Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy

I’m sure PETA thinks this is fair; I’m not sure that I do.

No goldfish for you!

No goldfish for you!

Tammy Brown,47, a disabled Moon Lake, Florida woman trying to make ends meet on her $508-a-month government check, argued that she was not able to afford veterinary care for Harley, her 14-year-old dog who had a painful ear infection as well as skin problems, periodic tumors, heartworms and ear mites. Because she did not get treatment for Harley, however—the fact that she tried to treat the dog’s problems with over the counter ointments wasn’t enough to mollify the judge— Brown was convicted of felony animal cruelty. She spent more than a month in jail awaiting sentencing, and then received six months of house arrest, 300 hours of community service, three years of probation, and $1,000 in court costs. Circuit Judge William Webb also commanded, “I don’t want you to own any animals. Not even a goldfish!” (Hartley had been euthanized.)

Apparently Harley’s physical condition was shockingly poor, so much so that jurors found photos hard to look at. An Animal Services officer testified that Harley couldn’t stand up without support. The prosecutor wanted Brown imprisoned.

Has society become so animal-sensitive that it has lost its priorities? Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz is this: Assuming that Harley’s lack of treatment was due to lack of resources and neglect rather than malice…

Was Tammy Brown’s sentence fair, or was it excessive and cruel?

I really don’t like this situation at all. A woman with very little in her life kept her old and beloved dog as a companion when her only realistic option was to kill him. There is no question that what she did was wrong, but the sentence seems vindictive and emotional. The judge might as well have had Tammy put down and had her buried with Harley. Now she can’t even have a cat, a canary, or a guppy? Isn’t it cruel and unusual punishment to sentence someone to loneliness?

Pet ownership is expensive, and veterinary care is shockingly costly. If the government wants to send the message that only the relatively wealthy can enjoy the benefits of a loving relationship with a dog, this certainly came through loud and clear in Florida.

I wonder what Harley would say.

__________________________

Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Tampa Bay Times

Graphic: The Blaze

44 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy

  1. I think when I had to let my 19 year old Maine Coon cat go, the euthanasia fee was over $100. I could fortunately afford this, but I do think that in my county, if I had done this at home, in the back yard where she like to sun, with my 9mm, I could be charged with animal cruelty.

    • By the way, Maggie had been a patient of this vet practice for probably 14 years with checkups, dental cleaning, dental extractions, a surgery or two, etc. Although there was no legal, moral or ethical for them to do it, considering the history, they could have comped the euthanasia service. I still like the practice though and take my latest companion to them. I suspect she’s accounted for a boat payment or two.!

  2. I think it’s a huge ethical issue to take on the responsibility for an animal if you cannot support that animal.

    I look at it like this: if she had failed to care for a child with this much neglect, there wouldn’t be much of an outcry if she lost her parental rights, was banned from adopting or fostering, and served a multiple year sentence.

    The neglect was conduct beyond the pale.

    I don’t like the month in prison waiting for a non prison sentence, but that’s a general system bad (not specific to this case), and I hate the court costs fine for someone on such a tiny fixed income, but half a year of house arrest, probation, and community service seems to be about the right step down from child harmed to animal in your care harmed.

    • What if she were blind, the dog was her service dog, and she had no money to either treat the dog or buy another one? Any extra sympathy for her then?

      I think I agree with your over-all assessment. I still feel badly for her. And for Harley.

      • I suspect the people that placed the service dog might be able to help out. I think there are also government programs that would cover this. If not, it seems like an optimal case for charity. I think finding people to donate money to help a blind person’s cancer ridden service dog wouldn’t be too difficult. (Random aside, this is actually where church’s are beneficial. Granted, social clubs are just as beneficial in raising money for people who’ve slipped between the cracks, but let nobody say that I’ve never said anything positive about churches.)

  3. Keep in mind when she got the dog she probably had better health and could better afford the dog too. As her health and resources dwindled and other people drop away, as they do when you have long term health issues, the dog was probably her only company she had.

    Pets for the elderly and disabled really help them cope and remain healthy themselves. Do you want to ban pets from someone who might not be able to pay for euthanasia 12 years in the future? How many pets had their owners lose homes and more in the meltdown?

    Yes, she should have put the dog down if it was that bad, but that should not mean disabled or elderly shouldn’t be able to have pets. Loneliness is a huge issue I do think the euthanasia should perhaps be slightly scaled for income or long term customer. The punishment was more cruel than the crime, as the woman was trying to care as best she could, and the judge didn’t do anything to help her.

    • The punishment was more cruel than the crime, as the woman was trying to care as best she could, and the judge didn’t do anything to help her.

      BS. If she was caring as best she could, she would have dropped the dog off at any of a million shelters, or sought monitary help for it. She was being selfish. We can understand how she might have gotten to that point, but it was not the best she could do, and it was horrible.

    • I wonder also if this relates to that whole theory where if you put a frog in cool water and bring it to a boil it won’t hop out- the change happens too slowly to notice. She may have bought the dog in better times and, although both her situation and the dog’s age and health deteriorated over time, no one day was enough worse than the previous one that it seemed like the right time to give up her friend. Not the right decision, but an understandable one.

      • Luke I am with you on this, although it is only speculation. It is also unclear how Ms. Brown came into possession of Harley in the first place and when, and under what conditions. I do agree with tgt (now, let the fact that I never said THAT, never be said!). But we seem to be judging a judgment of Brown when we do not have enough facts on how the cruel situation developed – just a snapshot of an advanced state of misery. Brown did seem to express interest in providing some level of care for Harley, according to what she could afford. Perhaps because of the gradual realization of her insufficient resources, along with gradual effects of the insufficient care, she self-blinded to her insufficiency too late to avoid the “red line” of cruelty, and stayed blind until she was charged.

        I am more than a little uncomfortable with confronting poverty and its effects on children in the way Judge Webb seems to suggest. If we’re going to condemn every parent who has a malnourished, poorly medicated child, then let’s get on with loosing the power of the almighty state to force sterilization, isolate negligent parents in hard labor camps, and take custody of children to place them in households with a minimum two Beemers and one swimming pool – a kind of new tax on the “rich.”

        Perhaps relatable to the Brown-and-Harley situation, perhaps not: What to do about the hunger striking prisoners (“detainees”) at Guantanamo? Which is “cruel,” or “more cruel:” Letting the prisoners starve themselves as they aim to? Force-feeding them?

        • If we’re going to condemn every parent who has a malnourished, poorly medicated child, then let’s get on with loosing the power of the almighty state to force sterilization, isolate negligent parents in hard labor camps, and take custody of children to place them in households with a minimum two Beemers and one swimming pool – a kind of new tax on the “rich.”

          You’re insane. The state has programs to keep children nourished (WIC, SNAP, etc…) and given proper medical care (medicaid).

            • You can’t claim that the only logical state response would be sterilization when they have other responses.

              Whether your like the programs or not is irrelevant to whether or not they exist.

        • Yes. I used a common meme to illustrate the point I was making about how people can self-blind to gradually changing circumstances until they become so bad that someone suddenly discovering it can scarcely believe it progressed that far. I did this even though the frog story isn’t true, because I knew everyone would understand the point I was making. I just didn’t think anyone would nitpick the totally irrelevant part of the illustration.

          Bless me, science, for I have sinned. I have used the word “theory” in the nnon-scientific way on in a non-scientific venue. I’ll take my penance in the forms of 40 blows from a red-hot pipette.

          • The way you wrote it suggested the frog story was true. You still could have made the same point using the frog story without that implication. A simple “That’s an urban legend, but it illustrates a real idea…” would have sufficed

            People believe these urban legends in part because people repeat them. The hyperbolic victim comments suggests you don’t care about perpetuating myths.

            • I didn’t add that because it wasn’t germane to the subject of the article, or the point I was making. I got angry at you because you felt the need to be a pedant about something that wasn’t my main point anyway. I, too, know many things, but have learned that grabbing something irrelevant and delivering a pithy one-liner about it just makes me look petty.

              • I didn’t add that because it wasn’t germane to the subject of the article, or the point I was making.

                So, you think it’s perfectly fine to misinform people about X if you’re only intending to make a point about Y? That’s horrible.

                I got angry at you because you felt the need to be a pedant about something that wasn’t my main point anyway.

                Pedant – I do not think it means what you think it means. This wasn’t me being a grammar nazi (which I admittedly am) or showing off my knowledge. This was my pointing out that you falsely suggested something was true.

                I, too, know many things, but have learned that grabbing something irrelevant and delivering a pithy one-liner about it just makes me look petty

                I think completely misrepresenting what occurred to attack someone who corrected an unintentional error you made is petty.

  4. It reminds me of similar situations in which people with declining resources and faculties are left to care for their own loved ones. The state sometimes finds they can’t do it for the other nor for themselves. Sucky situation.

  5. That’s just awful. The Humane Society where I volunteer collects donations and operates an animal food pantry for the poor. The idea is to save the animal’s lives, as there is little room in shelters to accommodate pets whose owners have fallen on bad times and can no longer afford to take care of them. The shelter veterinarians also take care of these animals pro-bono. This is an example of a community looking out the animals of the poor. If she had somewhere to turn for help at no cost, it might not have ever come to this. When people run out of options they get desperate. That the judge could render such a stiff sentence is despicable in my opinion.

  6. A 14 year old dog, with heart worms, skin conditions, ear mites, etc. Ok, first, for any breed getting a dog to this age is a milestone. Even with heart worm preventative medication dogs can come down with heart worms. Ear mites, nothing new and easily treatable with over the counter products purchased at any pet store. All of the dog’s symptoms including age would be a factor for weight loss. And with skin conditions it can make a dog look pretty bad.

    This lady may have a mental condition. If so, a pet is very important to have around. And if so, this ordeal may have further complicated a medical condition.

    Sadly I think the punishment was cruel and the word’s by the judge were inhumane to her. We do not truly know of her situation but if she had this animal for 14 years then give her a break. She had a bad lawyer.

    • Blame the lawyer…when you don’t know anything about what the lawyer did. She should have gotten off for her bad behavior…just…because. Clearly, the lawyer must have been bad.

  7. I vote for excessive and cruel (and a judge self-righteously grandstanding at someone else’s expense, possibly.) A sick, hurting dog is a situation that must be remedied, but a felony for “animal cruelty” should be reserved for those who are maliciously, intentionally cruel to animals. To be at all logical, animal cruelty laws must exist because animal cruelty is sadistic and is not becoming of polite society. It can’t be because the well-being of animals is tantamount to that of people (that isn’t even humanly possible). We EAT animals. We step on the smaller ones. We run over possums with our cars, and no one files a police report.

    I understand that equating pets EXACTLY with human children is becoming more common (a self-serving make-up morality for a culture increasingly jaded towards actual, well-thought compassion and sensitivity), but we cannot allow that sort of claptrap to trickle up into the real world of judges and juries and criminal records.

    I think it is selfish and unethical to not hand over a suffering animal to a shelter if you can’t care for him (though I don’t know the woman’s reasoning; she may have been afraid the dog would be put down at a shelter, and would have suffered more from being taken away to die confused and alone.) But I suspect that if Harley had been a pet rat, we would not be having this conversation at all anyway.

    Absent of any proof that this woman actively tried to torture her dog for fun or profit….just take the dog away and fine her for the cost of euthanasia, etc. The end. Lesson learned. I don’t see how criminal charges even enter into it.

    • A sick, hurting child is a situation that must be remedied, but a felony for “child abuse” should be reserved for those who are maliciously, intentionally cruel to children. [Negligence? I don’t know that word.]

      It can’t be because the well-being of animals is tantamount to that of people (that isn’t even humanly possible). We EAT animals. We step on the smaller ones. We run over possums with our cars, and no one files a police report.

      If it was tantamount, she’d be in jail for a long time. Strawman.

      I understand that equating pets EXACTLY with human children is becoming more common (a self-serving make-up morality for a culture increasingly jaded towards actual, well-thought compassion and sensitivity), but we cannot allow that sort of claptrap to trickle up into the real world of judges and juries and criminal records.

      More of the same strawman.

      I think it is selfish and unethical to not hand over a suffering animal to a shelter if you can’t care for him (though I don’t know the woman’s reasoning; she may have been afraid the dog would be put down at a shelter, and would have suffered more from being taken away to die confused and alone.) But I suspect that if Harley had been a pet rat, we would not be having this conversation at all anyway.

      So humans > dogs, but dogs = rats?

      Absent of any proof that this woman actively tried to torture her dog for fun or profit….just take the dog away and fine her for the cost of euthanasia, etc. The end. Lesson learned. I don’t see how criminal charges even enter into it.

      I know you were negligent and dumped megatons of oil into the wildlife preserve, but just pay for a clean up crew. The end. Lesson learned. I don’t see how criminal charges even enter into it.

      • She was charged with “felony animal cruelty”, not “animal neglect” and so I don’t see how “neglect” is relevant here. We are discussing what constitutes “abuse” of animals.

        Dumping oil? Insufficient care for a house pet= child neglect? There’s a hierarchy of mammals when determining animal cruelty? What’s it based on, cuteness?

        I don’t know what to make of your analogies, they are so random and unrelated to the topic. I can’t help but think that you rant on everyone’s posts just to blow off steam.

        • Can’t imagine why this would be confusing to anyone, but yes, humans>dogs and dogs=rats when it comes to animal cruelty. A person who tortures dogs is equally sadistic if he switches to rats. And a person who mutilates rats is just as guilty of animal cruelty as one who bashes turtles with rocks. The punishment should be more or less the same, less the added costs associated with caring for a wounded dog, etc.

          And morally speaking, it is equally sadistic to pull wings off flies. In all cases, you are harming creatures for fun, which is unbecoming and obscene. Should the law punish fly-torturers? I’d say of course not, for practical reasons, but it’s still uncivil to do it. We don ‘t have animal-cruelty laws because OMG dogs-are-so-cute-no-one-should-hurt-them-but-cows-who-cares? We have them because the human behavior (harming animals for no good reason) is repugnant.

          • A person who tortures dogs is equally sadistic if he switches to rats.

            You switched the subject from the action and harm to innate qualities of the person acting.

            A person who tortures humans is equally sadistic if he switches to rats.

            A person who gives motivational speeches to back civil rights is equally oratistic (yes, I made that word up) if he switches white supremacy.

            The innate [adjective] doesn’t change when the subject changes.

            And morally speaking, it is equally sadistic to pull wings off flies. In all cases, you are harming creatures for fun, which is unbecoming and obscene. Should the law punish fly-torturers? I’d say of course not, for practical reasons, but it’s still uncivil to do it.

            Okay so you seem to understand the point. Maybe I’m confused. It looked to me that your original comment: “But I suspect that if Harley had been a pet rat, we would not be having this conversation at all anyway” was intended to suggest that we shouldn’t prosecute this woman for animal abuse (rats are equivalent to dogs, and we wouldn’t do this for rats). If you intended to switch streams in your argument, was there some hint to this that I missed?

        • She was charged with “felony animal cruelty”, not “animal neglect” and so I don’t see how “neglect” is relevant here. We are discussing what constitutes “abuse” of animals.

          Neglect is one form of cruelty. It’s pretty well understood that neglect is a subsection of abuse of children. It should be clear that neglect is a subsection of abuse of animals (under your care) as well.

          Dumping oil?

          In my analogy, “negligently dumping oil” was matched to “negligently failing to care for a dog.” I then paralleled your logic in this situation. The point was to show that if there is no putative punishment, then there’s no deterrence. Ethical people won’t break the laws, but the laws aren’t in place to constrain ethical people.

          Insufficient care for a house pet= child neglect?

          I didn’t explicitly or implicitly state this. I pointed out that you were falsely claiming that the people you disagree with were saying that children were the same things as animals.

          There’s a hierarchy of mammals when determining animal cruelty? What’s it based on, cuteness?

          Absolutely there is a hierarchy in our society. I think it should be based on relative consciousness, but, in practice, it’s based on social norms.

          I don’t know what to make of your analogies, they are so random and unrelated to the topic.

          I think you may not understand how analogies work. I’m applying your logic to a situation with the same constructs, but different particular objects. Assuming I set up my analogy properly, if your logic doesn’t hold in the analogous situation, then it doesn’t hold in the situation where you used it. It’s not random, and it’s not unrelated. Of course, I may have missed an important difference between the situations, or I may have messed up the terms, but I don’t see a problem with this analogy.

          I can’t help but think that you rant on everyone’s posts just to blow off steam.

          Logical arguments are not rants. If you have difficulty understanding any of my comments, I’m willing to explain the underlying concepts, word usages, and argument structures (including possible valid lines of attack). If you don’t want to ask me for help, I suspect tex (my sometimes arch nemesis) would be willing to explain the concepts, too.

  8. This story is very sad. I can relate to both sides, but there is no animal cruelty here. Cruel is purposeful. There may be neglect, but it isn’t proven. She did what she could. The way the court treated her might be closer to cruelty. It seems purposefully excessive.

  9. I’m sorry, Jack. I did not answer your quiz question earlier: A significant part of Tammy Brown’s sentence was not fair, and was excessive and cruel. The probation, community service, and order not to own another pet were fair and proportionate punishments. If Brown had enough wits about her to try and take care of a pet, albeit inadequately because of her insufficient resources, then I believe that says enough to allow her continued access to animals – just not any animals that she is permitted to own. Depending on her disability, she might fulfill her community service very well in some capacity by spending time in the company of dogs at a commercial kennel or day care center for pets. That might even help her to get over her loss of Harley.

  10. After reading more on this case, yes, I think the sentence is fair.

    First of all, if her Social Security payment is that low, she would be eligible for food stamps and Medicaid, and likely some other programs as well.
    So…it wouldn’t be true that she spends her money on food and medicine.
    That is a sob story.

    Secondly, she has a history of eleven arrests and that tells me something about the kind of person she might be.

    Finally, look at the pics of the dog; that is a sick animal and I have no
    doubt that he was suffering, and suffering plenty.
    She could have gone to the Humane Society and asked for help, that poor dog was obviously beyond curing.
    Also, from the look and sound of it, I think he was a totally outside dog, which kind of lays the “dedicated companion” BS story to rest.

    I live in Florida, and an animal kept outside here lives a miserable life : heat, extreme bugs and so forth. Being left out leads esp. to skin, ear and parasitic infections.
    Ear infections are very painful and mange (looks like he had it) causes intense itching.
    Harley was like that for years, according to animal control.

    I’ve seen dogs and cats here that look exactly like Harley, bald and sick and roaming around the neighborhood while their owner does FA about the situation. Most, if not all of these forgotten pets are also un-neutered.

    I can’t work up any sympathy for this person and I agree that she should not own any more animals.

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/criminal/pasco-woman-who-couldnt-afford-vet-gets-six-months-house-arrest/2117569

    http://www.tampabay.com/news/courts/pasco-woman-who-couldnt-afford-vet-is-convicted-of-animal-cruelty/2117238

    • If all that is in those two linked articles is true, then I’ll have to walk back my position a little…this, from Finlay’s second linked article, “did it:”

      “He was like Eeyore,” said Brown’s daughter, Brandy Wadyka, referring to the popular character from Winnie the Pooh. “But he was a happy dog. Just nonchalant and old.”

      That settles it: Death penalty for Brown. Now. No appeals. All Eeyore-like animals are protected, cherished, indispensable. They are holy sites, sacred creatures. For her blasphemy, Brown must die. Now. Not.

      I do agree with the misdemeanor conviction, not the felony. Brown said a particularly odd thing, or is quoted as saying it: “I’m in hell. I’m literally in hell. I’m in here on a charge that shouldn’t be against me.” That is beyond delusional. It reflects just enough “poor me” manipulativeness to remove any of my doubt that she is accountable for her neglect of Harley.

      All I can think in closing is about Harley. What an amazing dog, to endure all that suffering and neglect, and still live 14 years. I expect that I’ll be extra “spoily” toward my 2yo “boy” later today, a rescued Lab I’ve had for a year who got a clean bill at the vet just yesterday.

        • Which bet is that? Even if Gosnell is found guilty of any crime and imprisoned, he will be far better off in prison than Brown ever will be outside prison. Sure, Gosnell’s sentencing will likely be more severe than Brown’s, but his punishment will be much lighter.

          • Sure, Gosnell’s sentencing will likely be more severe than Brown’s, but his punishment will be much lighter.

            Doublespeak. “I bet I’ll be richer than everyone else….uh oh, someone called me on that…well… you may have more money than me, but my life is more fulfilling so I’m still richer.”

  11. “I’m sure PETA thinks this is fair…”

    I’m sure that putting words into the mouth of an organization is not fair and pretty unethical.

    “Assuming that Harley’s lack of treatment was due to lack of resources and neglect rather than malice…”

    That is a highly questionable assumption, since we are dealing with someone with a long arrest record, including domestic battery chargers. However, subject to such an assumption, and if we further assume that there were no nonprofit rescue groups who could help,I would say that it is excessive. Subject to more realistic assumptions, it seems appropriate.

    “The judge might as well have had Tammy put down and had her buried with Harley.”

    That is a ludicrous comparison.

    • 1. “I’m sure” clearly signals an opinion and speculation, and based on known statements and attitudes of PETA, it is a reasonable one. Even if it wasn’t, the speculation wouldn’t be unethical by any definition of the word. I am sure. You’re not? Good for you. A supposition clearly stated as such may be wrong, but if sincere and reasonable, it is not unethical

      2. Your assumption suggesting malice, on the other hand, is beyond ludicrous. She has no convictions, and accusations of domestic abuse in no way suggest animal cruelty. What nutter nonsense. Why would she want to torture her dog? And resources of only $500 a month is proof enough of likely neglect without malice. I just paid almost that for one canine check-up, and my dog had a minor skin problem. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

      3. You appear unfamiliar with the rhetorical device of hyperbole. The point, since you don’t comprehend, is that the sentence was harsh for a poor handicapped woman, who herself, like Harley, might feel like she would rather be “put out of her misery.” Most readers understood.

      • I don’t see any assumption suggesting malice in 2. What I see is simply a denial that it’s appropriate to assume no malice. That she has a violent past is enough reason to not immediately take malice of the table. I don’t think the commenter went farther than that.

        I think your responses to 1 and 3 are spot on.

  12. Id have to say that the sentence was excessive. Make no mistake the woman was clearly in the wrong, if you accept an animal into your care you have a responsibility to actually care for it, pass it along to someone who can if you cant, or failing the above to humanely kill it. Having said that, she is also clearly not a danger to her community; the jail time, the house arrest, and the probation all smack of emotional reaction rather than reasonable punishments. Dogs aren’t people and she not hunting her neighbor’s animals so I don’t see how those punishments are appropriate.
    Community Service? Maybe.
    Fine? Certainly.
    Lose of common freedoms? Hell no.

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