Small Steps on a Long Road

Posted on November 6, 2003

(Spokane, Washington)

Big wins are important in the long struggle
against animal cruelty. But one shouldn’t overlook the little victories
— the baby steps that keep us moving down the road to justice. One such
step was recently taken in Spokane, Washington. It’s a sad story, but a
story that offers hope for the future.

Earlier this year, two 17-year-old boys in Spokane set fire to a
neighborhood cat named Max. This, sadly, is nothing new. Such random
acts of brutality have been an all-too-common occurrence since the dawn
of human civilization. But what’s new — and gratifying — is what
happened next.

A group of friends out for a stroll saw the cat and rushed to
help him. They also blocked the perpetrators’ pickup truck, forcing the
boys to flee on foot. These good Samaritans then reported the crime to
the police, who took quick action, tracking down the teenagers from the
truck’s license plate. Within hours, the teens had been arrested and
charged with felony animal cruelty and second-degree reckless burning.

Not long after that, a citizen familiar with the Animal Legal
Defense Fund’s reputation for assisting prosecutors contacted ALDF’s
Anti-Cruelty Division. Once alerted, the Anti-Cruelty team stepped in
to offer expert assistance to the local D.A., who was enthusiastic
about pursuing the case but had limited experience in the field of
animal law. ALDF helped out by researching relevant legal precedents,
discussing prosecution strategy and providing a report culled from the
organization’s animal cruelty database detailing cat burning cases from
around the country.

Unfortunately, it was too late to save Max — the burns he
suffered were too severe, and he had to be euthanized. But it wasn’t
too late to pursue justice.

For their crime, the boys were sentenced to one year of
probation, a fine, 150 hours of community service and random drug
checks. While that sentence might seem lenient to some, it’s important
to remember how the case might have been handled twenty-five years ago,
before ALDF was founded. Back then, animal abuse was often dismissed
with a casual “boys will be boys” shrug. What’s more, even if
authorities chose to take the case seriously, there wouldn’t be much
they could do: Washington — and most other states — had no felony
animal cruelty law.

Today, that "boys will be boys" attitude still exists in some
juridictions, but the laws are stronger and the enforcement more
consistent. In Spokane, two animal abusers were apprehended, prosecuted
and sentenced, and their permanent records now reflect the heinous
crime they committed.

That might not be a victory that will make headlines around the
globe. But it is a step toward a safer world for animals. And with
ongoing help from its supporters, ALDF’s taking more such steps each
and every day.

For an update on this case, read Historic Ruling for Animals

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