Something's Ahoof in Kentucky: Equine Health and Welfare Board FIrst Step from New Organization as Kentucky Tops List of Legally Lax States for Abuse

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by Fran Jurga | 7 March 2010 | The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com

Progressive legislation that will enhance the health and welfare of the horse passed The Kentucky House of Representatives at the end of February on an uncontested bipartisan vote of 98-0. House Bill 398 will now be considered by the state's Senate.

Just in time, too. Kentucky was recently named the best state in the USA to move to...if you are looking for a place to get away lightly with any sort of animal welfare or cruelty violations.

state_rankings_map_09_400w

The checkmarks on this map indicate the states with the most lenient (or non-existent) animal protection laws. The stars represent the states with the most strict (or most progressive, depending on your point of view) laws or enforcement.

Hawaii, Idaho, Kentucky, Mississippi, and North Dakota are the five best states in the country to be an animal abuser, according to a new report released by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF). Based on a detailed comparative analysis of more than 3,800 pages of statutes, tracking fourteen distinct categories of provisions, the report recognizes the states where animal law has real teeth, and calls out those like Kentucky - the single worst in the nation again this year for animal protection laws - where animal abusers get off relatively easily, according to ALDF.

The annual report, the only one of its kind in the nation, ranks all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories for the general comprehensiveness and relative strength of their respective animal protection laws.

Why are these five checkmark states in the dog house when it comes to getting tough on animal abuse? ALDF cited legislative weaknesses seen in the states at the bottom of the animal protection barrel including severely restricted or absent felony animal cruelty provisions, inadequate animal fighting provisions, and lack of restrictions on the future ownership of animals for those convicted of cruelty to animals.

Many state laws have improved since ALDF's last state rankings report was released in 2008; Arkansas, for example, was one of the worst five states last year, but jumped up to 25th overall in the country in 2009 due to a host of statutory improvements. On the other end of the spectrum, this year's "best five for animals" list remains unchanged from the 2008 list, with California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Oregon demonstrating through their laws the strongest commitment to combating animal cruelty; Illinois was the very best of the best for the strength of its laws protecting animals.

It sounds like Kentucky is making up for lost time, at least where it comes to horses. But let's face it, as the state prepares to fill up with horse lovers who will be working on or riding in or training horses for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, any animal welfare debacle would be a great embarrassment. Proactive and preemptive is a wise move, although the creation of a board is not the same as passing of laws.

"This legislation is moving forward with strong bipartisan support," said Dr. Frank Dwayne Marcum, DVM, an equine veterinarian from Versailles and president of the Kentucky-based Equine Health and Welfare Alliance Inc. (EHWA). "To our knowledge, no other organization in the U.S. has brought before a state legislature specific, focused equine health and welfare identification and reform that offers the chance for real solutions."

House Bill 398 will create the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Board under the Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet to assist, advise, and consult with the Cabinet on issues of equine health and welfare and will take action to help maintain the health, welfare, and safety of equines in the Commonwealth. The bill will also create an equine health and welfare trust fund to be administered by the Board to promote equine health, welfare, and safety.

"From the pony in the backyard to the winner of the Kentucky Derby, the horse is special in this state," said McKee, a Harrison County farmer. "It is our signature animal. This bill is a step toward improving the health and welfare of the horse."

The bill is the first major initiative of the newly formed Equine Health and Welfare Alliance, Inc. (EHWA), a Kentucky-based nonprofit corporation dedicated to the proper care, maintenance, and treatment of the horse and all equines. Organized by a group of leading equine veterinarians, EHWA is dedicated solely to improving the care and welfare of equines.

While the core membership and origin of EHWA consists of veterinarians, the Alliance is not limited to veterinarians and welcomes the involvement of other individuals, organizations, philanthropies, and companies interested in improving the welfare of the horse.

"This bill is focused solely on the horse," said Dr. Doug Byars, DVM, a founding member of the EHWA from Georgetown, Kentucky.

If the bill becomes law, the Kentucky Equine Health and Welfare Board would have responsibility for the following:
? Undertake research, conduct public hearings, and collect data to determine prevalent equine health and welfare issues.
? Strive to develop regional centers of care for unwanted, abused, neglected, or confiscated equines.
? Create a system of voluntary certification of equine rescue and retirement operations that meet industry-accepted standards for care of equines.
? Research and offer suggestions for statutory changes affecting equine health, welfare, abuse, and neglect issues.
? Assist veterinarians and others in maintaining the health and welfare of equines by identifying and referring to the appropriate authorities critical areas of need.

The ALDF will certainly approve. One of their credos is "While animals do not vote, those who love and care about them certainly do, so we encourage lawmakers throughout the country to take heed and commit to working to improve these critical laws."

For more information about the equine health organization in Kentucky, and to follow the progress of HB 398, visit www.equinehealthandwelfare.org.

The ALDF was founded in 1979; for more information about that organization, including a copy of the state rankings report and a free downloadable version of the complete compendium of state anti-cruelty laws on which their report is based, please visit www.aldf.org.