Categories
Press Releases

Foreign Substances Found in 76% Horses Tested by USDA at Walking Horse Event

Press release from the Humane Society of the United States; May 9, 2013:

In contrast to the two foreign substance violations reported by the Tennessee walking horse industry at the 2012 National Celebration in Shelbyville, Tenn., the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s testing revealed that 145 horses out of 190 tested, or 76 percent, were found positive.

The Humane Society of the United States has requested that Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. open an investigation into the veracity of public statements made by officials connected to the Walking Horse Trainers Association Enforcement Initiative, the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration and the Tennessee Walking Show Horse Organization about their initiative to detect unlawful horse soring at the 2012 Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration.

The HSUS maintains that this discrepancy raises a serious concern that participants and spectators at the Celebration were falsely assured that horses entered were compliant with the federal Horse Protection Act, when evidence of cruelty and cheating may have been concealed by the organizers of the event. The foreign substance testing is used to detect the presence of painful caustic chemicals that trainers apply to horses’ legs. Other cruel training methods – collectively referred to as “soring” – are used to obtain the prized high-stepping gait of the walking horse.

Before the event, both the TWHNC and the TWSHO issued press releases assuring the public that every horse entered at the Celebration would be swabbed and tested for illegal foreign substances used to sore horses or to conceal that a horse was sore. They also promised to release test results promptly during the event and to immediately and severely punish any violators. However, it appears that the industry groups did not swab and test every horse, nor did they release the complete results of the testing, adding to suspicions that some positive test results may have been suppressed to protect the perpetrators.

Keith Dane, director of equine protection for The HSUS, said: “The show organizations involved with the Celebration’s swabbing program failed to deliver on promises about protecting the welfare of horses and compliance with the law. We are urging Attorney General Cooper to fully investigate the industry’s deception.”

The HSUS’ ongoing effort to protect Tennessee walking horses from abuse includes urging Gov. Bill Haslam to veto the dangerous anti-whistleblower bill, SB 1248, now on his desk. If SB 1248 is passed, it would outlaw the types of investigations that have exposed horse soring and ban one of the few ways animal abuse in stables and on farms is discovered.

The HSUS also urges AG Cooper to open an investigation into whether all horses were in fact swabbed and tested for foreign substances at the 2012 Celebration, why the industry’s findings were at such variance with USDA’s testing, and whether any positive tests for foreign substances may have been ignored or concealed by the industry.

To read the full letter from The HSUS, click here.

Facts:

  • The USDA’s 2012 foreign substance testing results revealed that out of 478 horses tested at 24 different horse shows, 309 horses were positive for foreign substances, or 65 percent.
  • An HSUS undercover investigation documented the prevalent use of caustic chemicals to sore horses and led to a 52-count indictment of Jackie McConnell, who pleaded guilty to one count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, and three of his associates. In September, a federal court sentenced him to three years of probation and a $75,000 fine. McConnell also faces prosecution for violations of the Tennessee animal cruelty statute.
  • In April of this year, East Tennessee walking horse trainer Larry Wheelon was arrested by agents of the Blount County Sheriff’s Department on a felony animal cruelty charge for allegedly soring horses under his care. He had previously been cited at least 15 times for violations of the Horse Protection Act and at the time of his arrest he was a AAA-rated judge for the SHOW horse industry organization and a director and member of the Ethics Committee of the Walking Horse Trainers Association.
  • The HSUS filed a legal petition asking USDA to treat the use of illegal numbing or masking chemicals on horses’ legs as a felony under the Horse Protection Act.
  • H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics or PAST Act, sponsored by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., will end the failed system of walking horse industry self-policing, ban the use of certain devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and hold accountable all those involved in this cruel practice. The HSUS urges Congress to pass this bill, which now has 23 co-sponsors in the House.
Categories
Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

DA, Sheriff Criticize Animal-Cruelty Reporting Measure

While Gov. Bill Haslam weighs his options regarding legislation sitting on his desk that opponents have dubbed the “Ag Gag” bill, the chorus of condemnation continues to grow.

Earlier this week two prominent Tennessee crime-fighters told TNReport they have concerns about the bill from a policing standpoint. The state’s longest serving district attorney as well as the president of the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association are saying the legislation is flawed to such degree that enforcement and prosecutions would be problematic if it becomes law.

The bill, sponsored in the state House by Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and in the Senate by Somerville Republican Dolores Gresham, requires anyone “who intentionally” films or photographs animal abuse “for the purpose of documenting the offense” to hand the material over to law enforcement within 48 hours.

It passed handily in the Senate, but by only one vote in the House of Representatives. Both chambers are dominated by the GOP. The governor is also a Republican.

District Attorney General Tommy Thompson, Jr. of the 15th Judicial District called the legislation “an obstruction to justice.”

“This bill is more an industry protection act. It’s a way to prevent people from finding out, because you have to get the trust of the people who are doing it,” said Thompson, a Democrat who for 36 years has served as chief criminal prosecutor for Wilson, Trousdale, Smith, Macon and Jackson counties.

“The people who are doing it are smarter with the law than a lot of the people who are enforcing it,” he added. “They aren’t going to do anything where you can see them until you gain their trust.”

However, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Farm Bureau, which supports the legislation, told TNReport the measure has been unfairly characterized by media and opponents.

Noting that the bill was initially titled the “Livestock Protection Act” by one of the sponsors, Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Rhedona Rose said the purpose and intent of it is to protect the animals and stop the abuse of the animals. Calling it “Ag Gag” misrepresents what the bill in fact does, she said, which is require people who knowingly witness and record animal abuse to promptly report it to law enforcement officials who can then take steps to stop it immediately.

Rose also pointed to Tennessee’s relatively high score on an Animal Legal Defense Fund assessment of all 50 states’ laws relating to animal treatment as evidence of “how strong we are in dealing with animal abusers.”

“I think the farm community is very frustrated that because of a few bad actors, the entire agriculture farm community is getting a black eye,” Rose said. “They are ready to deal with those who are in fact causing that image and feel like that folks that have proof of that image and knowingly and intentionally go out and capture the proof of that image, they could get it to law enforcement to be dealt with quickly.”

Nevertheless, vocal opponents of the measure, including Republicans like Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris and House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee Chairwoman Susan Lynn, have said the bill seems more like a thinly veiled effort to stifle the activities of animal rights activists — that the legislation would in effect “gag” them in the interest of protecting ag and livestock producers.

Thompson, the district attorney, said putting together enough evidence for a prosecution to occur would in fact require more than just one recorded instance of animal abuse. He compared the undercover operations of documenting animal abuse to undercover drug operations.

“If the drug task force had to report their buys within two days, first of all, you would never have enough informants who could get in like that,” he said. “Secondly, if you have to report within two days, the person comes to court and says, ‘That was just the first time I ever did it. I made a mistake. I’m sorry,’ and he may be the biggest drug dealer in town.”

Thompson, who also raises cattle, said the drug task force always tries to do three or four buys from a dealer so they can’t claim it was a casual sale when they come to court.

“You can’t just stand there and take pictures in two days,” said Thompson. “You have to work awhile and let them trust you before you get in position to where the real abuse is going on.”

Thompson added that the bill “doesn’t really have any teeth to it, because anything that is a Class C misdemeanor by fine only gets moved to the bottom of the priority list for law enforcement. There’s so much more important stuff going on.”

Putnam County Sheriff David K. Andrews pretty much agreed with Thompson that the bill has no real teeth and that capturing a one-time incident is basically futile.

“There’s no jail time to it. If a judge issues a pick-up on someone, law enforcement is going to make an effort to pick that person up. But then when you pick him up, what do you do with him?” said Andrews, who last summer was elected to lead the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association.

“If he can’t pay it and won’t pay it, what are you going to do? You can’t put him in jail.”

While the Sheriff’s Association has not taken an official active role in the legislation, Andrews said he used to work undercover and that if you buy drugs from someone just one time, “you might as well not go to court.

“They’re going to say, ‘Well, judge, I really just done this the one time. I was coerced or this or that.’ It sort of takes the teeth out of your prosecution,” Andrews said.

The governor is awaiting an opinion on the bill’s constitutionality from the state attorney general before deciding whether to signs it, veto it or let it become law without is endorsement.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@downhomepolitics.com, on Twitter @DwnHomePolitics or at 615-442-8667.

Categories
Press Releases

Ellen Degeneres, Humane Society to Haslam: Veto Ag-Gag Bill

Press release from the Humane Society of the United States, April 24, 2013:

April 24, 2013 – A campaign to persuade Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam to veto legislation that would restrict taking photographs or video on industrial factory farms hit the national airwaves today as the head of The Humane Society of the United States appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show. HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle asked viewers to call Gov. Haslam and urge him to veto SB1248 – a bill in one of 11 states to subvert animal welfare investigations.

The HSUS has launched a grassroots, social media and advertising campaign to encourage the governor to veto the controversial bill, which is opposed by a broad coalition of First Amendment proponents, animal welfare organizations, journalists and press associations, and a bipartisan group of Tennessee legislators who tried to halt the bill’s progress in the waning hours of the Tennessee legislative session.

“Ellen DeGeneres and I reminded her millions of viewers that these bills are a bald-faced attempt by agribusiness interests to close the curtains on inhumane and unacceptable practices and conduct on factory farms” said Pacelle. “We need more transparency, not less, in discussing animal production practices in our country.”

Lawmakers in Indiana, Nebraska, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Vermont are considering bills similar to the legislation that narrowly passed in the Tennessee legislature last week.