From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy”

(This is a different Harley)

The arrival of Spuds, our new dog, was postponed a day. While chatting with his foster owner, she told us that had had decided to to report Spuds’ previous owner for animal cruelty. Good. The woman neglected the dog outrageously, as I wrote about here.

But for some reason, my mind flashed back to this post from 2013, involving a more complex animal cruelty case. It’s an ethics quiz, but I’ll be adding a poll at the end. The comments to the original post were very good.


Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy

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

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

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.

Back to 2020: here’s a poll.


Pointer: ABA Journal

Facts: Tampa Bay Times

6 thoughts on “From The Ethics Alarms Archives: “Ethics Quiz: The Harley Tragedy”

  1. For dog lovers, there’s a great program from NOVA entitled Dog Tales and covers the history of the evolution, domestication and intelligence of our beloved best friends. Congratulations, Jack, on offering a loving home to yet another 4-legged friend and a rescue dog at that. My husband and I have decided to finally (after losing our dog 7 years ago) to do the same. All best wishes.

  2. I see no reason for such a harsh sentence.
    Yes pet ownership is expensive, but so too is the cost of depression and lonliness. Pet ownership for the elderly is therapuetic. Perhaps we should evaluate these cases as we would in family court. If mom can’t afford medicine for a child we don’t call that abuse we find solutions to help mom get the medicine. Where are the PETA or the humane societies programs to assist people in such cases to be able to keep their long time companions. Why do vets only do pro bono work for shelters that have the ability to raise money when hardship cases require the animal to be removed from an otherwise loving home. The ethics of the situation calls for helping both the animal and his human. The medications for what were described as the dog’s maladies would not break the bank for most pet owners when dealt with early. Like human pharmaceuticals vets get samples and could have helped but apparantly no one sought a solution early

    I just had a 12 year old cat, one of two that we took in when their human (our neighbor) died from cancer, undergo surgery for a $2500 bladder problem. That is on top of the thousands we pay annually to our vets (plural). As we get older we will be less able to care for new entrants to the family who are dropped or show up at our door. Nonetheless, we will never turn away an animal in need if we can help

  3. Congratulations on your new dog Jack.
    We parted with a 14 year old Pudelpointer a month ago and could finally bury his ashes yesterday. The system was cruel (heartless) to this owner. The details may have been horrific, but a better solution would have been to help her euthanize the suffering d og and assist her in adopting a healthy pet. Animal neglect of large numbers would be more fitting for that type of punishment. With veterinary care, payment is required up front usually, putting indigent owners in a difficult position ethically.

  4. My sister has gone to the same vet for decades for her cats. When I showed up with a Miniature Schnauzer, at several points she had to have some relatively expensive procedures. They allowed me to send in a payment every month — this lasted for many years, and we actually sometimes had a credit balance, until the death of our last cat a couple years ago.
    Even though it’s a good distance from where we live now, we wouldn’t consider going anywhere else.

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