43 Goats, 24 Horses and a Dog Named Annie
ASI's AniCare and Rapid Response programs have been developed as a result of empirical evidence that establishes a cycle between animal abuse and other violent behavior. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking -- and talking to others -- about animals who are cruelly treated. Our AniCare model is an innovative psychological treatment model for animal abusers and we train therapists in its use. Rapid Response is a complementary program to work with the media, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors and others to make sure these cases are prosecuted vigorously and that AniCare is part of the sentence. It's always been natural for me to refer to animals who are cruelly treated, or who are members of families involved with the scourge of domestic violence, as "victims."
A recent Oregon case, however, has given me pause. It's driven home (yet again) the fact that as animal advocates, we can't afford to take anything for granted in the quest to ensure that animals are respected and valued. This case turned on the question of whether animals can be considered crime victims.
What are the implications of being the "victim" of a crime?
To answer that, let me tell you about Annie. I've written about her before in these pages, in March 2010. Just about three years ago, she was beaten with a tire iron and left for dead. A man was arrested and charged with her abuse, as well as the abuse of his girlfriend, the dog's owner.
Annie recovered after surgeries to amputate one leg, and to rebuild another one. She was adopted by friends of mine, Barb and Jerry, who have given her the opportunity to thrive and to overcome her abuse. In early 2010, as the sentencing of Annie's abuser drew near, my friends felt strongly that Annie's voice should be heard when her abuser was sentenced. Thanks to the prosecutor and victim advocate, Washtenaw County Circuit Judge David Swartz was able to hear from Annie, via Barb and Jerry's letter and Jerry's Victim Impact Statement on her behalf at sentencing.
Their letter outlined Annie's medical condition and prognosis: her eight hours of surgery; the amputated rear leg; the elbow "held together with surgical steel bone plates, four screws, numerous pins and surgical wire"; the additional surgery in order to remove metal that might otherwise cause her pain or be a source of infection later in life. And the injury that will cause her to hobble on the front leg while trying to balance without a rear leg.
But she is resilient, and Jerry told Judge Swartz that: "despite all the challenges she has faced, we want you to know that she is still a sweet spirited girl."
In the end, the judge imposed the maximum sentence, two to four years in prison. Just recently, Mr. Rutley became eligible for parole and authorities notified Jerry so that he could provide information for the board to consider in determining whether to grant early release from prison. Jerry did so, and is awaiting word on the parole board's decision. He asked the board to deny parole because Mr. Rutley had not accepted responsibility for his actions. Jerry also expressed concern that Annie's abuser not be released until he undergoes treatment such as AniCare, so that no other animal would become a victim.
Meanwhile Annie continues to thrive and enjoy life with Barb and Jerry's other animals. However, just last week her past came back to haunt her. One of the pins holding together the elbow came loose. She was limping and obviously in pain. Fortunately the vet was able to remove the piece of metal and she's back to romping and playing.
Also last week, the Oregon Court of Appeals released its decision in State v. Nix, -- P3rd --, Umatilla County Circuit Court CRH090155, A145386, (Or.App., 2012). In a 15-page decision, the court held that animals can be victims of crimes for purposes of the sentencing law.
On April 8, 2009, deputies from the Umatilla County Sheriff's office arrested Arnold Weldon Nix on 23 counts of Animal Abuse/Neglect. Among the animals seized were 43 goats and 24 horses. Many were in "deplorable" condition. He was ultimately tried and convicted by a jury on 20 counts of second degree animal abuse.
However, at sentencing the judge merged the 20 convictions into one, explaining that he "agreed with defendant's position that the animals are not victims, as defined" by the Oregon statute.
The appellate court disagreed, concluding that "there are as many victims as there are violations" of the cruelty statute and the trial court "erred in merging the guilty verdicts into a single conviction." In reaching its decision, the court looked at the Oregon legislature's intent when it passed the law at issue. "[I]t appears that the legislature's primary concern was to protect individual animals as sentient beings." Therefore, "the specific purpose of protecting animals from neglect was at the heart of the legislation. Accordingly we conclude that the individual animal identified in each count of second-degree animal neglect for which the defendant was found guilty qualified as a separate victim..."
As a result, Mr. Nix stands convicted of 20 crimes, and will be sentenced accordingly.
And, finally, consider a recent bill signed into law by Rhode Island's governor which allows an advocate to be appointed to speak on the behalf of an animal, and who may make recommendations in cases involving the custody or well-being of that animal.
What should we make of all this? To me, Annie, the Nix case and the Rhode Island law demonstrate that judges and legislators can be responsive to the arguments of animal advocates, but that we must be vigilant, creative, resilient and tireless in our efforts to circumnavigate these complex systems.
Published by admin on 08/06/2012 15:30:24