Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gaming the System: Animal Extremists and the Law

Blogger's note:  This quick follow up to "Cat Killer Vet Drops a Dime"
was triggered by receipt of responses from the vet involved
and a bucket of hate-mail and sundry accusations from persons
who either can't read or choose not to.  But a promise is a promise.  [see below]
"Cruelty to animals"?  Or is it?
When it comes down to the legalities--and the jail time--who makes the call?  Judges? Juries?  or veterinarians in private practice?

Persons associated with private, not for profit corporations operating in the public sector and doing their damnedest to look just like public servants are nothing new in New York.  Particularly in the field of animal law.

But the cautionary tale published by the Albany Times-Union of Gerard Sagliocca, his sister and the cat is a whole 'nother thing.  

I'm hoping every reader will carefully consider the implications of a case in which a veterinarian in private practice reported her client -- who had not beaten, starved, overdriven, overworked, nor abandoned a pet -- for cruelty to animals after he brought a cat to her clinic. 

In published comments, this particular vet stated that she believes her client should go to jail, and eventually elaborated that. . .

". . .the failure to provide any care to companion animals until they are too close to death to save them constitutes cruelty in NY State"   --Holly Cheever, DVM, in  comments published via the Albany Times-Union blog.

I am the Lord thy Veterinarian

Pretty interesting stuff, isn't it?  Fascinating, even.  But I'm still not sure I see the logic.

Does the above mean that only people who are confident their animals are healthy should dare to take them to a vet, since no one wants to be charged with cruelty to animals?

Sooner or later 100% of animals are "too close to death to save." How much "care" and how far in advance would be necessary to avoid prosecution?  Who determines that?

If a pet has a heart attack or suffers some other sudden and acute illness or injury and dies without veterinary care, would that be a "cruelty to animals" ?

Are the only permissable deaths those involving a vet ?  Where does the owner's beliefs and wishes come in ?   What about people who don't believe in euthanasia?

How the hell are pet owners even supposed to know how sick their pet is, unless they've taken him or her to a vet?

What if the vet is wrong?  What if the vet isn't up-to-date on the latest treatments?

What if the vet is a lunatic animal rights freak?  (Hey, I'm just saying. . .)

The possibilities are endless.

Does the State of New York really want to go there?

Did the State of New York go there already?

Mostly, of course:  what happens if pet owners fear their veterinarians?

I believe we're looking at a recipe for increased pet abandonment and even more needless suffering, for both pets and their owners.  And I've got a problem with that.

Ask a silly question

Last week, I challenged readers to point out to me where, under current New York state law, an animal can be seized and euthanized contrary to his owner's wishes, without a court order, without a hearing, and without any of that other stolid due process-type goodness.

Someone quoted AML 371 "The powers of peace officers."

Close, but no cigar.  OK, not even that close.

The plain language of AML 371 allows officers to "lawfully interfere to prevent the perpetration of any act of cruelty upon any animal in his presence."   Like someone taking a baseball bat to a pony with a cop standing right there to see it. 

But if peace officers enter a private home without first obtaining a proper warrant signed by a judge -- thereby raising the spectre of an illegal search and seizure -- we could be in fruit of the poisonous tree territory.    All bets are [supposed to be] off if the search is illegal.   The evidence gets tossed. 

Am I the only one still watching Law and Order re-runs ?   Sam Waterston would have had a cop's butt in a sling for jeopardizing his case through failure to get a warrant.  Think Bill of Rights, the right to be secure in our homes from unreasonable searches, the ACLU, your 9th grade civics class . . . 

Furthermore, "lawfully interfering" is hardly a license to kill.  Impounded animals, even when seized legally with a signed warrant, are not automatically forfeited.  Those animals belong to their owners. 

Finally, does a cat dying at home [as opposed to being euthanized in a vet's clinic, for example] qualify as an "act of cruelty"?  Says who? 

Remember, I'm not talking personal preferences and opinions here.  I'm talking about law which must be understandable, reasonable and accessible enough for people to comply with, and potential criminal charges that could send someone to jail for a year.  And I'm thinking that AML 371 just doesn't work.

What the vet said, and Blue Dog's Choice

As noted at the end of "Cat Killer Vet Drops a Dime" I also received a series of responses from Holly Cheever, the veterinarian who filed a cruelty complaint against Gerard Sagliocca after he left her clinic with a live cat.  Cheever's comments presented me with a dilemma not remotely on the order of Styron's novel and the movie it inspired

To paraphrase some of my favorite cat people, Cheever can always git her own damn blog.   But that crude thought was undoubtedly a product of my insensitivity and an ethical compass which compares unfavorably to a Swiss Brown cow's.

How to post Cheever's comments without further muddying murky waters?  Hmmmm.

Blue Dog's choice was to do this small follow up piece and link up Cheever's comments for those interested.  And then be sure to get the first licks in, because I'm not pretending to be unbiased and I'm not coy about where my sympathies lie. 

Each and every time, this blogger comes down in favor of the preservation of civil rights and in support of the rule of law, regardless of the allegations.  Every. Freaking. Time.

So, readers, please keep in mind:
  • AML 350(2):  "'Torture" or "cruelty" includes every act, omission, or neglect, whereby unjustifiable physical pain, suffering or death is caused or permitted.'  This cat was FIV+ when he was adopted, and Cheever says he had developed cancer.  These illnesses were not caused by the Saglioccas.  Was the cat in pain?  How would they have known?  Did the Saglioccas intend for the cat to suffer?  If so, why take the cat to a clinic?   Every day, in  veterinary clinics everywhere, animal owners learn for the first time that their pets are seriously ill and may be suffering.  With limitations like "unjustifiable" and "caused or permitted" in the New York statutes, I believe that the meaning and relevance of AML 350(2) to cases like Saglioccas' are, at the very best, highly questionable.
  •  AML 371 does not make law enforcement's job "to follow up on complaints as they see fit."  It allows officers to "issue an appearance ticket pursuant to section 150.20 of the criminal procedure law, summon or arrest, and bring before a court or magistrate  having  jurisdiction,  any  person offending  against  any  of  the provisions of article twenty-six of the agriculture and markets law."  Seizing cats and killing them over their owners' objections?  I don't see that mentioned.  Does anyone else?  [Note:  the balance of AML 371 regarding "acts of cruelty in an officer's presence" was covered above.]
  • AML 373:  "It was their decision to bring the cat back for me to end his suffering in a humane manner, and #373 gives them the right to do so."  Well, I can only hope that isn't what happened, and Cheever doesn't specify which part of AML 373 she is referring to.  373 is a massive section of NYS Agriculture and Markets law allowing many things, including seizure of animals with a warrant, forfeiture and destruction of animals forfeited prior to adjudication of charges.  Such permitted destruction would be after arraignment, after a security bond hearing, after the owner fails to pay an amount specified by the court as a security bond and after the court orders the animal forfeited.  In short, after all kinds of things that did not happen in this case.
  • "Richard's" team and libel:  First of all, I don't know who "Richard" is.  As for the veiled threat of a libel suit:  telling the truth is by far the best defense against libel allegations.
The truth is best.  Period.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Cat Killer Vet Drops a Dime

Animal Extremist Vet Reports Her  Client to the Cops

Take home message for patient:  "I'm not your friend, and I will kill your cat."

Think your pet hates the vet now?  Just wait.

Here's the sequence of events, per the Albany (New York) Times Union:  When the FIV positive cat Guilderland resident Gerard Sagliocca and his sister obtained from a rescue stopped eating, they took the cat to the vet. 

The vet recommended euthanasia.  They rejected her recommendation, saying that the much-loved cat gave no indications of distress and had a good quality of life at home.

Sagliocca and his sister took the cat home to the duplex they share.

The vet called the cops. 

The cops went to the Sagliocca home, seized the cat and took him back to the vet's office. 

Judge.  Jury.  Executioner.

And then the vet killed the cat.

Just like that.

At the vet's insistence, Sagliocca was then charged with cruelty to animals.  The vet believes Sagliocca belongs in jail, even though the cat lived with his sister and he rarely saw the cat.

In Albany County, New York, animal cruelty is punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a $1000 fine, plus a mandatory ten years as the target of PETA vigilantes and other nut cases, public scorn, discrimination and humiliation through placement of the offender's home address, photo and other personal information on the county's brand-new online Animal Abuser Registry.

Remember:  Sagliocca did not injure the cat.  The cat had ample access to food, water, and shelter -- along with toys, a loving home and all the other perks of life as a house cat.   

Sagliocca's "crime" centers around a refusal to kill.  Instead, he and his sister wanted to take the cat home.

Criminal intent?  I'm thinking not so much.

Like other crimes, the concept of "cruelty to animals" hinges on the presence of malice.  The person must have made a decision to bring about a prohibited consequence.  In this case, the prohibited consequence would be cruelty to animals.  Accidents and bad outcomes caused by ignorance, or despite our best efforts?  However disturbing, tragic and difficult to accept they may be, they are not criminal.

The cat was already FIV positive when he was adopted, and was cared for to the best of their abilities.  Sagliocca and his sister brought him to a veterinarian when they suspected there was a problem.

I wonder if all those Albany County legislators who voted for that "animal abuser registry" thought the first person listed would be a cat lover whose "crime" revolves around taking a beloved cat to a veterinarian ?
Cheever, 2009 Humane Lobby Day at NY State Capitol. 
Photo by HSUS NY State Director Patrick Kwan.
Wrong on so many levels:  Holly Cheever, DVM

Unfortunately for Sagliocca, the vet he and his sister chose is an well-known animal rights extremist. 

A vegan who lives on a "farm sanctuary," in addition to her private veterinary practice in Voorheesville, Holly Cheever is also. . .

. . .the Chair of the HSUS-satellite Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association's "Leadership Council."

. . .vice president of the New York State Humane Association, an organization responsible for the  "education" of hundreds of New York public servants and law enforcement personnel on animal cruelty.

. . .a veteran militant in the drive to ban carriage horses from the streets of New York City.

. . .an advocate for the summary death of other cats in a hospice with "active feline AIDS."

. . .the author of a treatise attributing moral dilemmas on the order of  "Sophie's Choice" to a Swiss Brown cow.

. . . an apologist for a regrettable instance of an animal control officer forced to shoot a dog menacing livestock on the grounds that, after all, "Siberian huskies are wonderful dogs, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists them as the breed fourth-most responsible for dog-bite fatalities."   [and Cheever, I don't have your alleged "30 years of animal cruelty expertise" but I am willing to bet that even if huskies are not the sensitive souls that you believe Swiss Brown cows are, they still know the difference between a goat and a human being.]

Cheever opposes animal ownership, and is an outspoken critic of animal agriculture. 

Whose cat was it, anyway?

How the hell does Cheever get to kill someone's cat over their repeated objections?

Who put her in charge ?

As Sagliocca pointed out, there is no "mandatory euthanasia" requirement in New York State.

While Cheever insists on using "guardianship" language, pets are the responsibility of their owners.  Despite the voices in Cheever's head, veterinarians who make unilateral and drastic care decisions for other people's animals are walking on very thin ice. 

When vets snitch out their patients. . .

In Cheever's haste to kill that cat, she, and the Guilderland cops who  acted on her instructions, killed a number of other things, too. 

Among the other bodies on the floor:

-- the family's ability to seek a second opinion from another veterinarian

-- the family's ability to seek palliative treatment for the cat

-- the family's opportunity to prepare for and accept the cat's demise

-- the family's right to freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, as well as the right to due process.  The cat was seized and killed without consent and without the niceties of a hearing, or a court order. 

Also worth noting:  when Cheever killed the cat, she effectively destroyed the evidence.  The family's ability to demonstrate that the cat did not appear to be suffering?  Dead at the hands of Dr. Holly Cheever.

White Coat Syndrome:  when pet owners fear the veterinarian

Mostly, though, Cheever's animal rights activism will kill the faith and trust pet owners have in their vets. 

The AVMA's oath emphasizes the key role veterinarians play as members of society, placing their professional duty to society first. 

And with good reason.

How many pet owners struggling to care for  aging or terminally ill animals will think twice about bringing their pet in for treatment, fearing an accusation of cruelty to animals?

Must they always agree to immediately euthanize their pets, in accordance with vet's timetable ?

How many will hesitate to open their homes to an FIV positive cat? 

How many will decide, ultimately, that -- screw it, who needs the risk -- they really don't need a pet?

Throw Cheever to the wolves state veterinary licensing board

The good news is that Cheever faced a pretty tough audience.  In response to scathing criticism on the Times Union's blog, Cheever sounded more than a little defensive

And what she said is pretty damn scary:

". . .my views on what constitutes animal cruelty and the veterinarian’s responsibility and relationship to his/her patients are not unique. I am well-respected by my alma mater and by my colleagues overall, even those who may act differently, and am a frequent lecturer to veterinary students from the east coast to the west since I am considered a mentor and leader in the field of the veterinarian’s role in animal cruelty. . .. In my opinion . . .the failure to provide any care to companion animals until they are too close to death to save them constitutes cruelty in NY State. "

So there you have it. 

Taking a sick pet in for treatment can be a very, very risky proposition in Cheever World.  If the  animal is too sick to save--in her estimation--she believes that you've committed animal cruelty. 

Happily, and despite the chest-beating about her credentials and the support of her [fellow extremist] peers,  it is Cheever's behavior that runs afoul of the law.  It also runs afoul of the guidelines for veterinary professional behavior laid out by the New York State Office of the Professions.  At the very top of the list:

"The veterinarian or licensed veterinary technician should not willfully harass, abuse or intimidate a client or patient either physically or verbally." 

Dropping a dime on the client, much?

The New York State Board of Regents includes veterinarians who perform "professional services which have not been duly authorized by the patient or client or his or her legal representative" in their definition of unprofessional conduct.   Sagliocca contends that Cheever asked for $150 to kill this cat.

Also unprofessional:  "exercising undue influence" and "filing a false report."  Hmmmmm.

Vets in private practice are not judges.  Nope.

Setting aside all the self-promotion, Cheever is a vet in private practice who has far exceeded her professional responsibilities.  She's not a prosecutor, not an officer of the court.   She's not an elected public official.  Not a public servant.  Not a part of any law enforcement agency.  Her opinion on what is and is not "cruel" is not law. 

So Cheever's got a lot riding on this one.  Let's hope she gets her just desserts. 

Caring pet owners should be able to take their pets to the veterinarian without worrying about getting snitched out by an animal rights whack-job, having their sick pet seized and killed by strangers, and then, icing on the cake, being prosecuted for animal cruelty.

The Times Union reporter called Sagliocca and his sister's problems a "worrisome precedent."  He doesn't know the half of it.

Blogger's note:  July 16, 2012
Early this morning I received a response from Holly Cheever, or at least a person claiming to be Holly Cheever.  Once I figure out how to present the comments without further contributing to the tradition of personal interpretations of New York State law by animal rights extremists, I'll publish them.