Horse Starvation Bill Faces Hurdles In House

Horse Starvation Bill Faces Hurdles In House

Authorities raided a Cannon County farm in November and rescued nearly 100 starving horses and other animals. A state representative from Nashville is trying to pass legislation making the starvation of livestock a felony offense.
Following the arrest of two Cannon County men in November on charges of cruelty to animals, State Representative Janis Baird Sontany (D-Nashville) vowed to introduce legislation to make the starving of horses and other livestock a felony.

Currently, under Tennessee law, the offense is classified as a misdemeanor. Only dogs and cats are included in the felony statute for starvation.

Charles Eugene Howland and his son, Clinton Howland, both of 11390 Jim Cummings Highway, are scheduled to appear in Cannon County General Sessions Court on May 18 to have their case heard.

This week Rep. Sontany sent out the following letter to supporters of the legislation, in which she outlines the hurdles she is facing in getting the legislation passed:





PHONE (615) 741-6861

FAX (615) 253-0325



(615) 331-7616

House of Representatives

State of Tennessee









I hope this finds you and your family doing well and looking forward to Spring.

Each of you has contacted me over the past few months regarding the starving horses rescued from Cannon County and taken to the Fairgrounds here in Nashville. I promised then that I would introduce legislation that would make withholding food and/or water from any animal a felony and that I would update you on the progress and ask for your continued help. It makes no sense to me to have two different penalties – aggravated animal cruelty with a felony penalty for companion animals and a misdemeanor for the same action for “livestock”. Cruelty is cruelty regardless if you are 3 lbs. or 16 hands high. How can we continue to say that it is far worse to starve a dog than to starve a horse?

When the horses were at the Fairgrounds, I was asked by the media why the penalty for starving these horses was only a misdemeanor. My answer simply was Farm Bureau Insurance Company. This company has always demanded different laws for “livestock”.

When I first drafted this legislation, I met with Farm Bureau Insurance Company’s lobbyists to try to find some common ground. I was told that starving these horses didn’t rise to the level of aggravated animal cruelty and the current law was working just fine and they refused to negotiate.

Last week, Farm Bureau’s President, Lacy Upchurch, and their Chief Administrative Officer, Julius Johnson, visited my office to discuss my bill. I was so in hopes that we could negotiate in good faith to have a bill that we both could agree on that would stop this continued cruelty. They, however, only wanted to express to me their concern that this legislation would land some poor farmer in jail for dehorning his cattle. My bill clearly exempts accepted veterinary practices and makes no mention of discontinuing current tax breaks for farmers on livestock.

I offered to file an amendment that would require the sworn statement of a veterinarian that the animal/animals were starved – deprived of food and/or water or abused in a depraved or sadistic manner before criminal charges could be filed, to no avail. Mr. Upchurch and Mr. Johnson wouldn’t agree to that either – they said there would be too much gray area. Clearly, they didn’t come in good faith to negotiate.

This cruelty continues to happen. There were the 20 horses in Sumner County that were reported starved, three in Smith County – one of which was already dead and the other two found with no food or water nearly starved to death. And, then there was the incident in Bedford County where over 100 head of cattle were found starved to death.

I was told that Farm Bureau Insurance Company has 650,000 members across Tennessee. When I asked how many of them had input on their positions and policies, I was told not 650,000 but a very small percentage. I think all their members need to know their position on animal cruelty and if they don’t agree with the company’s position, they should contact Mr. Upchurch 931-388-7872 x 2201 and Mr. Johnson at 931-388-7872 x 2205 and express their disagreement and dissatisfaction.

This bill addresses more than starvation of animals. It also addresses other forms of animal cruelty. There was a woman in Sweetwater last year whose husband got mad at her and dragged her favorite horse behind his truck until the animal was almost dead. To finish him off he stabbed him with a pitch fork. When the woman contacted the district attorney in her area, she was told that they would not prosecute this action because it was a misdemeanor and wasn’t worth their time. My bill would make this action a felony as well. A misdemeanor is like getting a traffic ticket.

I plan to bring HB3386 before the House Agriculture Committee on 3/16 at 9:00 a.m. I invite any of you that can to join me that day to show support for this bill. I know that for many of you that won’t be possible, however, I respectfully ask that you get this message out to any and all that are interested in supporting our legislation and also ask that you contact the members of the House Agriculture Committee to ask for their support. It will take all of us working together to get this legislation passed.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact my office at 615-741-6861 or 615-331-7616.

The members of the House Agriculture Committee are:

Committee Officers
Stratton Bone, Chair (615) 741-7086
Dale Ford, Vice Chair (615) 741-1717
Willie Butch Borchert, Secretary (615) 741-6804

Eddie Bass (615) 741-1864
Chad Faulkner (615) 741-3335
Curits ;Halford (615) 741-7478
John Litz (615) 741-6877
Steve McDaniel (615) 741-0750
Frank Niceley (615) 741-4419
Johnny Shaw (615) 741-4538
Terri Lynn Weaver (615) 741-2192
John Mark Windle (615) 741-1260


Janis Sontany


*HB 3386 by *Sontany. (SB 3546 by *Ketron.)

Animals and Animal Cruelty - As introduced, makes the offense of animal cruelty applicable to all animals and requires that a person intentionally rather than knowingly deprive an animal of food or water in order to commit the offense. - Amends TCA Title 39, Chapter 14, Part 2.
Fiscal Summary

State Expenditures - Net Impact - Not Significant
Bill Summary

This bill revises the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals.


Under present law, a person commits the Class E felony of aggravated cruelty to animals when, with aggravated cruelty and with no justifiable purpose, the person intentionally kills or intentionally causes serious physical injury to a companion animal. "Companion animal" means any non-livestock animal. Aggravated cruelty includes the failure to provide food and water to a companion animal resulting in a substantial risk of death or death.

In addition to other penalties imposed for a conviction of aggravated cruelty to animals, the sentencing court may:

(1) Order the defendant to surrender custody and forfeit all companion animals, custody of the animals to the agency presenting the case, or impose any reasonable restrictions on the person's custody of animals;
(2) Require the defendant to undergo psychological evaluation and counseling;
(3) Send notification of the conviction to the appropriate protective agencies within 15 days of the conviction, if the defendant resides in a household with minor children or elderly persons;
(4) Hold the defendant liable to the impounding officer or agency for all costs of impoundment from the time of seizure to the time of proper disposition of the case;
(5) Hold the defendant liable to the owner of the animal for damages.

If a juvenile is found to be within the court's jurisdiction for conduct that, if committed by an adult, would be a criminal violation involving cruelty to animals or arson, then the court may order that the juvenile be evaluated to determine the need for psychiatric or psychological treatment. If the court determines that psychiatric or psychological treatment is appropriate, then the court may order that treatment.


This bill changes the name of the offense to "aggravated animal cruelty" and revises the offense such that the offense would apply to aggravated cruelty to "any animal," including horses and livestock, instead of to only "a companion animal." Similarly, this bill specifies that the punishment described above in (1) authorizes the court to order the defendant to surrender custody and forfeit "all animals" instead of "all companion animals." This bill clarifies that the failure to provide food and water as described above must be intentional in order for the failure to be "aggravated cruelty."

This bill specifies that the punishments described above in (2) and (3) may only be ordered if the aggravated cruelty involved conduct other than failing to provide food and water. This bill specifies that a court may order a juvenile to be evaluated to determine the need for psychiatric or psychological treatment, only if the juvenile is found to be within the court's jurisdiction for conduct that, if committed by an adult, would be a criminal violation involving "aggravated animal cruelty" instead of "cruelty to animals or arson."


The Nashville Scene also has an interesting article on the proposed legislation in its current issue:

The worst case of equine abuse in Tennessee history shocked the state. So why is legislation that would stop the abuse meeting so much resistance?