How Can Someone Shoot A Cat And Get Away With It?
Through the outrage, the heartbreak, the frustration and the confusion, it isn't easy to understand why animals are so often denied the justice many people believe they truly deserve.
Warning: Disturbing image below
"Animal Cruelty is a disgusting and reprehensible act that the Austin County District Attorney's Office strongly condemns," wrote Austin County, Texas district attorney, Travis J. Koehn, in a press release announcing that Kristen Lindsey, the veterinarian who bragged about shooting and killing a cat with a bow and arrow, will not be charged with a crime. "However, the duty of this office, and the duty of the Grand Jury is to make decisions based on the law and evidence in each individual case."
"Why was there no #JusticeForTiger?"
Hearts broke all over the world when news came out that justice was denied to the cat believed to be Tiger - a beloved 6-year-old cat belonging to an elderly couple - who, through a brutal act, was transformed into the limp body dangling from the end of an arrow in her gruesome, incriminating Facebook photo. The photo - which first surfaced in April with the caption, "My first bow kill, lol. The only good feral tomcat is one with an arrow through it's head! Vet of the year award ... Gladly accepted" - was swiftly deleted along with Lindsey's Facebook account, after word got out that something unthinkably horrible had happened.
Local Tiger advocates held peaceful demonstrations, while people all over the world waited for the grand jury's deliberation on June 24, hoping that Tiger would get justice, and Lindsey would be punished.
Lindsey was fired from her job at the Brenham Veterinary Clinic and over 38,000 people signed a petition to revoke her veterinary license. But people wanted the law to recognize that Tiger's life was cruelly and wrongly taken.
So, why did Lindsey get off? The simple answer is that "subpoenas to Facebook failed to produce useable evidence, as the account was deleted the same day law enforcement became aware of the matter," according to Koehn.
But the deeper answer to this question delves into the complexities of law.
"As animal advocates we are strongly disappointed in the outcome of this case," Scott Heiser, of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, told The Dodo. "Sadly the Grand Jury's decision, apparently fueled by a substantial lack of evidence, demonstrates what many would characterize as a highly flawed criminal justice system because it is a system that is designed to let guilty people go free," Heiser said. "Did she kill a cat? She admits that. Was it cruel? In our opinion, yes. But the prosecutors in this case didn't even have enough evidence to prove jurisdiction or venue."
Heiser suggested checking whether the defendant's phone records could give a date and location for the incriminating photograph, but the district attorney's office denied The Dodo's request for that information.
Animals are things in the eyes of the law.
Even if the grand jury had decided there was enough evidence to bring the case to trial, and Lindsey had been found guilty and given the maximum penalty for animal cruelty, which in Texas is a $10,000 fine and two years in jail, it is still not absolutely illegal to kill a cat.
And in Texas, like in many other states, only some animals are considered deserving of protection from cruelty - circus animals, wild animals and lab animals do not enjoy the same protections from Loco's Law, a statute that made animal cruelty a felony in Texas in 2001, only after a puppy named Loco's eyes were gouged out.
The sad truth of the law and animals is that usually something absolutely horrific has to happen, as with Loco (who managed to survive and live a 12-year-long life as a local celebrity who helped usher in harsher penalties for animal abusers), before protections are expanded and punishments for cruelty made more severe. This is because, in the eyes of the law, animals are not considered absolutely inviolable the way humans are. An animal is usually considered more deserving of protection when it belongs to someone - that is, when "it" is a piece of property owned by a human being.
"The problem with relying on animal welfare laws is that they are oftentimes futile in vindicating an animal's interests because, under the law, nonhuman animals are classified as legal things," Natalie K. Prosin, executive director of the Nonhuman Rights Project, told The Dodo. "What the Nonhuman Rights Project is trying to do is have courts recognize and grant basic legal rights to some of the most cognitively complex species of animals like great apes, elephants and cetaceans." Currently, the Nonhuman Rights Project is fighting for the rights of animals in three ongoing lawsuits in New York State, using the common law writs of habeas corpus to seek legal personhood status for certain animals.
"Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?"
The Nonhuman Rights Project represents one approach for righting the wrongs too often done to some animals. There are other approaches as well. Laws for animals become complicated because there is disagreement about what qualities should entail protection under the law in the first place.
Some thinkers, like Peter Singer, believe that the criteria for protection under the law shouldn't be the ability to use language or to reason but the capacity to suffer. Philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote (centuries ago!) that "the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?"
Currently, the law is still refusing its absolute protection to sensitive beings beyond humans, even when scientists declare the presence of consciousness in mammals beyond the human being. The good and bad news is that law is changeable. It can expand its protections and rights, as it has done in the past for groups of people who were once unrecognized, but this process often occurs in fits and starts. Currently, state by state, protections for animals vary greatly.
District Attorney Koehn, oddly, uses this as a defense of the grand jury's decision not to bring Lindsey to trial. "In some jurisdictions of the United States, hunting stray cats is expressly permitted," he writes. "In the state of Wyoming, for example, citizens are permitted to hunt stray cats all year with very little restriction."
The district attorney defends the grand jury's decision by citing as precedent one of the five worst states to be an animal.
The disparity in laws and protections, even as animals are increasingly recognized in the eyes of the law, lead to devastating results, like yesterday's decision at the courthouse in Austin County.
In 1823, Jeremy Bentham wrote: "The time will come when humanity will extend its mantle over everything which breathes." Sadly, for Tiger, nearly 200 years later, the time did not come soon enough.
Learn more about how you can advocate for animals here.