“After a thorough investigation and review of the evidence, the District Attorney’s Task Force did not find evidence of criminal animal cruelty or unlawful conduct relating to the equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park.” – LA County DA Jackie Lacey’s report on Santa Anita
And so ends the much-ballyhooed investigation into the now-infamous Santa Anita spring (while the report covered fiscal year ’18-’19, it was prompted by the 36 deaths earlier this year). Nothing – but some safety “recommendations.” And we should not be surprised in the least. The key words above are “criminal” and “unlawful,” as in nothing to see here, according to California law. And technically, Lacey is right: These cruelty laws, woefully inadequate as most are, are designed to protect only some animals (i.e., our pets), while the others, unconscionably, are left to twist in the wind.
Regarding the treatment of animals in animal-exploitative industries, the law almost invariably defers to “common industry practice.” It’s why factory-farmed animals can be dehorned, debeaked, docked, branded, and castrated without anesthesia. It’s why breeder dogs can be kept in tiny cages for their entire lives. It’s why grisly scientific experiments can be conducted on primates. It’s why, for fear of the fully legal instrument of torture, the bullhook, Ringling elephants were known to defecate upon hearing their trainers’ voices. It’s why perhaps the most public form of animal abuse – the rodeo – merrily persists with impunity. And it’s why you can whip a horse at a racetrack but that same act done to a dog in the park would land you in jail.
What this report is really saying is that horseracing has a license to kill because one, it’s a legal enterprise, and two, because a certain level of death is understood (and accepted) by all. Indeed, the DA said as much: “Horse racing has inherent risks but is a legally sanctioned sport in California.” Risks, like the risk of a snapped neck, severed spine, or shattered leg. Risks, like the risk of “cardiovascular collapse” or “exercise-induced pulmonary hemorrhage.” Risks, like the risk of terrifying colic or excruciating laminitis. And risks, like the high risk of exsanguination at career’s end.
Lacey added: “The District Attorney’s Office lacks legal jurisdiction to regulate the horse racing industry.” So right back to the industry (as represented by the CHRB) it goes – the fox guarding the henhouse, just like those other animal industries.
On another note, I think it high time that every person and every organization – PETA, HSUS, et al. – be made to answer this simple question: Is horseracing wrong? Not are some parts of it wrong, but is it fundamentally wrong? If the answer is no, fine, at least we know where you stand (but please dispense forevermore with your hollow declarations of equine love and specious claims of “advocacy”). But if yes, then act like it. Stop issuing equivocal, confusing statements; stop “partnering” with industry interests; stop debating the relative merits of various “reforms”; stop compromising what are supposed to be your core values. If you deem horseracing animal cruelty, then get off the proverbial fence and say so. Enough already.
(One final note: In the report, the DA cited this passage from California’s penal code: “[A]nimal cruelty exists when a person subjects any animal to needless suffering, or inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon the animal.” Well, if $2 bets and entertainment does not meet the definition of “needless” or “unnecessary,” I’m not sure what does.)