Last week we reported on the April 2013 seizure of horses from Tennessee Walking Horse trainer Larry Wheelon on the basis of alleged animal cruelty, during which the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) assisted a local SPCA in taking the animals. Authorities dropped the charges against Wheelon in August and then a grand jury indicted him in December. But the horses may have been treated worse while HSUS was footing the bill for the their care at a secret location after the seizure. According to the complaint, when the horses were returned in November, “it was apparent that they had been granted substandard care and were in poorer condition than when they were seized.”
Now we’re learning that the seizure itself may have been illegal under Tennessee law. According to the Tennessee Attorney General, the Tennessee General Assembly clearly defines in Chapter 14, Part 2, of Title 39 of the Tennessee Code that private humane societies cannot seize private animals: “[N]either Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-210(f) nor Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-14-207(b) provide authorization for removal of animals from the custody of another by agents of private humane societies.”
While the Tennessee Code recognizes the right of public law enforcement to seize animals and place them under the custody of a private humane society, it is very clear: “Neither of these provisions provide express authorization for agents of private humane societies to remove an animal from the custody of another.” The seizure, according to media, was conducted by the local SPCA and HSUS only. (The attorney general also notes that humane groups are only able to bring criminal charges for acts regarding non-livestock animals – and horses are livestock under TN law.)
Based on this information, perhaps there should be a new grand jury: One examining HSUS’s conduct in this case.