In the Words of Elvis: Don’t Be Cruel

Last month, Priscilla Presley — wife of the late, great Elvis Presley, the “king of rock ‘n roll” — joined our team at Animal Wellness Action on Capitol Hill to voice her support for passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, a measure that’s been dangling in the wind in Congress for six years.

She did so because, in addition to rock ‘n roll, Elvis loved Tennessee Walking Horses. She confidently said that if Elvis were alive today, he’d be on Capitol Hill with her, advocating for the protection of the horses he so deeply cared for.

Priscilla described how Elvis loved riding his Tennessee Walking Horse, Ebony’s Double, down to the gates of Graceland to exhibit for the fans.

Elvis would be shaking in his shoes for all the wrong reasons if he saw how people injure these gentle horses by soring them.

Soring is the painful practice of injuring Tennessee Walking Horses’ front limbs by applying caustic chemicals to the skin and inserting sharp objects under the horses’ hooves to achieve an artificial, high-stepping gait known as the “big lick” that runs rampant throughout the Southeastern United States.

U.S. Senator Joe Tydings (D-MD) was a champion for the PAST Act up until his final months at age 90. He authored the Horse Protection Act (HPA) of 1970, which the PAST Act amends to close loopholes, which has allowed soring to persist.

The bipartisan PAST Act would eliminate the use of large stacked shoes and ankle chains at horse shows, replace the industry’s failed self-policing system with licensed and trained USDA subcontractors at no cost to the taxpayer, and increase penalties for those found in violation of the HPA.

Arguably, Walking horses are among the most abused horses in the world — the victims of a “training” practice that’s marred and corrupted the breed since the 1950s.

The PAST Act was first introduced in the 113th Congress and garnered 308 cosponsors in the House and 60 in the Senate, including the majority of the majority party in each chamber.

But former establishment Ohio Republican House Speaker John Boehner and Virginia Republican Leader Eric Cantor blocked the measure, and Nevada Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid allowed the bill to stall after it passed through committee, all because of a few Members in both chambers from Tennessee and Kentucky whose campaign coffers have been filled with funds from animal abusers for decades.

Priscilla began to advocate for passage of the PAST Act in 2014, and she helped garner the support of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and Nebraska Republican Sen. Mike Johanns as a cosponsor, along with several others. But Leaders in both parties just danced around the issue, pandering to those who’d been receiving the campaign cash.

The measure was reintroduced in the114th and 115th Congresses in both chambers, by U.S. Reps. Ted Yoho, Kurt Schrader, Steve Cohen, and Sens. Mike Crapo and Mark Warner, and closed out the 115th Congress with 290 cosponsors in the House and 46 in the Senate — but still, no action was taken.

Ms. Presley’s trip to our Nation’s Capital last week proved to be productive. She met with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer — who has cosponsored the measure in each Congress it’s been introduced, and other Members of Congress.

Presley’s trip followed an appeal from Sen. Tydings’ family to rename the legislation in honor of Senator Tydings and move it swiftly to the floor for a vote — on Tuesday, the measure was reintroduced in the U.S. House by bipartisan Reps. Schrader, Yoho, and Cohen, along with Reps. Ron Estes, Jan Schakowsky and Chris Collins, renamed the “U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial PAST Act,” H.R. 693.

The PAST Act has more support than any other animal protection reform with endorsements from the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practitioners, American Veterinary Medical Association, United States Equestrian Federation, National Sheriff’s Association, and the veterinary medical associations from all 50 states.

Priscilla also joined myself, Wayne Pacelle, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) in being honored at the National Press Club by the Citizens’ Campaign Against Big Lick Animal Cruelty (CCABLAC) for our work to end soring – and we’re grateful to these grassroots advocates for their acknowledgment and their continued protests against soring across the U.S. from North Carolina to Mississippi, to Florida, and Tennessee.

As a past president of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ & Exhibitors’ Association (the breed registry since 1935), 8-time World Champion rider, and life-long supporter of the Tennessee Walking Horse, I’ve seen the egregious practice of soring firsthand, including horses’ feet that look like pizza with the cheese pulled off from chemical burns.

It’s time to pass the PAST Act, and we hope that House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker – who hails from Elvis’ hometown of Tupelo – Leader Hoyer, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Speaker Pelosi will take swift action and pass the PAST Act.

If Elvis were alive today, I believe he’d tell Congress: Don’t Be Cruel.

Please click here to ask your Members of Congress to support the PAST Act.

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