About a year ago, my little corner of the world was rocked by the death of two house cats reportedly left to die by Allison Dinsmore, a special-education teacher. She moved out of her apartment to go live with her new boyfriend, and apparently, her cats were left behind. As a result, the cats went without food or water, and both died a terrible, inhumane death.
I was pleased that the media, the community, the prosecutor, the police, and the judge all took this very seriously and that criminal charges were filed against Dinsmore. As activists, we struggle to get the legal system to be as aggressive with crimes against animals as it is with other crimes. Smug in the knowledge that criminal charges had been filed, I rested easier, hoping that those cats did not die in vain.
After the police and the state attorney’s office reviewed the case, Dinsmore was charged with two counts of felony cruelty to animals. They had originally charged her with a misdemeanor, but after the veterinarian performed the necropsy and declared that these animals died a horrendous and painful death—and after receiving a flood of phone calls and e-mails (proof that your actions do count!)—the charges were upgraded to felony charges.
Attending the trial as the self-appointed voice for the victims, I watched as the prosecutor dutifully and diligently laid out his case against Dinsmore. I imagined these beautiful souls, being lonely and on their own for days, desperate for food and water, running to the door, their tails held high and straight whenever they heard a noise outside, thinking that their caretaker was finally coming back for them—only to get … nothing.
Her defense was a story about an old boyfriend who allegedly threatened her with bodily harm (although no old boyfriend was put into evidence). She said that she was afraid for her life and that that’s why she didn’t go back to care for her cats. (What, no phone? No friend? No relative?)
On the other side, the veterinarian testified that when the organs begin to shut down as a result of dehydration and starvation, it is a painful, drawn-out process.
But the jury returned a verdict of not guilty, deciding that Allison Dinsmore’s actions did not amount to felony cruelty to animals.
The verdict was disappointing. It shows that we still have a long way to go in educating many members of our society about the respect and care that animals deserve.
But here is what really got me. The defense attorney told the jury that animals do not have rights and that human safety comes before animal safety. It is my belief that this is a fundamental problem with how people view animals that has a cascading effect on how cases like this end up being analyzed. Animals should be treated equally. I try to educate as many people as I can with this PETA resource (You can also get a free copy if you email PETA and mention this Prime blog).
We can’t get discouraged. PETA is improving the odds that cases involving animals will be taken seriously and that where there is animal abuse, the perpetrators will be punished. PETA’s work with law enforcement, prosecutors, and judges is training those who can make a difference, and we can all help by speaking out. We cannot be tempted to give up the fight because then the cats will have lost again.