Kentuckians claim to love horses, but that's not always how they act, animal-rights activist Wayne Pacelle says.
Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, will be in Lexington on Wednesday to promote his new book, The Bond: Our Kinship With Animals, Our Call to Defend Them.
Although humans have biological and historical ties to the rest of the animal kingdom, they're also capable of needlessly hurting animals or looking away when others engage in animal cruelty, Pacelle said in a recent interview.
Pacelle criticizes the Thoroughbred industry for running horses before they are mature enough, and people who "sore" Tennessee walking horses to get them to step higher.
Despite his concerns, he said, he doesn't want the Kentucky Derby to be canceled. Thoroughbred horses genuinely like to compete, he said.
"To be clear, we're not against horse racing, but we want to see the industry take the necessary steps to make sure that it's humane and fair," Pacelle said. "There's obviously some amount of risk. But it would be a low-level risk if it were conducted on the right surface, if the horses were not given performance-enhancing drugs or if they were not put on the track while they're injured — you know, if the general treatment of the animals reflected a respect and concern for the horses."
Kentucky also continues to wink at illegal cockfighting and is poised to legalize the hunting of sandhill cranes, Pacelle said.
"There's a lot of room for progress in Kentucky, and I don't think the people of the state support this state of affairs," Pacelle said.
Pacelle, 46, has been a controversial figure in the agriculture industry since taking over the Humane Society of the United States in 2004. On his watch, the advocacy group has used undercover investigators wearing hidden cameras to expose deplorable conditions at factory farms and meat-packing plants, leading in some cases to closings, criminal charges and stronger animal-cruelty laws.
Pacelle is a vegan, which means he does not eat meat or other animal products, such as milk or cheese. However, he said, he doesn't expect everyone to adopt his diet; he wants them to demand humane treatment of the animals they eventually will eat.