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ABC Shows Video of Brutality Toward TWHs


By Nancy Brannon, Ph.D.
On May 16, 2012 ABC’s Nightline, Brian Ross Investigation looked inside the multi-million dollar sport of showing Tennessee Walking Horses (TWH). The story featured an undercover video investigation by the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) and Ross’s encounter with Jackie McConnell - a top TWH trainer who’s been indicted. The video showed blatant brutality toward the horses. One horse, cross-tied, was hit in the face with a club. Another horse, being ridden in the barn, was zapped in the face with a cattle prod. Two other horses were shown being beaten as they lay in their stalls, unable to get up. HSUS’s Keith Dane was interviewed on the program, as was SHOW veterinarian Stephen Mullins, D.V.M.

For the full story, see:

On May 17, SHOW issued a statement in response to the ABC report:

Dr. Mullins, president of SHOW – Sound Horse, Honest Judging, Objective Inspections, Winning Fairly – said the news report that aired on ABC’s “Night Line” Wednesday, May 16 was disturbing and points to the action of an individual, not to an industry. The news report showed video of trainer Jackie McConnell of Collierville, Tenn., ostensibly beating a horse in his barn with a stick.

“This is not acceptable or condoned on any level by anyone within the Tennessee Walking Horse industry,” Mullins said. “SHOW has diligently worked to end any type of abuse of horses, and we find the behavior of this individual to be deplorable.”

McConnell was charged in March in a 52-count federal indictment in U.S. District Court of East Tennessee in for alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act. He has been under federal suspension, and in 2009, SHOW suspended him from even being on the show grounds for any SHOW affiliated Tennessee Walking Horse show event because he violated the terms of his USDA suspension.

“The Horse Protection Act that authorizes and sanctions HIOs [Horse Industry Organization] is quite clear,” Mullins said. “An HIO can only examine horses at shows, sales, exhibitions, or auctions. The authority for an HIO is limited to the inspection and prevention of keeping a sored horse from entering or exhibiting at a horse show event. SHOW does this on behalf of and for that event’s show management. SHOW’s responsibility and authority is restricted to the horse show event and only on those show grounds. We do not possess the ability, or legal right, to go to a trainer’s place of business and inspect it or watch how he trains his horses.”

SHOW has worked diligently to formulate, improve and standardize the inspection process.

“There is no question that there have been issues in the past, and there still are issues in some areas. Our objective at SHOW is to eliminate soring and the showing of the sored horse,” Mullins said. “In no way do we condone soring, and while we are not yet where we want to be – where no horse is ever sored – I am confident that the horse presented for inspection at our affiliated shows are clean and compliant.”

For information about SHOW, visit:

On May 24, CNN aired a report on the case, analyzing the video with Keith Dane and interviewing Dave Turner, owner of a boarding and breeding barn outside Washington. Dane explained to CNN’s reporter Brian Todd what was happening in the video. Turner, formerly a trainer of TWHs, explained how soring affects the show horses and says that soring is not necessary. “They’ve got a nice stepping [natural] gait that’s crowd pleasing,” he told Todd.

See CNN’s report at:
Also see the Knoxville News Sentinel:


McConnell and three others face a 52-count federal indictment, accused of conspiring to violate the federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) by knowingly transporting and entering sored horses into shows across the state from 2006 to 2011, The Tennessean reported.

After the video aired nationally, the Shelbyville Times-Gazette reported May 21, 2012 that Jackie McConnell would “plead guilty to a single count of conspiracy to violate the HPA” and that “federal prosecutors intend to move for dismissal of all remaining charges in the 52-count indictment.” A change of plea hearing was scheduled for May 22 before U.S. Magistratate Judge William B. Mitchell Carter.

On May 22, 2012 McConnell pleaded guilty in federal court in Chattanooga, TN to a single count of felony conspiracy to violate the Horse Protection Act by transporting and showing sored horses. However, the guilty plea is not final until U.S. District Court Judge Harry S. Mattice, Jr. accepts the agreement at a September 10 sentencing hearing.

If the plea agreement is accepted, McConnell could avoid jail time. He would have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for his actions. As part of a plea agreement with prosecutors, McConnell will also have a horse trailer seized by the federal government, The Tennessean reported.

Two of the three others charged in the indictment — John Mays, 47, who remained in custody, and Joseph Abernathy, 29 — also pleaded guilty on Tuesday May 22 to misdemeanor charges of violating the Horse Protection Act. The third person, Jeff Dockery, did not appear in court Tuesday. According to court records, he intends to plead guilty June 5, The Tennessean reported.

In a separate case, McConnell faces state charges related to his treatment of horses. He is charged in Fayette County with 15 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty, The Commercial Appeal reported May 21. After the federal indictment, the Fayette County district attorney's office raided McConnell's stables and seized eight horses. He is scheduled to appear in a Somerville, TN court in June.

In the wake of his agreement to plead guilty to charges of violating the HPA, trainer Jackie McConnell was suspended for life and kicked out of the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration Hall of Fame on May 23. “This action is the strongest we can take and it clearly reflects our disgust with the actions of Mr. McConnell,” said Doyle Meadows, CEO of the Celebration. “His actions are not reflective of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry, and we in no way want him associated with our show,” The Tennessean reported.

Also see the Shelbyville Times-Gazette: and the Times Free Press:
McConnell has a history of HPA violations for soring dating back to 1979. He was caught entering a sore horse in the Ninth Annual Fun Show in Shelbyville in May 1979. He appealed the 1979 case and lost. McConnell received a one-year ban and a $750 fine. Before that, he had two citations for a sore horse, which did not lead to formal action. In 1998, McConnell, just a year after winning the Celebration on Generator’s Santana in 1997, entered another sore horse into the National Celebration. McConnell fought the charges that ensued, appealing the case before a U.S. Department of Agriculture administrative law judge, who imposed a $2,200 fine and a five-year ban for the violation. McConnell then appealed to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. He lost. During the five-year ban, according to the current indictment, McConnell conspired to transport and enter sore horses into shows, The Tennessean reported.
Another result is that Pepsi canceled its sponsorship of the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration and had its logo removed Wednesday May 16 from the Celebration website, prior to the broadcast of the ABC News report on Nightline.
Read The Tennessean articles here:|breaking|text|FRONTPAGE|head

In other action, “two west Tennessee state legislators tried to pass a bill this year that would have made it a crime to conduct the kind of undercover investigation that produced video of horse abuse, resulting in federal and state charges against” McConnell “and three associates,” The Commercial Appeal reported May 17, 2012. The bill was filed in January 2012 by state Sen. Dolores Gresham, R-Somerville, and Rep. Andy Holt, R-Dresden. The Gresham-Holt bill, House Bill 3620/Senate Bill 3460, would have created a new state criminal offense “for a person to apply for employment with the intent to cause economic damage to the employer by means of unauthorized recording of video or audio while on the premises of the employer and releasing such recordings to a third party.” The bill also declared that “All recordings taken in violation of this section shall be confiscated and, after used as evidence, destroyed.” The bill ran into opposition in a House subcommittee and died for the year.


In a vote 3/27/2012 in the Senate Commerce, Labor & Agriculture Committee, results were: Ayes: Senators Beavers, Gresham, Johnson, Southerland, Tate, Tracy. Senators present and not voting were: Burks, Faulk, Stewart. There were zero no votes.

Training Techniques?

The video aired on ABC’s Nightline shows McConnell and his stable hands beating horses with wooden sticks and using electric cattle prods on them as part of a training protocol to make them lift their feet in the pronounced gait judges like to see. In another scene, McConnell oversees his hands as they apply caustic chemicals to the ankles of the horses and then wrap them with plastic wrap so the chemicals penetrate into the skin.

Unfortunately, with increased sophistication and methods used by the USDA/APHIS to try to detect evidence of soring at shows, the unintended consequence of “stewarding” developed.  While soring applies pain to the horses’ hooves and pastern area to get them to lift their feet higher, “stewarding” is the practice of training horses to not react to pain during show inspections of their feet and legs for soreness. In essence, trainers inflict additional pain on the horse in efforts to get them to stop reacting to pain in the hoof and pastern area. So sored horses get the additional pain from “stewarding,” e.g., by striking them in the head when they flinch during mock inspections, which McConnell was doing in the video.

The use of brutality as a method of “training” a horse was addressed by Xenophon over 2,300 years ago. The Greek historian Xenophon wrote the oldest known work of equestrian literature, On the Art of Horsemanship, c. 350 BC. It is one of the earliest extant treatises on horsemanship in the Western world, detailing training the horse in a manner that is non-abusive. Xenophon is often cited as being the original “horse whisperer,” advocating sympathetic horsemanship in his treatise. The modern “horse whisperer” movement has moved toward these kinder, gentler methods and away from the harsh treatment of earlier times. But abuse of horses has not completely gone away.

One way to explain the persistence of brutality toward horses is to use objectification theory as a framework to understand this phenomenon. Objectification means that horses are primarily/only valued as a means to achieve a particular goal – in this case winning ribbons, championships, lucrative purses, trainers’ fees, and lucrative stallion/reproduction fees. Their value is determined primarily/solely in dollars; they are treated impersonally; and whatever is done to the horse is justified in terms of achieving these goals. The practices and methods applied to achieve these goals become accepted by the practitioners and adopted by others who wish to be among the winners.
The alternative is to view the horse holistically as a sentient being. This is a sympathetic attitude toward the horse, in which understanding of the horse’s basic nature is developed, consideration is given to the effects one’s actions have on the horse, and understanding these effects, as closely as one can, from the point of view of the horse. Trainers and riders talk in terms of “partnership” with the horse.

Judging Preferences: Making Champions

In the continuing focus on soring and the “big lick,” there is still debate as to whether soring and other abusive practices are necessary to achieve the stride and style that wins at TWH shows. HSUS and others argue that it is necessary to “fix” the horse to achieve this gait, and that “stewarding” masks the soring processes. Barney Davis, spotted saddle horse trainer convicted for soring, testified that “every Walking Horse that enters into a show ring is sored...They've got to be sored to walk.”

But information about the Horse Protection Act states: “The exaggerated gait can be achieved with proper training and considerable time; however, some horse exhibitors, owners, and trainers have chosen to use improper and inhumane training methods to shorten the time it would take to produce a higher gait without abusive practices.”

The American Association of Equine Practitioners’ (AAEP) white paper on soring, “Putting the Horse First,” mentions “a culture of abuse” among trainers to achieve the exaggerated gait.

 “Prestige and money associated with the competitions have grown since their 1939 inception and the higher the step, or ‘big lick,’ the more likely the horse would take home the title of world grand champion, leading to lucrative prices for the animal’s offspring.” (Chattanooga Times Free Press, March 18, 2012)

On May 24, 2012 The Tennessean published this article, “Tennessee Walking Horse soring may be motivated by big money.” “It’s all about money,” said Dr. Gordon Lawler, an Indiana veterinarian who has owned walking horses for 40 years and sits on the board of the Franklin, Ky. based National Walking Horse Association. Lawler scoffs at the notion that soring has been wiped out. “I believe 90 percent or more are sored or pressure-shoed, or they can’t compete,” Lawler says. “They just can’t do the high leg kick without soring.”

 Also interviewed (and pictured) in the article was David Williams, Operations Manager at Waterfall Farms in Shelbyville, TN, ironically shown with the horse Lined With Cash. Waterfall Farms is Shelbyville’s biggest breeder, with seven of the most-recognized walking horse champions available. Williams said, “I can tell you from my years of experience that soring is not going to make an inferior colt any better. Soring is like putting a beautiful dress on an ugly girl. The only way to raise a superior horse is to breed a superior horse.”

Read the full article at:|topnews|text|Business

What The Tennessean didn’t report was Waterfall Farms owners’ history of HPA violations. From the HPAData, William

B. Johnson and Sandra T. Johnson have the following cases and fines:

1.    USDA Case:  01-0030. A USDA Decision resulting in $6,600 fines each for William and Sandra.
2.    USDA Case:  01-0127 Decision and Order with $1,000 fine each for William and Sandra with a suspension start date 01-21-2011, ending 01-20-2012.

The Shelbyville Times Gazette reported March 31, 2011: “Waterfall owners suspended over alleged violations” by Brian Mosely:

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture has fined and suspended the owners of Waterfall Farms in Shelbyville for one year from any horse show or event in connection with alleged violations of the Horse Protection Act more than 10 years ago.
“William B. (Bill) Johnson and Sandra Johnson of Atlanta, known nationwide as breeders of champion Tennessee Walking Horses, were suspended for a year beginning on Jan. 21, 2011 and were each ordered to pay a $1,000 fine in proceedings instituted under the Horse Protection Act last month, according to a press release from the Int'l Fund for Horses. The suspension is related to the showing of Tennessee Walking Horse champion JFK All Over at the 30th Annual Spring Fun Show in Shelbyville in May 2000.”

Keith Dane, Director of Equine Protection for the HSUS, said “Judges can be — and are — past violators.”

On April 18, 2012 The Walking Horse Report issued a press release about the judges selected for the Spring TWH Fun Show.

The 42nd Annual Spring Fun Show has selected Jamie Bradshaw, Ray Gilmer and Andy Simpson as judges for the three-day show to be held in Calsonic Arena in Shelbyville, Tenn. May 24-26, 2012. Bradshaw is from Union Grove, Ala., and most recently judged last year’s Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration along with judging the world championship show in 2006 and 2009. Gilmer, who is from Toone, Tenn. has previously judged The Celebration in 1991 and 2002. Simpson, from Indian Mound, Tenn. will be making his debut at a Celebration sanctioned show.
“I am excited to work with both Ray Gilmer and Andy Simpson at the Fun Show. I have not worked with either of these men during my tenure at the Celebration. It is great to have the experience of Mr. Gilmer along with Mr. Simpson being a newcomer to our center ring. I personally welcome Jamie Bradshaw back to one of our showcase events. This judging panel will be an excellent combination of knowledge and experience,” said Dr. Doyle Meadows, Chief Executive Officer of the Celebration.

To ascertain whether Dane’s statement may be true, and if these judges had past Horse Protection Act (HPA) violations, the Mid-South Horse Review (MSHR) consulted the two databases. The HPA Suspensions list ( shows all these judges with prior violations, and one current, for soring. Ray Gilmer is shown as suspended for “unilateral sore” from 10/10/2009 until 10/10/2099. His fine, $50. Prior suspensions include: 5/26/2007 to 6/8/2007 for “scar rule” and 9/14/2003 to 9/27/2003 for “equipment violation.”

The APHIS/USDA suspension list, which includes 1,329 violations from 2011 and 2010, ( does not show any current violations for Gilmer.

The HPAdata show Jamie Bradshaw with an HPA suspension 8/31/2008 to 9/13/2008 for “unilateral sore.” The APHIS/USDA suspension list does not show any current violations for Bradshaw.

The HPAdata shows Andy Simpson as having been suspended from 11/19/2004 to 12/12/2004 for “unilateral sore.” The APHIS/USDA suspension list does not show any current violations for Simpson.

MSHR emailed these results of our inquiry to Dr. Doyle Meadows on April 19, 2012 and asked for his comments about these judges and whether their history of HPA suspensions might affect their judging. If currently under HPA suspension, is Gilmer allowed to serve as judge? Dr. Meadows did not respond.

MSHR contacted Dr. Rachel Cezar, National Horse Protection Coordinator, USDA/APHIS Animal Care to inquire if the data are correct. She responded: “The HPA data website has been pretty accurate for the most part. I would say that the information before 2010 is correct.  However, the USDA website would be the most up to date information. So for instance, if Mr. Gilmer showed on the HPA database website a suspension from 10/2009 to 10/2099 with a 50 dollar fine and now on the USDA website nothing, then more than likely the fine was paid and suspension was removed.” Dr. Cezar checked further about Gilmer and reported: “Mr. Gilmer’s [suspension] was just a fine issue and he is not on suspension any longer. I have informed the HIO to work with the webmaster to get this corrected.”

Dr. Cezar sent further information for past Federal Cases on: Jamie Bradshaw (1998); Ray Gilmer (1985 soring violation; 2007 soring violation; two 2008 foreign substance violations.)

Dr. Cezar sent a spreadsheet with the following information about past violations by Andy Simpson:

·             Bedford County 4-H Spring Festival, Shelbyville, TN: 4/16/2010; Andy Simpson, exhibitor, trainer; Benjamin McWaters, owner; ticket violations: sore – 1 foot (unilateral); fine received.

·             Bedford County 4-H Spring Festival, Shelbyville, TN: 4/16/2010; Andy Simpson, exhibitor, trainer; Joe Crunk, owner; ticket violations: sore – 1 foot (unilateral); fine received.

·             Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration, Shelbyville, TN: 9/01/2010; Andy Simpson, trainer; Kathy Vincent, owner; Ronnie Vincent, exhibitor; ticket violations: foreign substance; fine received.

The data show that these three judges do have past records of HPA violations, but no current ones.
In his May 25, 2012 editorial in The Chattanoogan, Roy Exum checked the history of TWH officials and judges. He reported these findings:

“A quick review of two big shows, including one this weekend (May 25-26) in Shelbyville, showed that every judge involved has … received a violation notice from USDA.

He also looked at the walking horse hierarchy: “… let’s take a look at several of the industry’s board of directors to show you why there is some question regarding the leadership in the tainted walking horse industry – this based on information gleaned from two Horse Protection Act websites:”

His data found that among the Walking Horse Trainer’s Association Board of Directors, there were 76 violations with each member having at least one. In the Walking Horse Owner’s Association Board of Directors, he reported 33 Violations, with members having at least one violation. Among the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exibitors Association Board Of Directors, he reported 48 violations, with each member having at least one. Following are the data reported in Roy Exum’s article in The Chattanoogan:
“Walking Horse Trainer’s Association Board of Directors
President Jamie Hankins, Paris, KY – 1 Violation
1st Vice President Mickey McCormick, Shelbyville, TN – 12 Violations
2nd Vice President David Landrum, Franklin, TN. – 4 Violations
Jamie Bradshaw, Franklin, TN. – 2 Violations
Wayne Dean, Lewisburg, TN. – 5 Violations
Philip Trimble, Pulaski, TN -- 3 Violations
Dale Watts, Summit, MS – 5 Violations
Billy Gray, Shelbyville, TN – 10 Violations
Brock Tillman, Shelbyville, TN – 4 Violations
Link Webb, Lewisburg, TN – 6 Violations
Larry Wheelon, Maryville, TN – 12 Violations
Derek B. Bonner, Mooreboro, N.C. – 5 Violations
John Allen Callaway III, Shelbyville, TN – 5 Violations
Bill Cantrell, Phenix, City, AL (Ex-Officio) – 2 Violations
Total– 76 Violations
* * *
“Walking Horse Owner’s Association Board of Directors
Vice President Tam Brogdon, Panama City, FL – 1 Violation
Treasurer Richard Greer, Lenoir, N.C. – 2 Violations
Jean Baum, Ixonia, Wisc. – 1 Violation
Betty Denton, Estill Springs, TN – 2 Violations
Sally Fleck, Shelbyville, TN -- 5 Violations
Darden Gladney, Homer, LA – 3 Violations
Don Hancock, Princeton, KY – 10 Violations
Phyllis Langley, Sandpoint, Idaho – 3 Violations
Peggy Moore, Shelbyville, TN – 1 Violation
Andy Rippy, Greenbrier, TN – 1 Violation
Iris Schuman, Shelbyville, TN – 1 Violation
Beth Sims, Bell Buckle, TN – 2 Violations
Gail Walling, Wartrace, TN – 1 Violation
Total– 33 Violations
* * *
“Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders & Exibitors Association
Board Of Directors
President Marty Irby, Murfreesboro, TN  – 1 Violation
Sr. Vice President Margo Urad, Rockwall, Texas – 1 Violation
Equine Welfare Vice President Dr. Linda Montgomery, Hurtsboro, AL – 1 Violation
Training Vice President Wayne Dean, Lewisburg, TN – 5 Violations
Secretary Alie Napier, Shelbyville, TN – 1 Violation
At-Large Directors:Curtis Rosemann, Cave Creek, Ariz. – 2 Violations
David Mullins, Good Hope, GA – 1 Violation
Sam Sorrell, Lexington, KY – 1 Violation
Robert Stannard, Lebanon, KY – 1 Violation
Ronnie Vincent, Lexington, KY – 2 Violations
Darden Gladney, Homer, LA – 3 Violations
Tom Kakassy, Gastonia, N.C. – 4 Violations
Ronald Mosley, Mt. Airy, N.C. – 7 Violations
Sally Fleck, Shelbyville, TN – 5 Violations
Ty Irby, Shelbyville, TN – 6 Violations
Nancy Groover, Longview, Texas – 2 Violations
Ann King, Kaufman, Texas – 2 Violations
Sandra Hankins, Tazewell, VA – 3 Violations
Total: 48 Violations

* * *
“The Top 20 Trainers in the Rider Cup program have 164 Horse Protection Act violations in the past two years.
The SHOW (organization) has 140 certified judges who have a combined 312 HPA violations.
The PRIDE (organization) has 100 certified judges who have a combined 182 HPA violations.”
Read Roy Exum’s editorials in The Chattanoogan here:

The data show that McConnell’s HPA violations are not an isolated case; that the practice is more widespread than just one individual. Several former TWH trainers and judges the MSHR interviewed agreed that the practice was widespread. One former trainer described deeds done to TWHs by other trainers that were just as gruesome as those done by McConnell. When asked to provide the name(s) of stables where TWHs are not sored and are successful, a former TWH judge said, “I don’t know of any.” He also told MSHR of an incident he witnessed when judging a show: “A horse literally threw off his hoof in the ring. I’d never heard a horse scream before.”

The interviewees described what to observe to detect (probably) sored horses in the show ring. (1) Extremely camped-under hind end and hind legs, which is the horse’s effort to take pressure off sore front feet. (2) Exaggerated head bobbing. He demonstrated by walking as if he had a sore foot and said, “Watch my head as I move.” (3) The action of the front legs does not move in a perfect circular motion, but lifts the leg, then throws it out straighter before it hits the ground.

On May 24, 2012 the HSUS asked Tennessee’s Attorney General Reporter Robert E. Cooper, Jr. to investigate the role of horse show management in allowing sored horses to continue competing. In its letter to Cooper, the HSUS provided examples of owners, trainers and exhibitors of horses found to be sore during competition inspections who were allowed to continue competing in the shows. HSUS cited “long-time client of Jackie McConnell, Wilsene Moody, as a notable example.” HSUS said “Moody’s horse Moody Star showed signs of soring at the 2009 Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration, yet went on to compete and place first in two classes at the event.”

The Walking Horse Chat reported: “Meadows said only 1 percent of the horses entered in last August’s Celebration showed signs of soring during U.S. Agriculture Department inspections, down from 13 percent in 2009. Others argue that the practice has gone deeper underground and self-policing by the industry doesn’t work since evidence of soring may be hidden to make horses appear healthy even when injured.”


In December 2011, Doyle announced his plans to resign as CEO of the Celebration. His tenure will end in October, 2012. Meadows was hired as the Celebration CEO in February 2008. (

Fun Show Update 5/29/2012 from SHOW:

“With United States Department of Agriculture veterinarians and compliance officers present throughout the event, on Sunday, May 27, 2012, Dr. Stephen Mullins, D.V.M., president of the USDA-sanctioned Horse Industry Organization (SHOW) announced the findings of his organization’s inspections at the Fun Show, held May 24-26 at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration’s Calsonic Arena.

    “ ‘During the Fun Show, we did more than 599 examinations of horses, both pre- and post-show, and we found 16 violations of SHOW regulations,’ Dr. Mullins said. ‘Of those 16 violations, not all were violations of the Horse Protection Act. Some were merely minor violations of our SHOW regulations.’

    “ ‘The USDA was on site and working with us throughout the entire show. USDA personnel followed behind us and did their own pre-show inspections on several horses. They also swabbed many horses and then they did post-show inspections on all horses that finished either second or third in the show.’

    “ ‘Those who were cited will have 30 days to appeal, and all findings will be submitted to the USDA. It is standard procedure for us to make the USDA aware of each violation we cite at each event.’”

Request for Reporting
If you have any information on soring practices, the MSHR encourages you to contact Dr. Rachel Cezar at the USDA/APHIS at the following address:

Dr. Rachel Cezar, 4700 River Road, Suite 6D03, Riverdale, MD 20737. Phone: 301-734-5784. Email:

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