Last Monday, just one day before serial horse-abuse artist Jackie McConnell would be sentenced in a Chattanooga Federal Court, a psychopath named Carlos Romero was arrested in Ocala, Fla., after he admitted “intimate contact” with a 20-month old miniature donkey named Doodle.
McConnell, who pleaded guilty to one of 54 counts of animal abuse, was sentenced to three years of probation and fined $75,000 last Tuesday, while Romero, a 31-year-old farm hand who told reporters he had been sexually attracted to horses since he was 18 because he likes their “feminine shape, behavior and raw power,” remains in jail at last report.
McConnell’s guilty plea, and the fact the judge admitted such an ambiguous legal arrangement “tied one hand behind my back” by not allowing a jail option at sentencing, predictably enraged an already furious public who know that McConnell, a Hall of Fame trainer who has a colorful 30-year history of soring and abusing animals, would once again skate out the back door of the courthouse a free man.
So now horse advocates around the world wonder what is the difference between Jackie McConnell and Carlos Romero. After all, they are both now known for years of animal abuse with the only discernible difference being Jackie does his sadistic torture for money while Carlos, who maintains he is “not harming the animal or other people,” does it for love.
Romero, according to a news report out of Ocala, wants the man who reported his tryst with the donkey arrested on charges of being a “peeping Tom” while McConnell’s lawyers stated under oath that the man who was seen by millions as he brutalized horses with a 4-foot club and an electric cattle prod "has a reputation for honesty, integrity and compassion."
Others point to dog fighter Michael Vick, who did a 21-month stint in Leavenworth Federal Prison, and ask what’s the difference in the pro quarterback’s case and the sick culture that pervades the “Big Lick” faction of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. As a national outcry against pads, chains and “performance devices” heightens, public reaction to the judge’s sentence was every bit as caustic as the chemicals McConnell and his ilk use to achieve the unnatural and repulsive gait greedy owners desire.
The comments from readers to various stories from the sentencing were incredible and easy to find on newspaper websites. In the Nashville Tennessean one reader suggested McConnell should have been “turned into glue.” Another called it “a miscarriage of justice” and still another wrote, “This man should spend a decade in jail. His assets should be given to animal rights organizations.
“To let him walk free is less than a slap on the wrist,” opined a lady from Brentwood. “The Walking Horse industry is so corrupt and vile that the so-called ‘Celebration’ should be padlocked and never allowed to exist again. All that's being ‘celebrated’ in this event is rich old men in silly long coats hunched over the backs of magnificent horses that have been abused.”
My emails were even worse -- one sent to me following the sentencing read:
“I feel sorry for you. You live in a state that has a complete disregard for the United States of America. Tennesseans want the benefits but they don't want to follow the rules. If they can no longer put chains on [racial slur] -- their word, not mine -- then they have to put chains on horses and teach their children and all who will listen to do the same. The south has not grown with time. The south has not ‘matured’. It is the same hateful place it always has been. God has turned His back on Tennessee.”
Now that’s strong but, sadly, the Shelbyville “Big Lickers” are now attracting more worldwide attention to Tennessee than all of the tourism offices between Memphis and Bristol combined. My goodness, horse magazines in three foreign countries requested – and received – permission to reprint a story I wrote on last week’s court sentencing. So did “Animal People,’ a respected independent newspaper providing investigative coverage of animal protection to over 7,000 agencies worldwide.
The Tennessean ran a readership poll and a full 72 percent of those who responded believe the court was “too lenient.” Former Maryland Senator Joseph Tydings, who originated the federal Horse Protection Act in 1970, attended the sentencing and was mortified afterwards. “A culture has risen in Tennessee and Kentucky ... that it was quite alright to violate the law."
“The Big Lick has got to go!” he said, calling out one Tennessee Congressman, Scott DesJarlais (R-Jasper) by name for “harassing” the Department of Agriculture. "It's a phony gait that's based on the greed of owners and trainers, it's based on cruelty to horses … Your stomach has to be turned by what's going on.”
And McConnell is still not completely free. On Sept. 25 (tomorrow) he and his co-defendants in the federal case – plus two owners – will answer to 15 state charges of animal cruelty in the Fayette County courthouse in Somerville, Tn. The charges are the direct result of the video that has been shown all over the world of McConnell beating and torturing horses in his barn and – unlike Federal Court – can be viewed during the state proceedings.
Because the crimes took place in Fayette County, Sessions Judge Mike Whitaker actually has the ability to incarcerate any defendant in the case for a period of up to 11 months, 29 days or – at his discretion – can pass the case to a higher criminal court.
One thing is certain. What is happening to the “Big Lick” faction of the Walking Horse industry is only going to get worse until the “court of public opinion” rules over its demise. Horse abuse in any form, whether it is soring or whatever happened to Doodle the miniature donkey, will no longer be tolerated by a civilized society.