When Jackie McConnell is sentenced in Federal Court next month, it will not be because he viciously and sadistically has harmed horses for over documented 30 years. No, McConnell pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and transporting an injured horse across state lines. And contrary to popular belief, not one of the five persons who have pleaded guilty this year of violating the federal Horse Protection Act has been charged with actual animal abuse by the federal government.
If that is hard for you to understand, imagine how Federal Judge Sandy Mattice and lead prosecutor Steven Neff feel when fiery letters are written like those that appeared in Chattanoogan.com last week.
All three authors were right in their belief that Jackie McConnell will receive a much lighter sentence than he deserves – along with other criminals -- but neither Mattice nor Neff can veer from a prescribed set of laws that today govern our nation.
Oh, I’m quite sure it drives them crazy, especially since the famous McConnell tape that was seen by millions was released after McConnell copped a plea, but we must never forget that federal laws are made in Washington and one reason the federal Horse Protection Act has never been enforced until just this year (it became law in 1970) is because it clearly lacks the teeth to deter those who wantonly abuse and sore Tennessee Walking Horses.
One writer was critical of the fact that John Mays, a barn worker for McConnell in Collierville, was released after four months and ordered to write a newspaper article on horse abuse. But, wait, Mays was jailed on a parole violation – not animal abuse – and had served the mandated 2/3s of his six-month sentence. The newspaper idea was just Judge Mattice’s way of making sure Mayes realizes soring will not be tolerated.
In my way of thinking Jackie McConnell needs to be dealt with quite severely, but, by the laws that are molded in Washington, not one of the hundreds of people who have written Judge Mattice demanding a fat chunk of Jackie’s flesh is going to be satisfied with whatever manner the judge sentences McConnell on Sept. 10 because – let’s face it -- the judge clearly doesn’t have the might – nor the right – to make the time fit the crime. At least, not yet.
It isn’t Judge Mattice’s fault, or prosecutor’s Neff’s fault. No, pilgrim, it is our fault. The American people must demand stronger, tougher penalties for laws from the people who make them. That is what happened in Tennessee this spring and resulted in a law that makes livestock abuse a felony, punishable by one to five years in a state prison. That law became official on July 1, but the United States, as mighty as it well me be, doesn’t have a livestock law like that.
You are right -- pro football’s Michael Vick did 18 months at Leavenworth but that was because there are tougher federal laws for fighting dogs than there are for abusing horses. While you gasp over that one, be reminded our new state law against livestock abuse has a dandy loophole where it clearly states the law does not apply if the animal involved is being “trained.” Are you surprised?
Let me show you how that works. Right now the scurrilous side of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry is in a desperate fight with the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the way horses are inspected. The USDA has mandated that all inspections and penalties should be the same, but the “Big Lick” crowd now suspends a guilty trainer for just two weeks. As a result the USDA is in the process of decertifying The Celebration and David Howard is so keen to muscle out the government he is attacking by using certain lawmakers he has meticulously “nurtured.”
Last week in the Walking Horse Chat he had the audacity to write: “Just in the past two weeks, there have been meetings or phone conversations with nine Senators and Congressman soliciting their help to meet with the Secretary of Agriculture; there was a meeting with Undersecretary Avalos and Kevin Shea (Shea is Chester Gipson's boss) relative to problems with the USDA; there have been face to face meetings with the daily newspapers in Knoxville, Nashville and Chattanooga; while the USDA continues to make expensive and outrageous demands in the law suit, there is no backing up on the litigation. And those are just a few things we are involved with for the industry.”
Howard also wrote, “I work constantly for this industry and it is quite expensive in terms of time and money. I reserve the right to defend myself and correct misinformation on this site. What (Marty Irby) did with the domain names of the Celebration is disgraceful for the President of TWHBEA and his false attacks on the Celebration and me personally will not go unchallenged.”
So do you see how the “dark side” keeps the light from shining? The problem with the federal Horse Protection Act is that ever since it was written, people like David Howard have spent years to make sure it lacks the force that Sandy Mattice and Steven Neff need to deal with those who break it.
Conversely, Neff is the first federal prosecutor in history to get a conviction of the Horse Protection Act. Mattice is the first judge to ever dole out a sentence. These are the last guys who need to be slammed by the public. The answer? Horse advocates need to take the same path that the scallywags do – contact the same Congressmen and Senators and demand stronger, tougher laws.
While the anti-soring faction is at it, they should ask our state and federal lawmakers to heed the pleas of the two most prominent equine veterinarian groups and outlaws stacks and action devices on performance walking horses. That one is driving Howard and his followers crazy because if the “Big Lick” is finally cleaned up, some believe it could drive Howard out (of business.)
In a perfect world, there would be no animal abuse, just as there would be no child abuse, rape, murder and so forth that keeps the Federal Court so bogged down that animal rights are at the very bottom of the food chain. But don’t fault Judge Mattice or Steven Neff with that either. That’s our fault, too, and we need to strength the Attorney General’s office so they can better cope with those who do far worse than sore the Tennessee Walking Horses that continue to be cruelly and terribly maimed.