MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (WMOT) -- The Humane Society of the United States says it was involved Thursday in the seizure of 19 animals from a Walking Horse training stable in East Tennessee.
The Society says trainer Larry Wheelon of Maryville was charged with animal cruelty by the Blount County Sheriff's Office in connection with the case.
The Daily Times of Maryville confirms the horses were seized from a stables located on Tuckaleechee Pike operated by Wheelon. The paper says the investigation began on April 18 when authorities with the U.S. Department of Agriculture raided the facility following allegations of horse soring.
Soring is an illegal training method that forces a horse to walk with the exaggerated, high-stepping gate Tennessee Walking Horses are known for.
The seizure and arrest come at a critical moment in the ongoing battle between animal protection activists and the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam is currently considering a bill, passed April 17 by the Tennessee Legislature, that opponents say is designed to make investigating cases of animal cruelty all but impossible.
The measure was sponsored by Sate Senator Dolores Gresham of Somerville and fellow Republican Representative Andy Holt of Dresden. The bill would require anyone recording images of animal abuse to submit the unedited footage or photos to law enforcement within 48 hours.
Gresham denies claims from animal protection activists like the Humane Society that the bill would prevent undercover operations from establishing ongoing patterns of abuse.
Earlier this week the Humane Society began running TV ads in Tennessee urging Governor Haslam to veto the bill. Society spokesman Matthew Dominquez tells WMOT News the organization has seen similar bills crop up all across the country.
“We’ve been fighting these ag-gag, or whistle-blower bills in eleven states and unfortunately lawmakers in the State of Tennessee have sent it to the governor, and what we’re encouraging folks to do is call the governor and ask him to veto it.”
Dominquez says the Humane Society spent $100,000 airing the ads in major markets across Tennessee.
For his part, Governor Haslam told reporters last week that he would give the bill careful consideration.