, with a laugh. "He went for a little walk one day and I got a call at about 5 a.m. saying 'Kris, I am pretty sure this is one of your pigs.'"
Getting Hank home in a vehicle was an event.
"It was literally piggy in a blanket. We had to roll him like a tortilla."
On occasion, Hank has also visited Fergie's Cafe, which is located across the road.
The heartbreaking part for Latham is that Second Chance Cheekye Ranch can't take all the animals that need a haven.
The ranch depends on approximately 25 volunteers.
Due to the pandemic, the whole ranch was shut down in March.
"That was a workload," she said. "I was out here pretty much by myself doing everything."
Everyone is allowed back now, with strict COVID-19 protocols.
The rescues on the Second Chance property currently cost about $3,000 per month to care for.
Due to COVID-19, the ranch is unable to host the events and fundraisers it used to. It depends on grants, like a recent one from Woodfibre LNG it received, and donations.
Long term, Latham's dream is to have an indoor riding ring at the ranch.
"We are hoping we will have the community support behind it because I think it is just going to be an amazing, amazing thing to have here — especially since all of Finch Drive and all of those areas are getting sucked up and our equestrian community is going. It is disappearing. People don't have a facility to actually be and be able to develop," she said.
For more on the ranch and how to support it, go to https://secondchancecheekyeranch.com/.