Washington — A coalition of celebrities, race track leaders and others is pressing for action on federal legislation that would end or limit the slaughter of wild horses.
The effort gained momentum last year after Congress replaced a 34-year-old ban on selling wild mustangs and burros with a plan that allows the sale of older, unwanted horses.
"When you've got a coalition ranging from (country singer) Willie Nelson to ("Desperate Housewives" star) Nicollette Sheridan, we've got something for everyone," said Nancy Perry, the Humane Society of the United States' vice president of government affairs.
The move last year by Congress did not condone slaughter of the animals. But 41 of the nearly 1,000 wild mustangs sold and delivered this year were brought to slaughterhouses.
The Interior Department this week stopped delivering mustangs to buyers while it investigates whether the slaughter violates a federal contract requiring the animals to be treated humanely.
Horse advocates solicited comments from actors, including Richard Gere and Mary Tyler Moore, and drew support from horse racing leaders and others. Thomas Meeker, the president of Churchill Downs Inc., parent company of the legendary Kentucky race track, sent a letter of support. Ford Motor Co., maker of the Mustang sports car, this week offered financial support to save the lives of 52 mustangs.
But the opposition is strong and includes ranching groups that say horses eat habitat needed by cattle.
In addition, not all horse groups back the proposal. The National Quarter Horse Assn. believes the government spends too much to keep unadoptable horses at sanctuaries.