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Nationwide effort under way to convince city to nix Cavel

DeKALB - City officials are reporting getting hundreds of e-mail messages, letters and phone calls from people opposed to Cavel Internation-al's plan to reopen a horse-slaughtering plant that burned down last year - but only a handful of them have come from the DeKalb area. Community Development Director Paul Rasmussen said he had approximately 250 letters from people who want the city to forbid the plant from opening despite the city council's decision in 2001 to grant the company a permit to do so. He could remember only three or four of the letters being from DeKalb County, however. "Apparently PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) put it on some kind of Web page," he said of Cavel's intentions. "Most of the letters say exactly the same things in the exactly the same words." Mayor Greg Sparrow estimated he's gotten 100 e-mails on the topic over the past eight weeks, including one from Arlington Park race track board chairman Dick Duchossois. "Very few have I gotten that have been (from) DeKalb or even DeKalb County," Sparrow said. City Manager Jim Connors and Rasmussen said the flurry of anti-slaughter correspondence was strongest about two months ago, but has tailed off since then. There also have been a handful of letters or e-mail messages in support of the plant reopening, which company officials have said they hope to do by December. Gail Vacca - a DeKalb resident, horse trainer and member of the Washington, D.C.-based National Horse Protection Coalition - admits that the lobbying effort has failed to generate much anti-slaughter sentiment among local residents or officials. She said the reason might be there are "not a lot of horse people here in this area that are active in the horse industry." She and other anti-horse slaughter advocates are hoping two bills - one at the state level and one in the U.S. Congress - to outlaw horse slaughter will become law. The state bill, House Bill 3845, sponsored by south suburban Chicago Democrat Robert Molaro, was sent the House Rules Committee on Oct. 23. The federal bill also is pending. The city of DeKalb has issued the permits Cavel needs to rebuild its plant at the corner of Harvestore Drive and South First Street, in southern DeKalb. Jeff Squibb, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Agriculture, said the state regulates slaughter houses that turn horse meat into dog food, but not those that slaughter the animals for human consumption. He said the federal government handles permits for the latter. Officials with the state office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture were not available Friday afternoon. Cavel's plant was destroyed by fire on Easter, March 31, 2002. No official cause for the blaze was ever determined. At the time, the company had been operating the plant for 15 years and had already been granted the permits it needed to refurbish the plant. There are only two other plants that slaughter horses in the United States and sell their meat overseas. Both are in Texas.

Chris Rickert can be reached at crickert@pulitzer.net.

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