|By Ford Turner, Reading Eagle, Pa.|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
The century-old animal auction whose pens, auction barns and parking lots occupy a city block-sized tract in the middle of a rural
That is because horses represent no more than 15 percent of the 500,000 animals sold at
Buyers and sellers come by the thousands every week from across the state and throughout the East. Different animals are sold at different times of the week. A significant amount of business comes from
"We can sell our cattle there," Wagner said. "It's a place to get rid of them, if we don't want them anymore."
"It is important to any farmer who buys and sells livestock," Bontrager said.
But it is the horse auction -- and specifically, what happens to some of the horses sold at the auction -- that gets the most public attention.
Time and again, the
"We are the main hub for agriculture here in the state, as far as animals go," McDermott said.
The business takes no position on the issue of horse slaughter. It welcomes bidding from those who support the practice and those who detest it.
"We are open to the public," McDermott said. "I urge them to come and buy a horse."
A vast reach
Every Monday, 200 or more thoroughbreds, Amish-owned work animals,
Some are bought for riding and some for special tasks, like summer kids' camps. Some are purchased by horse rescues.
But up to 25 percent, according to McDermott, are bought by brokers sometimes referred to as kill buyers who haul them out of the country for slaughter.
Those winning bidders have made
"There is an emotional attachment to these horses, that are companion animals, that have worked side by side with man in building this country," McDermott said. "There are agencies that do not want to see any horses killed, whatsoever."
"Our job is to bring buyer and seller together. We collect a fee that is the commission," he said. "That is all we are -- an agent."
Horses bought at
"This horse sale is widely known in the East," said Lloyd Martin, an
The company's auctions of other animals are widely known, too. The roughly 1,500 consignors, or sellers, who bring animals to the auction every week come from
But the presence of
Gelsinger said, "Without that, you'd really be in trouble."
Accusations of cruelty
It has also dealt with legal issues of its own.
In 2001, a district justice fined the business more than
In 2012, it agreed to pay
McDermott declined to comment on the federal case.
Concerning accusations of cruelty, he said the business had no control over the condition of animals arriving at the complex, but it tried to watch out for their welfare while there.
"It is something we constantly have to monitor," he said.
Business and pleasure
The sales barn is a hive of activity on Mondays.
A vast array of horse trailers and pickup trucks stretches across the parking lot. Close to the barn entrance, vendors standing at outdoor tables sell all sorts of paraphernalia -- some horse-related and some not -- including blankets, figurines and mirrors.
Inside, past a snack stand that serves coffee, pretzels, cookies and doughnuts, the action centers on the narrow strip where the horses are led or ridden between the bleacher-like seats.
The place is like a "divorce court" where owners part with horses, according to
"When we had the economic downturn, six-horse owners became two-horse owners," Edelson said. "And, there were four horses that were unwanted."
Whiteside, whose work puts him right by the ring, said his fondness for the job goes beyond the requirements of being an impartial agent.
He said, "I am personally a horse lover."
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