"Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."
Mark Twain in Following the Equator
Out in the real world the state of Tennessee has been, over the past few years, the focus of national attention regarding its positions on animal welfare. People involved in the current walking horse fight are well aware of the Jackie McConnell video shot in the state, but other animal related issues, that have included attempts to make law an Ag-Gag bill that would target whistleblowers rather than animal abusers, combined with the quashing of efforts to address cock-fighters, and dog fighters, and puppy mills, have made many people both outside and inside the boundaries of the volunteer state look askance at the highly conservative ranks of the elected legislators seated in Nashville.
Governor Bill Haslam, who has run up against this same group of tea drinkers when it comes to bringing affordable health care to the working poor of the state and has seen his efforts to do so thwarted, may be a fellow Republican but he is also no fool. Before he was a politician, he was a businessman. He realizes that each time one of these stories about decisions that the rest of the country views as backward hits the national news, the state of Tennessee begins to look less attractive to conventions, tourists, businesses that might be thinking about relocating, in short the very people he would like to attract to keep the state green and move it forward.
Haslam did the right thing two years ago when he courageously vetoed the Ag-Gag bill brought to him. He also had the support of the public behind him. Now he has the chance to do the right thing, again, and sign a bill that represents an encouraging sign of a dawning awareness from legislators that abusive treatment of animals is not an ownership issue but a cruelty issue.
The new bill establishes a Tennessee State Animal Abuse registry that would include a readily available public database produced by the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, giving the name, showing a photo of, and listing other pertinent information about individuals who have been convicted of animal abuse charges in the state. The information would remain on the registry for a period of from two to five years. Applause to the state legislature for its actions; now let’s see what the governor will do.
Meanwhile, over in the parallel universe of a small part of middle earth Tennessee where the walking horse performance people congregate (and where nary a word about the Jeff Mitchell situation has seen so much as an inch of type in their favorite reading material) the response to the news about this possible registry was swift.
“ I hope industry leaders are following this,” wrote one.
Another writer, who aspires to leadership in the business, quickly observed that “ I warned everyone about all the bills pending in the state legislature…smart people in every state need to keep on top of the anti- animal ownership bills in their state. HSUS has operatives at the state levels to get this crap passed. This bill is a foot in the door for them.”
Say what? How can a bill that identifies to the public convicted, not suspected but convicted, animal abusers be considered to be an anti-animal ownership bill? If people are convicted of abusing animals (and getting that done in the state of Tennessee won’t be a slam dunk if past patterns are any indication) wouldn’t a rational person think it was a good idea to have these people identified as a matter of public benefit?
Then, you have to consider that the ‘beware –the- foot- in- the –door’ people are the same ones who showed up at The Celebration grounds during the annual show to hear gamecock breeder B.L. Cozad, an invited guest, tell an all -ears crowd of horse people that soring horses and cockfighting were both victimless crimes. They were so proud of his performance that it was posted to YouTube.
When all that can be seen is your own view from the tunnel, if a public animal abuse registry is established that might create embarrassment for the big lick horse crowd that means it can’t be a good idea. That means that it must have been masterminded by the nefarious HSUS. That is what passes for logic in the parallel universe.
Heretofore considered respectable businessmen and women, physicians and veterinarians, talent agents and musicians, educators, attorneys, and truck operators, the folk who own and ride big lick horses, as well as their trainers, might ( but only if Tennessee ever got around to enforcing its long on the books but never prosecuted law against soring) if convicted, find their photos, not on a “who’s who” profile but, out in public, on a statewide abuse registry. That would decidedly not be good for business, at least not for the business of showing horses, but it might be good for the image of Tennessee, now too often referred to as the capital of horse abuse in the nation. Consider, too, if the industry is correct, and no one in the state of Tennessee’s walking horse world is involved in horse abuse, there’s no chance that they would be featured on the abuse registry anyhow, so where exactly is the problem?
The idea that this abuse registry might have come from the minds of the people who serve in the state legislature and not from shadowy operatives can’t be considered as a possibility by the parallel universe crowd even when the bill arrived at the governor’s desk with majority support from a group of people that aren’t exactly fans of humane groups.
The abuse registry isn’t the only good news coming out of Tennessee this month. Cock fighters are about to have a readjustment to their way of doing business, too, if the governor turns on the ink. After seven years of effort, change is coming to the feather and spur fans courtesy of HB 962.
By votes of 90–2 in the House and 24–1 in the Senate, Tennessee lawmakers will send a bill to the governor for his signature that will crack down on this aspect of animal fighting, making it a class A misdemeanor to attend a cock fight or to bring a child to one. Mr. Cozad and his kind won’t be celebrating that decision.
This fight about the view from the cock-pit was led by Tennessee Senator Bill Citron (R-Murfreesboro) and Representative Jon Lundberg (R-Bristol). They were joined by editorial boards throughout the state in support of their position on cockfighting.
In April things in the animal welfare business are looking a bit brighter in Tennessee. Thinking people rejoice in that. Down in the tunnel the comments will likely become ever darker and ever more paranoid. If, fingers crossed, Tennessee is on the cusp of a renaissance of getting it right on animal issues, that means that the conversation about animal welfare in the state has begun to change. State leadership seems to be taking small but important steps in that direction. The much-maligned HSUS is taking notice with approval and the parallel universe people are noticing too.
Being opposed to animal abuse and in favor of stopping it shouldn’t be a matter of us versus them or of purposely misidentifying anti-abuse of animals legislation as anti-ownership of animals legislation.
When you’re suffering from self-induced myopia, however, what’s clear to the rest of the world looks distorted to you, and unnatural, and exaggerated, and ungainly, rather like the look of the trained sore Tennessee walking horse. It will take more than a new prescription to change that view of the world even as the world itself slowly but surely changes.