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February 25, 2014

The Rule of Law, and the Criminal Enterprises of Cockfighting and Horse Soring

Recently, a group of cockfighters made some noise in Kentucky, threatening to oust U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell in his 2014 re-election bid because he voted in January for the Farm Bill, which included an HSUS-backed provision to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fighting spectacle.  I think it’s fair to say that these fellows have brought single-issue politics to an historic low.

celebrationhorse
A Tennessee Walking Horse at the National Celebration in Shelbyville, TN
Photo by HSUS

Because of a weak state anti-cockfighting law and no federal enforcement of the ban on fighting animals in the Bluegrass State, Kentucky cockfighters have staged animal fights with impunity. Now with the upgrade in the federal law, they know there’s trouble ahead. Instead of finally complying with federal and state law, and ceasing their ruthless and barbaric activity, these organized criminals are threatening political retaliation in its defense. My head spins at their gall.

It’s pretty much the same thing with the horse soring crowd. It’s been illegal under federal law for more than 40 years, and also illegal under the state laws of Kentucky and Tennessee, to intentionally injure the hooves and legs of horses to cause them to exaggerate their gait during horse shows. It’s called horse “soring” and it involves the infliction of torment upon horses – by chemical or mechanical means -- as a way to get a leg up and win ribbons at competitive showing events.

These people, like the cockfighters, are scofflaws. They are actively working in the political domain – in this case, lobbying against pending federal legislation, H.R. 1518 and S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act -- to protect their criminal enterprise.

As with the cockfighters, the walls are closing in on the horse soring crowd. There’s a growing list of endorsing organizations, including groups that don’t always see eye to eye on other issues, such as horse slaughter for human consumption. In the fight to end soring, The HSUS is aligned with the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Horse Council, and more than 100 other major equine and veterinary groups. More than ever, veterinarians and other prominent individuals who have seen soring first hand are speaking up and demanding that Congress pass this legislation.

Among the most prominent voices announcing his support for the PAST Act in recent weeks is Bill Harlin, a man The Tennessean describes as “synonymous with Tennessee Walking Horses,” and the owner of Harlinsdale Farm where some of the most famous grand champions in the breed originated. “Self-regulation,” he said in recent comments to The Tennessean, “will never work.” 

horse with stacks
Horses are still subjected to cruel stacked shoes and chains while we wait for Congress. Take action today.

We’ve known for a long time that there’s a cult at work in this industry, determined to cover-up and excuse their crimes. Harlin has said that passing the bill -- which would eliminate the self-policing system, ban the cruel use of chains and stacks associated with soring, and strengthen penalties for violators -- is the only way “to save our breed.” His son Clay, who has been involved in the industry for 47 years, said the Big Lick crowd, as they’re known, was “unwilling to completely stop the abuse of show horses.” He, too, called on Congress to pass the bill.

Veterinarian John C. Haffner recently related that his increasing exposure to ever more blatant abuse of horses compelled him to sell his veterinary practice. After years of witnessing trainers’ efforts to make sure their horses were in enough pain to perform the Big Lick but not so much that they’d fail inspections, he found that he was unable to stomach the corruption and cruelty any longer, and joined the effort to protect walking horses from this outrageous treatment.

There are now more than 300 cosponsors of the PAST Act – a majority of the Congress (45 Senators and 264 House members). We must demand that congressional leaders take up this bill, with its overwhelming support, and not let a band of organized criminals on the Big Lick circuit block a vote. I hope you’ll contact your two U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative today and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act, H.R. 1518/S.1406, and do all they can to get it enacted quickly. I hope you’ll forward this e-mail to friends and ask them to do the same.

Cockfighters and horse soring enthusiasts should have no more influence on the political process than drug dealers or car jackers.  Any legislators who stand with these criminals and against progress for animals won’t face just hollow threats from the lawbreakers, but an actual revolt among upstanding citizens and voters. With election to public office comes a duty to uphold and preserve the rule of law, all the more compelling in light of the moral rot associated with these two cruelties.

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