Most likely to succeed
I’m a 600 Million Dogs volunteer, and I’ll tell you a secret. I was voted Most Likely to Succeed by my classmates in high school, which is pretty funny because most of them didn’t know I was alive. I think it was out of laziness that they chose me. I got good grades, so they put my name on that line of the yearbook questionnaire. I wasn’t especially brilliant; I was obedient. I studied hard because my parents expected it. I didn’t excel in sports or choir or drama or whatever else was going on after school while I was home walking the dog. Maybe they should have told me what I was supposed to be successful AT.
It’s OK, though—I do consider myself fairly successful. I survived school and work, and now I do what I want. Just glad I lived long enough to do it, because it would have been a shame to have missed this. And by “this,” I mean not only enjoying my freedom, but more importantly, volunteering for 600 Million Dogs, the one-of-a-kind group founded by Alex Pacheco, who also cofounded PETA and was its chairman for 20 years.
Skipping the prom
Pacheco’s high school experience was obviously a lot different from mine. I don’t know what he did at school. But he’s described how he worked a bunch of jobs during the school year. As soon as the school year ended, he left town. He never went to a prom, not because of any of the usual teen angst, but because he was already gone. Why was he in such a hurry to leave? So that he could HITCHHIKE AROUND EUROPE.
What? Who does that?
I know hippies did that, but hippies were usually young adults, not high-school kids, and I thought it was mainly around the U.S., not foreign countries where they wouldn’t even know the language. And remember, back then, we didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t have a GPS to guide our every move. We had paper maps and compasses. During MY summer break, my accomplishment was to read “Gone with the Wind.” Hey, that’s a LONG book.
Meanwhile, he’s wandering around Europe. Now that I know that, it makes more sense to me that he had enough wherewithal to hike through a forest—at night–swim across a river, cross the border from Portugal to Spain with no passport, hitchhike to Madrid, then catch a flight to England, after having been detained by Portuguese authorities for being a crew member of the Sea Shepherd, the ship whose mission was to ram the whale-killing ship Sierra in 1979. Yeah, piece of cake.
It was this kind of skill and nerve that brought him many years of success in his chosen field, which was animal rights activism—a field he and Ingrid Newkirk of PETA basically had to invent in 1980 because in the United States, it was in its infancy.
Texas horses in trouble
One of his many successes started in October of 1983, when a supporter from Texas told PETA that there were lots of dead and dying horses in the fields of a little town called Marlin, near Waco. Pacheco went down to investigate, and yes, the supporter was right: all over the place, there were fields with skinny horses on them, with no shelter. There were piles of bones of dead horses. The horses that were still alive were getting more and more emaciated as they struggled to survive. Some were getting stuck in the mud and barbed-wire fencing.
Pacheco had to start from scratch. He realized he had to find out what was going on, try to get the authorities to help, and if they wouldn’t, he had to document the cruelty in hopes of getting it stopped through public outrage. He started out by telling the local authorities where the cruelty was happening, and instead of investigating, they would pursue him and threaten to arrest him for horse-theft or criminal trespass. All of these horses were on private property owned by ranchers. Pacheco learned that they were supposed to be fattening the horses for slaughter, after which the horse slaughter company was supposed to buy back the horses and slaughter them and send the horse meat to Europe. The ranchers had signs posted on their property that trespassers would be shot, and they weren’t kidding.
It was especially tough for Pacheco to get help in this situation. There were some brave locals who helped a lot, and Pacheco tried to get other volunteers to help him during the harrowing nighttime forays onto the fields, in the freezing cold, to document the cruelty. But volunteers kept quitting because of the danger of being arrested by the sheriff or shot at by ranchers. A donor even paid for professional bodyguards, but they also quit because it was too dangerous for them. Pacheco then contacted an old friend, a Marine, a very tough guy. But his friend said he wasn’t willing to get killed just to save some horses.
This is one of many times when Pacheco showed what he was made of. He didn’t quit. He stayed in Texas through the winter–November, December, and January–to document the conditions of the poor, suffering horses—about 30,000 of them in all.
It turned out that the guy who was supposed to buy back the fattened horses and send them to slaughter couldn’t pay. When the ranchers found that out, they just let the horses starve to death. To them, feeding the horses would have been throwing money away.
By the end of January 1984, Pacheco felt he had finally collected enough evidence. He held a big press conference. I don’t know how you get the national media to show up at your press conferences—it’s tough enough to get a local paper to show up—but he had learned how to get media attention from earlier work with PETA, and they did show up. The public was shocked when they saw how the horses were being treated.
2,000 of the horses had already died of starvation, and many more were in terrible condition. The local officials tried to prosecute Pacheco for criminal trespass, but the charges were dropped after he enlisted the help of famed Texas attorney Richard “Racehorse” Haynes. Pacheco tried to get the ranchers prosecuted for starving 2,000 horses, but those charges were dropped, too. But the operation, which was the largest horse slaughter operation in the world at that time, closed down permanently. Rescue groups stepped in to help as many of the horses as they could.
Pioneering undercover investigation
These horses, wherever they came from originally, were being treated as farmed animals, like cows or pigs. So it turns out that Pacheco’s undercover mission in the fields of Marlin, Texas, was the first undercover investigation of farmed animal abuse in the modern era. Although the technique of doing an undercover investigation puts activists at risk of getting arrested or beaten up or worse, it became a very important tool for any animal rights group that could handle it, because the unsuspecting public has trouble believing that such cruelty exists until they see actual photos, video, and audio of suffering animals. Even then, activists have to be very careful to document everything meticulously so that they can refute the frequent accusations that they’re fabricating evidence.
It’s this kind of dedication and refusal to quit despite tremendous obstacles that makes people like Alex Pacheco the “most likely to succeed” at whatever they are determined to do, and I’m glad his definition of success is to help animals as much as humanly possible.
“2,000 HORSES STARVE AS PLAN TO SELL MEAT FAILS.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., Jan 29 1984, ProQuest.
AP. “Grand Jury Refuses to Indict in Deaths of 2,000 Horses.” New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) ed., Mar 15 1984, ProQuest.
https://www.newspapers.com/newspage/9476241/ 10-DC I Rio, (Texas) NEWS-HERALD, Tuesday, February 14,1981 Famed attorney enters animal case at Marlin
THE COLLAPSE OF A HORSE-TRADING DEAL: A TRAIL OF DEAD ANIMALS and FINANCIAL DISASTER
Lyon, Pamela; Dallas Times Herald Service. Philadelphia Inquirer; Philadelphia, Pa. [Philadelphia, Pa]02 Feb 1984: A.8.]
“An animal rights group today called on France to boycott United States Horse Meat” UPI Archive: Domestic News, 24 Jan. 1984. Infotrac Newsstand, http://link.galegroup.com
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