CAVE CREEK, AZ - Horse slaughterhouses are making a controversial return to the United States.
A federal judge just cleared the way for the first such business to open as early as this week.
The last time a slaughterhouse in the U.S. processed horse meat was back in 2007. Since then, horses designated for slaughter have been shipped to Canada or Mexico.
Some horse enthusiasts say doing it here means a more humane death, while others say the majestic creatures should be left off the assembly line.
Director of Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary, Jim Gath, says the 29 horses at the ranch are more than animals, they are his family.
"These are my kids and they all have personalities. I couldn't kill them for anything," Gath says.
He would never think about killing them but other horse owners don't feel the same way.
In 2007, 78,000 horses were shipped to Canada and Mexico for slaughter and 30,000 horses were killed here in the U.S.
That number could go up after a U.S. district judge in Albuquerque threw out a lawsuit Friday trying to block horse slaughter in the U.S. claiming federal officials couldn't assess the environmental impact.
The debate had sparked up again after a New Mexico-based meat company wanted to slaughter horses and ship the meat to countries where they eat horse meat or use it for animal feed.
Some horse lovers think the ruling is the right choice.
"They get old and they need to be put down or humanely euthanized at some point and not every horse owner can afford to do that," says Ann Alden, a therapeutic riding instructor.
She says there are no easy choices when it comes to this issue but the demand is still there.
"In our culture we don't eat horses but in other cultures they do," Alden said.
Gath says the real root of this issue is actually overbreeding in the horse industry.
"We breed 50,000 race horses a year, we breed 60,000 Quarter horses a year, we breed 60,000 Arabians a year. Where are they going to go," Gath says.
The Humane Society, who filed the filed lawsuit, plans to appeal the ruling.
At least one slaughter house in Missouri says they'll be ready to operate by tomorrow.