Soring critic in hot seat with walking horse owners

Soring critic in hot seat with walking horse owners

June 3rd, 2012 by The Tennessean in News

By Duane W. Gang, The Tennessean

Keith Dane, a Humane Society of the United States official and an outspoken critic of horse soring, is in the hot seat with his fellow Tennessee walking horse owners.

Dane, who sits on the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association board, faces an official complaint from one of the association's members. It could not be determined whether it had to do with his role in revealing horse abuse by releasing a video that aired on national television.

The details of the complaint, including when it was filed, are unknown. The private association considers the complaints confidential. But association President Marty Irby confirmed Wednesday that Georgia member Kathy Zeis filed the complaint.

The association has scheduled a June 28 hearing on the matter. Zeis declined to comment.

"They told me it was confidential, and I am going to respect that," she said by telephone.

Dane, the Humane Society's director of equine protection, was notified of the complaint April 26.

"If the hearing goes forward, I intend to fully respond to and defend against the complaint," Dane said after discussing the matter with his attorneys.

Founded in 1935, the breeders' association is the oldest Tennessee walking horse organization and is the official breed registry for the horses.

Although the details are unknown, word of the complaint comes as Dane has become the public face of the Humane Society's campaign against soring within the walking horse industry.

Soring is the practice of pouring caustic chemicals, cutting or otherwise abusing a horse's hooves and lower front legs to induce an accentuated high step. The gait, known as the "big lick," is prized at Tennessee walking horse competitions.

The Humane Society arranged for an undercover investigator to be hired at a West Tennessee barn to film soring and other abuses. The group turned the video over to federal prosecutors, and it led to a 52-count indictment against nationally known trainer Jackie McConnell.

Earlier this month, McConnell pleaded guilty in Chattanooga to one count of the indictment -- felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act, which makes it illegal to show or transport a sored horse.

The Humane Society's video also was released to a national audience. It first aired on ABC's "Nightline" on May 16. Dane has spoken out about how he believes soring remains widespread throughout the walking horse industry.

Investigation criticized

But some walking horse owners have criticized Dane and the Humane Society over their tactics, questioning why the investigator did not try to stop McConnell when the abuses were under way at his Collierville stables.

Dane has defended the use of the undercover video. What the Humane Society did was legal and might have been the only way to uncover abuses with animals in the agriculture industry, he said.

Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden, and state Sen. Delores Gresham, R-Somerville, introduced legislation in the General Assembly this year that would have made what the Humane Society did illegal. The bill did not pass.

"The alternative would be to not know what is going on in the shadows," Dane said in a recent interview with The Tennessean. "As long as it is legal, we will continue to conduct these undercover investigations because we feel the public has a right to know."