Keith Dane, the director of equine services for the nation’s Humane Society, said he has been told by a top official of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration there has been a formal complaint filed against him and that he should be present for a “hearing” next month to answer charges that demand he be expelled from the board of the group’s Breeders and Exhibitors Association. The hearing to “shoot the messenger” is scheduled June 28 in Lewisburg, Tn.
Dane, who attended a large horse show in Shelbyville with USDA veterinarians and inspectors this weekend, did not comment on the specific charges but noted that one horse, confiscated earlier this year from a barn run by trainer Jackie McConnell, won its class despite having eight previous violations of the Horse Protection Act found against the animal.
“If that doesn’t show problems persist then I don’t know what does.”
Dane, of course, is being played as the scapegoat for a damning undercover video by the Humane Society of the United States that appeared 10 days ago on ABC’s “Nightline” news program and has since made its way to every major network, all of America’s leading newspapers and an exploding Internet network that has covered the world. The video, appearing on May 18, clearly shows several beautiful horses being beaten, shocked and tortured by the veteran trainer McConnell. To the horror of thousands who adore the animals, one horse actually cries out in the video and the graphic images are appalling to those who know absolutely nothing about the gentle, loving breed.
McConnell, whose name is said to be carved in marble as a Hall of Fame winner outside the Celebration’s headquarters in Shelbyville, has since pleaded guilty to a felony of the Horse Protection Act in a Chattanooga Federal Court and has been “barred for life” by the embattled organization. He will be sentenced on Sept. 10 in Chattanooga.
Now, in a totally mystifying move by the walking horse industry’s largest governing body, its very leaders now want the federal animal welfare official ousted from their midst as well. “I plan to be at the hearing and defend my belief that what is happening isn’t right,” he said on Sunday. There is no question the video, spurring widespread outrage among those who cherish the 500,000 Tennessee Walking Horses that are registered in the United States, has created a furious demand to end the barbaric soring and heinous abuse that has plagued the industry for almost half a decade. The Horse Protection Act became a law in 1970 but only until this year – after 42 years -- has it been successfully prosecuted in Federal Court.
Earlier this year three others pleaded guilty to violations in Federal Court and one, trainer Barney Davis, actually got a year in prison for obstruction of justice and threating a witness. Now, with the top 20 trainers in the Celebration’s Riders Cup amassing a total of 164 violations of the Horse Protection Act in the last two years alone, Justice Department officials believe there will be further arrests and indictments.
Dane, a well-known and long-time horseman who serves on the Breeders and Exhibitors Board as a director from Maryland, was the subject of a scathing letter written by Celebration CEO Dr. Doyle G. Meadows to the Shelbyville Times-Gazette on April 12. Portions of that letter read:
* * *
“The Celebration Board of Directors and staff take exception to the article in the March 6 edition entitled "Much Soring Alleged" by Brian Mosely. It is a one sided advertorial for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and Keith Dane causing serious harm to The Celebration and walking horse industry.
“The headline "Much Soring Alleged" and the statement in the first paragraph "An undercover investigation into animal abuse in the walking horse industry is only 'the tip of the iceberg,' a spokesman for the HSUS told the T-G" is pure and simple sensationalism is not indicative of reality…
“There is no question that a few horses are able to violate the law without detection and if the criteria is 100% compliance, the industry is guilty. We believe our record is outstanding and are proud to host the World Grand Championship for this magnificent breed.“Your glowing description of HSUS is consistent with the lack of research indicated above. They have no relationship with the community humane society in Bedford County and others across the country.
“Closer to home, the article clearly puts a cloud over all training establishments in Bedford County when HSUS' Keith Dane was asked if there were any training establishments here that "they are trying to get an inside look at as to what is going on." (Dane) wisely said he "couldn't say at this time" and you unwisely printed it casting a suspicious cloud over all area horsemen.
“Your Celebration Special Edition sells a significant amount of advertising to these trainers, and you should be ashamed to ask for their business in the future.“The Times-Gazette has historically had a wonderful relationship with The Celebration and the horse industry and it is a shame what has happened since the paper was sold to the existing company. They know little about our community and apparently care even less. When it was purchased, the new publisher said he would be moving to Shelbyville from Murfreesboro and would become part of our community. Unfortunately, that has not happened. Regardless of where he lives, the publisher is responsible for what appears in the paper.
“For the record, Dane did not attend the Celebration last year even though he was quoted extensively about it. He has attended on very few occasions and knows little about our inspection program and horse show. He was also identified by the T-G as a board member of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association...and he is...he received two write-in votes with no other candidate running to become the director from Maryland.”
* * *
Once again, the ill-advised letter to the Shelbyville newspaper from Dr. Meadows appeared a month before the scandalous video would emerge. The uproar over the tape and more-recent revelations clearly show the Celebration CEO may have misspoken in his letter that castigated the Humane Society executive and also affronted the Times-Gazette’s management.
Now Dr. Meadows and his group have much larger problems. In Sunday’s editions of the Nashville Tennessean, columnist Gail Kerr actually printed the office telephone number of Federal Judge Sandy Mattice, who will sentence McConnell in early September, and listed the names and contact information for politicians who can create stiffer penalties for horse soring and other criminal animal abuse. In yesterday’s Knoxville News-Sentinel, Wayne Pacelle, the pesident and CEO of the Humane Society of America, wrote, “The highest levels of Tennessee walking horse competition are not clean,” and ripped the industry’s top officials with a well-informed letter that equated horse soring to dog fighting, seal clubbing, puppy millers and cockfighters.
According to Pacelle, “The (performance horse) ndustry claims a 98 percent compliance rate with the (Horse Protection Act), yet 52 of the 52 horses randomly tested were found by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to be positive for prohibited foreign substances having been applied to their ankles at the 2011 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, which is the major annual show (the Super Bowl, if you will) within the industry.
“Foreign substance violation rates (for soring, numbing or masking agents) at all shows at which the USDA inspected horses were 86 percent in 2010 and 97.6 percent in 2011. It doesn't get more pervasive than that,” wrote Pacelle.
So, from every corner, the lariat is tightening on the very people who – quite unbelievably – have now called for a June hearing to oust the Humane Society’s Keith Dane from its board of directors. As Atticus Finch once said in the book, To Kill A Mockingbird, “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It’s knowing you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do."