Working Animal Protection Act (WAPA) bills aim to protect legitimate and legal businesses utilizing working animals for purposes including transportation, ranching, service, education, entertainment and exhibition. A WAPA model state bill was first developed by Mindy Patterson and The Cavalry Group in response to the patchwork of local government bans in various states of certain activities involving animals that have begun to appear across the U.S. WAPA bills were filed in five states in 2019; followed by a filing in a sixth state in 2020. The bills are not limited to protecting horses; but since some sectors of the equine owner community are currently under attack and have been targeted for elimination by animal rights activists, horse owners in particular should be aware of these developments.
Horse-drawn carriages have already been banned from thirteen U.S cities; and ban proposals are pending in seven more cities. The enacted bans are ostensibly for the benefit of the animals, but those businesses involved with working animals (such as circuses and horse-drawn carriage rides) are already licensed, inspected and highly regulated for the protection of the animals.
WAPA bills ban the bans but allow regulation of businesses involving animals at the state level, in lieu of local bans in a concerted effort to avoid loss of 1) the homes for the animals who earn their keep; 2) the economic benefit derived from the business; and 3) opportunities for the public to view, interact with and learn about animals they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to. They strike an appropriate regulatory compromise between the need for regulation of the animal owners’ use of an animal and the animal’s welfare.
One state example of the ban on bans is WAPA bill HB 135, filed in Texas. The bill says that “A county or municipality may not adopt or enforce a charter provision, ordinance, order or other regulation that prohibits, directly or indirectly, the use of an animal for the purpose of performing a specific duty for a business, including entertainment, transportation, education or exhibition.” The following states filed similar WAPA bills: HB 379 was filed in Montana, WAPA bill SB 200 was filed in Kentucky, WAPA bill HB 880 was filed in Maryland, and HB 559 was filed in Missouri. The 2019 Missouri bill was a second effort, after submission of a similar bill in 2018. In 2020, Illinois joined the list with WAPA bill HB 4123.
Thoughtful horse owners should be aware of the spread of the movement to ban horse-related activities. Although horse-drawn carriage businesses and owners of carriage horses are currently in the cross-hairs, there is no safety net against future attacks and prohibition of the recreational activities/sports that we enjoy with our equine partners like eventing, mounted shooting, polo and jumping, should the horse-drawn carriage ban movement succeed.
So far, none of the states' bills have made it through the process to become state law. Yet as awareness of the threat of expansion of bans and outlawed activities to other areas of horse ownership grows, WAPA bills are expected to gain traction and support. In time, the number of states that have such protective laws in place will grow and animal owners will be the eventual winners of the battle of the bans.