Why it's so hard to prosecute animal cruelty
Bringing a legal case against an alleged animal cruelty offender is tough slogging. I get lots of email on the subject and I have a hard time explaining to people why that’s so.
The short answer is simple yet incomprehensible to many of us: Our culture does not yet value the lives of animals the same way we do here on Dolittler. The concept of pets as family may be alive and well...but it’s got serious limits in a court of law.
Consider the following cases recently in the media (and one sourced from my personal life):
Michael Vick: The case against Vick for animal cruelty was too difficult to prove relative to the criminal conspiracy charges he ultimately pled guilty to and was convicted for. Never mind that animal cruelty was explicitly cited in the dogfighting-related racketeering charge he went down for. His plea effectively exonerated him for cruelty per se. Why? Prosecutorial conservatism or cultural relativism on the subject of animals. I’d argue it’s both.
Miami’s “Cat Killer”: Despite the loads of circumstantial evidence, no one actually saw this young man commit a heinous act against animals. It’s effectively being prosecuted as an egregious case of vandalism. Though animal cruelty may be included in the charges, the maximum sentence is about a year for each cat. People who kill animals, no matter how sickeningly, are subject to minuscule caps on laws for cruelty against animals.
The Tennessee “heart stick” case and other disciplinary cases against “rogue” veterinarians: Though veterinarians should be held to a higher standard when it comes to knowing what’s ethical and right on the subject of animal cruelty, it’s often the case that veterinarians whose cases come up time and again in front of state boards for cruelty-related violations are too gently handled by those in charge of disciplining them.
The shelter veterinarian in Tennessee who repeatedly violated ethical norms by killing shelter animals with intra-cardiac injections (while the animals were still awake) is one such case. He’s still practicing, though with limits on his license. Here’s another from Texas (where the Board routinely dismisses a full 98% of consumer complaints against veterinarians) in which a judge felt compelled to add a year of probation to the Board’s lax sentence. Worse yet, there's some evidence to suggest the Texas Board may have attempted to hide this potentially embarrassing case from the public.
Then there’s my sister’s case: She attempted, in conjunction with the Ulster County New York SPCA, to prosecute a woman whose “rescue” kept dogs in deplorable conditions (verified by the SPCA). The defendant in this case countersued, convincing a judge that my sister was akin to a wealthy Cruella de Ville who wanted nothing more than to take her dogs away. The case is still on hold––five years later. All this at the taxpayer’s expense. How much of that undoubtedly sizable sum could be headed to the animals this woman allegedly abused?
So it is that when animal-loving people send me emails requesting assistance on how to take on cruelty cases, I feel compelled to urge them on––but I sound a loud note of caution whenever I do.
Why? Because the laws are too lax. Judges haven’t the power to move beyond what we as a society have currently deemed acceptable. In light of such roadblocks, prosecutors must almost act as activists to properly tackle these cases. And law enforcement follows suit. Nothing says “losing battle” like animal cruelty. Yet nothing could be further than what’s fair and just by our emerging standards.
On the plus side, the public outcry is growing louder. Still, Whoville can't be heard amid the din of those who could care less.