For a lesson in the ways state politics can affect an issue as seemingly inarguable as animal abuse, read Christine Kreyling's excellent cover story in this week's Scene -- which describes the tussle over a proposed bill that would make the aggravated abuse of livestock (including horses) a felony in Tennessee instead of a misdemeanor.
Kreyling writes that the legislation fight has exposed a wide gap between animal-rights advocates -- who urge an end to animal abuse in all its forms -- and the powerful state Farm Bureau, which doesn't want urban outsiders (especially the Humane Society) telling its officers and members what constitutes abuse.
Just as illuminating is the debate that has erupted in the article's comments section online. Perhaps the most surprising is the amount of sympathy commenters show for the accused abusers who allowed more than 80 horses to starve and dwindle on their Cannon County farm.
"Why is it that every time the [Humane Society of the U.S.] is involved, it becomes 'the worst case of horrific animal abuse' in the state of XXXXX, which has inadequate animal protection laws, etc., etc.?" writes Mary D. from Memphis. "And they go for laws to ramp up to the felony status every single time? And they go after people who are already in financial binds and who cannot fight back if charges are spurious."
Counters Lisa from Birmingham: "Yes, the [Humane Society] is an evil, lying bunch of fools, BUT SERIOUSLY PEOPLE... THERE WERE ROTTING CARCASSES ALL OVER THE MANS FARM!! Are you really saying it was wrong for someone to come take his property (the dying horses) away?? Are you really saying that someone should have given him money instead? Did you LOOK at the pictures?? Did you read the article? Are you suggesting that this man had the RIGHT to starve his horses to death if he chose to do so?? Please, get a life! And for God's sake, get rid of your poor animals."
One Capt. Barbosa responds by putting the blame squarely where it belongs -- on the people who rescued the horses. "No one is saying that starving dying horses is right," Capt. Barbosa writes. "What we are saying is the people responsible for this is the H$U$ and the extremist who voted against horse slaughter.
"Getting stuck with a horse isn't the same as getting stuck with a dog. Horses eat a LOT more and cost a LOT more to care for, and when you are in a position you can't do that and you can't find anyone to take them and you can't even sell them for meat ... there is no 'horse pound' to drop them off at. There aren't enough rescue facilities and money in this country to handle horses that get into positions like this. You are simply stuck watching your horses starve to death and die ... There are no cheap solutions when it comes to disposing of a 1200-lb. animal. If you are to the point you can't afford to feed them, you probably can't afford to put them down either.
"People need to understand that what seems like a great 'feel good' law has reaching consequences, and examples of horses like these are the result of laws based on emotions and not practical thought."
A direct rebuttal comes from one Birdperch, who responds: "Capt. Barbosa -- I gather you're in the livestock trade in some capacity and a fan of horse slaughter. That's all well and good. However, you seem to blame HSUS and those advocating stronger animal anti-cruelty laws for the actions of individuals. HSUS is NOT responsible for anyone's actions. They only advocate for animal rights, much like right now the Farm Bureau believes it's advocating for farmers' livestock rights. Both are important and both groups need to work together.
"If a person buys 20 horses for a minimal cost in hopes of selling them to riders, or slaughter overseas, but can't afford to feed or properly manage all 20 horses, then they should NOT buy all those horses. Buy 2, or buy what they can afford. It's much like all the people who took out mortgages to buy houses that they could not possibly afford to maintain and then complain that it was someone else's fault that they got greedy trying to keep up with the Joneses. It's all common sense. Bite off only what you can chew without getting choked."
For more responses, watch for the letters page in the Scene's next issue.