I usually wrap up the year for Horses and the Law with a chronological review of what I consider the most important, or interesting, or just plain weird developments in equine law during the previous 12 months. While I was putting this year’s list together, it occurred to me that I was ignoring the best barometer of interest—you, the readers who comment each week.
I threw away my list and started tallying the comments generated by each of the columns in 2011. After discounting my own comments for tabulating purposes and deleting the occasional pingbacks (I’m still not sure what those are), I came up with the list below.
There were some surprises. A few of my favorites, columns I thought were especially insightful or clever, didn’t make the cut. And the diversity of topics at the head of the list was unexpected. Slaughter always is a hot-button topic, and my guess was that all of the top comment-generating columns would address that issue. I was only partly right. A couple of unfortunate events and an individual lawsuit also attracted a lot of attention. And I was puzzled when the debate over wild horses and the Bureau of Land Management attracted relatively few comments.
So, in reverse order of reader interest:
# 5--Shoot First, Ask Questions Later
(October 18, 28 comments)
This column was about a deputy in Edmonson County, Kentucky, who shot and killed a loose horse when he was unable to catch the animal after a protracted chase. A positive aftermath: Following the incident, Wayne Hipsley, an expert on equine liability and risk management issues, was hired to help develop a county protocol for dealing with loose animals. Shooting the animal now is the last resort.
# 4--Fish or Cut Bait
(December 6, 29 comments)
I suggested that passage of a funding bill that did not restrict the use of United States Department of Agriculture funds for inspectors at equine slaughter plants in the coming fiscal year was a good thing in disguise because it might force legislators to confront anti-slaughter legislation. Some readers were hopeful, but not optimistic about Congressional action. Going into the new year, anti-slaughter bills still languish in committee.
# 3--When Foals Attack
(November 8, 35 comments)
A very young foal being haltered for the first time panicked and backed into a stall door. The swinging door struck a woman watching from the barn aisle, knocking her to the ground. The woman, who happened to be the mother of the person handling the foal, sued for her injuries. The lawsuit was dismissed because the foal was simply doing what horses do when they are frightened.
# 2--Amish Tragedy
(July 26, 36 comments)
This column dealt with a terrible accident—an 18-wheeler slamming into a slow-moving Amish buggy, killing a 3-year-old child and one of the horses, and injuring three other family members. It also raised the more fundamental question of whether a claim of religious freedom trumps a state law requiring brightly colored warning symbols for horse-drawn buggies on public roads. The jury still is out on that issue.
# 1 (tie)--More From The GAO
(July 5, 45 comments)
Like all good government research, the long-awaited report from the Government Accounting Office on horse slaughter had something for everyone. The report indicated, among other things, that ending slaughter in the United States had an unintended consequence. Rather than reduce the total number of horses being slaughtered, the ban instead resulted in roughly the same number of horses being shipped to Mexico and Canada for processing. Proponents of a slaughter revival in this country could claim that humane slaughter here is better than inhumane slaughter somewhere else; opponents could argue that "humane slaughter" is an oxymoron and that a ban on both domestic slaughter and transport across national borders for slaughter was necessary.
# 1 (tie)--New Ways Of Thinking
(September 27, 45 comments)
Polarized responses to this one surprised me most of all. Speaking at Eastern Kentucky University, animal behaviorist Temple Grandin termed horse slaughter "an absolute mess." She called the ban on slaughter in the United States "well-intentioned," but with unintended and "disastrous consequences." She characterized slaughter in Mexico as horse "torture," and suggested that efforts to ban international shipment of horses out of this country for slaughter are doomed from the start.
My question to readers was whether Grandin’s attempts to develop humane slaughter practices for traditional food animals could—or should—apply to horse slaughter. Responses were split, pro and con, about humane slaughter and about Grandin herself.
Do you agree with the results of my unscientific survey? If not, what do you think were the most interesting or important equine law stories in 2011?
Thanks for reading "Horses and the Law" every week. And a special thanks to those of you who take a few minutes out of a busy day to post comments. I usually learn something from every batch of comments and I appreciate the time and effort it takes to craft a thoughtful response. One of my resolutions for 2012 is to keep coming up with topics that illuminate the sometimes bizarre legal climate for our animals, our vocations, and our avocations. I hope one of yours is to keep reading—and to keep commenting. Your comments count!