In 2018, after reports of a downed cow, officers in Florida discovered 13 dead and 131 emaciated calves and cows on a seemingly forgotten pasture. The pasture’s owner, Robert David Starkweather, was charged with aggravated animal cruelty, and the cows were removed from the property.
During his trial, prosecutors argued that Starkweather had not provided the cows with adequate food, water, or medical attention. The animals suffered and died during an agonizing four-month period of neglect, and Starkweather was accused of ignoring signs of their distress and malnourishment.
On January 12 of this year, Starkweather was convicted of 12 counts of aggravated animal cruelty. For his horrific crimes, he was sentenced only to five years of probation and 100 hours of community service. He must also pay court costs and restitution. Considering the unimaginable suffering the animals in his care endured, this hardly seems like enough.
The same year Starkweather’s cows were suffering on that pasture, five dogs in West Virginia were abandoned in a vacant home. Andrew Cottle admitted during a plea hearing that he locked his late wife’s five dogs in the home for over 10 days without any food or water. Four of the five dogs starved to death.
Cottle was charged with four counts of animal cruelty and ultimately accepted a plea bargain on one felony count of animal cruelty. He has been sentenced to one to five years in jail.
With crimes so similar, why was Cottle given jail time and Starkweather not? The answer is simple: Companion animals, like cats and dogs, are seen as family members, while farmed animals, like cows and pigs, are viewed as property.
The majority of animal protection laws are enacted and enforced at the state level. According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, these laws focus primarily on companion animals, although some extend protections to wildlife. Farmed animals, however, are often excluded from these laws.
Cows, pigs, chickens, and other farmed animals feel love, fear, and joy, just like the cats and dogs who share our homes. Whether the animals have hair, scales, fur, or feathers, all animal cruelty should be equally criminal. It’s up to compassionate people to teach the world that.
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