TripAdvisor Says 'No' To Animal Exploitation

Elephant washing on southern banks of the periyar river at Kodanad training center
Elephant washing on southern banks of the periyar river at Kodanad training center

We vote for or against cruelty with our dollars, and that includes travel spending. So it was with great excitement that we learned that TripAdvisor, an online travel company that guides millions of tourist decisions, has launched a "no touching of wild animals" policy, whereby it will no longer sell tickets to attractions where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild or endangered animals. This includes swim-with-dolphin operators, elephant rides, zoos that feature public handling and photo ops with big cats and bears, and other practices.

If people stop going to places and attractions that do terrible things to animals, those places will wither, starved of the cash that motivates their entire operation. Kudos to TripAdvisor for this forward-looking policy and for providing an additional example of the humane economy in practice.

We've long urged all humane advocates to avoid patronizing events that cause cruelty, and it's having an effect. For some years, attendance at the Celebration, the major event of the Tennessee walking horse show world, has been declining because of growing public disgust with the practice of soring - where trainers injure the horses' feet and legs by chemical or mechanical means in order to produce an exaggerated, pain-based gait known as the "Big Lick."

But while we are urging people to stay away from "Big Lick" events in order to dry up their funding sources, we are also working on public policy goals to forbid this abuse.

To that end, I'm so pleased that so many lawmakers are stepping up. Last week, a bipartisan group of 40 U.S. senators led by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., sent a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging him to swiftly implement a rule that the agency proposed in July to upgrade its regulations under the Horse Protection Act (which the USDA enforces). A similar letter that 140 representatives have already agreed to co-sign is now being circulated in the House.

The rule would be the biggest step to help end the cruel practice of horse soring since the passage of the Act itself. It contains key elements of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (S. 1121/H.R.3268), which was introduced in the Senate by Ayotte and Warner and in the House by Reps. Ted Yoho and Kurt Schrader, both veterinarians.

The bills have enormous bipartisan support in both chambers, and the backing of just about every sector of the horse industry as well as the veterinary community. But a few well-placed legislators have thwarted the will of the majority of lawmakers and prevented a vote on the issue. Since the PAST Act was introduced largely because the USDA failed to strengthen its regulations to better enforce the law against horse soring, we're pleased the agency is now moving forward on this vital effort.

Over the past decade, The HSUS has been diligently working to expose the rampant cruelty inflicted on Tennessee walking horses and related breeds. In 2015 we launched a second major undercover investigation into the top-winning training stable ThorSport Farms, proving once again that this terrible practice continues at the highest levels of competition.

Just this past week, further evidence of the suffering that the victims of soring endure was captured by a spectator on video when a horse collapsed during a class at the North Carolina Championship Horse Show held at the Western NC Agricultural Center in Asheville, North Carolina. Dr. Michael Blackwell, HSUS chief veterinary officer, and the former Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, viewed the video and said, "This horse is obviously uneasy and appears to be in pain. It is unconscionable that someone would intentionally inflict pain in order to force an unnatural gait. The USDA's proposed rule will go a long way toward preventing the cruelty."

We have for several years urged the USDA to issue new, tougher regulations to close loopholes in HPA enforcement. In 2015, with the pro bono legal support of Latham & Watkins LLP, we filed a petition seeking to eliminate the failed system of industry self-policing in the big lick faction of this industry, and the use of devices used to sore horses.

The pending rule grants several of our requests and we are urging the USDA to implement it swiftly after the close of the public comment period on October 26th. We need your help to get this done during this presidential administration. Please submit your comment in support of this vital regulation.

This article first appeared on Wayne Pacelle's blog, A Humane Nation.