In hot, sweltering day in August of 2005, Robert Eldridge gave me a tour of his Kaufman County neighborhood.
It was the worst tour of my life.
Eldridge lives in an African-American neighborhood in nearby Kaufman across the street from Dallas Crown, one of only three horse slaughtering plants in the entire country. On the day I visited, the plant was storing dead horse hides in an uncovered trailer, unleashing a vicious odor that seemed to have a life and force of its own. In one woman's backyard, which was directly in front of the plant, we saw dozens of discarded horse bones, which had likely been licked dry by rats and stray dogs. Robert guessed that the plant's employees probably tossed the bones over for sport.
On our tour, Robert and I never stepped onto Dallas Crown's property. We merely walked around the perimeter and peered through the fence so I could get a sense -- and then some -- of what it must be like to live next to a business that slaughters horses without regard to local ordinances. Dallas Crown employees and the facility's manager warned us not to trespass, but I didn't need to. I saw and smelled enough.
The uncovered horse trailer that we witnessed was against the law, and although I didn't exactly hide my identity--I had a notebook and digital camera -- none of the employees who were now watching us from the rooftop thought it be a good idea to cover it up.
Last year, the facility had at least 29 unpaid sommons at $2,000 each, most of which were for discharging too much blood and grease into the town's sewer system. Later that day, Robert showed me blood stains on a nearby road that he said often followed the path of the trucks that pick up horse hides at the plant.
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Last week, a federal appeals court upheld a state ban on killing horses for human consumption, but Robert Eldridge wasn't ready to rejoice. For the last year, the Dallas Crown, with the help of its attorney Mark Calabria, has managed to stay in business despite various threats to its existence. Even as Kaufman Mayor Paula Bacon has crusaded for its extinction, even as the local hospital has complained about the plant's foul odors, even as people in the neighborhood have woken up to the early morning sounds of a horse's last moans, Dallas Crown has survived. It has fought its unpaid summons in court and narrowly escaped a law by Congress that was intended to ban horse slaughter. Instead, the industry was able to find a loophole in the law allowing Dallas Crown to stay in business.
So naturally, Eldridge says he's not going to celebrate until the plant closes once and for all.
"They have been thugs. Just thugs. Kind of like of the mob in Chicago in the 20s, they just do what they want, "Eldridge says. "They have plenty of money and do whatever they want to do in small towns like this. But there are some people who will stand up to them."
And I think those people are about to win. --Matt Pulle