25 May

An Outrage: Craig Mosher And The Criminalizing Of The Animal World

by Jon Katz
The Criminalizing Of The Animal World
The Criminalizing Of The Animal World

In July of 2015, a Woodbridge, Connecticut couple were traveling west on a Vermont highway when they struck and killed a large Scottish Highlander bull that had escaped from its pasture, according to the Vermont State Police.  The driver, a 64 year-old man, was killed, his wife was injured but recovered.

It was an awful accident.It is now a crime.

Animal escapes are a part of rural life, accidents as serious as this as rare as they are awful. A tree had fallen on the fence where the bull was being pastured, lifting it up enough for him to escape. But a local prosecutor seems to have decided there is no such thing as an accident when it comes to animals.

Last month, a grand jury indicted the bull’s owner on criminal charges of involuntary manslaughter at the urging of local prosecutor Rose Kennedy. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

If Craig Mosher is convicted, the lives of every farmer and animal lover will be altered, dramatically and much for the worse. It is a truly horrific precedent, whether you own a bull, a cow, a dog or a cat.

I’ve been writing about the criminalizing of the animal world for some time now, from the efforts to ban the New York Carriage Horses and falsely accuse the drivers of abuse and deception to the arrest of Joshua Rockwood, a young farmer charged with animal abuse and threatened with jail and the loss of his farm because his water tanks froze in -27 temperatures.

The carriage trade defeated the ban, Rockwood was cleared of all charges, Mosher must also prevail. A new and radical community of farmers and animal lovers are awakened and ready and eager to support one another. This is a landmark opportunity to defend the right of animals to live with us and the rights of people who wish to live with them.

This may be the most outrageous and disturbing case yet, this shocking indictment of Mosher who lives in Killington, Vermont and is well-known and respected for the good care he has given his animals.

Even amidst the deprivations of the animal rights movement, I’ve never seen a case involving animals that has more ugly, outrageously unfair implications for farmers or anyone who lives with an animal – horses, cows, dogs, cats, donkeys, even chickens. From everything that is known about this case, justice is weeping in a corner.

Throughout the history of rural America, and also of urban America, accidents occur involving animals. Dogs escape from fences, pull leashes out of people’s hands, run off in the woods, vanish looking for sex, cats slip out-of-doors and windows, sometimes run in street. Trees fall on the best fences, lightning strikes pastures, cars run into them, drought and rain can undermine posts, latches can rust, electric fences can short. Livestock animals are often big and strong, everyone who lives in rural America has had animals slip through fences.

Farms are not fortresses, farmers often have miles of fences to monitor, repair, inspect. And little spare time to do it.

In Maine, people are killed every year in collisions with Moose, thousands of people all over the country hit deer (I’ve hit and killed two, Maria hit one.) Are states to be charged with criminal offenses when these very sad incidents occur? If Craig Mosher is guilty, what about the person whose dog runs into a truck and causes it to veer into a pole or other car? Is the owner to face financial ruin, arrest and indictment?

Sometimes these animals are hit by cars and trucks, sometimes they are killed, sometimes it takes days or weeks to find them. And sometimes people are injured, even killed, in accidents. That is the nature of life, animals are not immune from tragedy any more than people are. There will always be accidents, none of us, animal or human, have any guarantees.

Even the best and strongest fences can not offer lifetime and absolute protection from escape or wandering. I have had donkeys unlatch gates, knock me down when I opened them and rush out, had sheep go right through charged five-wire fences. Just last week, our pony came up behind me and nosed me out-of-the-way to try to get through a gate I was opening (to enter) and eat the grass in the yard. If Maria was not walking up right behind me, and quickly closed the gate, Chloe could have gotten out.

When my animals get out, I call on my neighbors, we rush to help one another. It is not a crime scene, it is life. It is no big deal to see some cows trotting down a country road, we just pull up to the farmhouse, knock on the door and let them know.

In all of American history, in cities where dogs escape and in the country where cows get out – farms have huge spaces and fence lines to patrol, cows are big and nosy. All of us have stopped to help when cows and horses and goats and sheep get out – this has happened to just about every farmer in the country. It will no doubt happen to me again. Pigs are insanely clever about digging out from fences, they are very tough to catch.

It is a familiar ritual in farming communities, when we see a cow or horse or donkey or dog on the road, we pull over, stop and help.  If we can’t, we call the sheriff. Usually there is no need, and they can’t do much more about it than we can. Animals don’t take orders or answer polite requests or obey arrogant prosecutors.

In the country, we say that escaped animals are often the way we meet our neighbors. Three years ago, our new fence failed and my sheep broke out and ran up a busy highway for a half-mile.  Trucks and cars were swerving all over the place to avoid them, it was a horrifying sight. We met Bob, our new neighbor. “This is how I meet all of the newcomers,” he said, shaking my hand.

A dozen good neighbors – most of whom we had never met – came running to help that day. People pulled over in cars and trucks. Nobody called the police to have us arrested.  And I am lucky, I had $8,000 fences that far surpass legal requirements, the best fences I could buy. Few farmers have enough leftover money to do that, milk prices haven’t gone up in years.

A hurricane had just passed close by, there was a deluge, and the pasture was flooded, and the fences shorted. It was an accident, and I can’t imagine how it could have been avoided. We added some new fences, it has not happened since.  If the Rutland County Prosecutor succeeds in convicting George Mosher, this would now be a crime, an awful window for greedy lawyers and ambitious prosecutors to jump through.

Traditionally, accidents like these often lead to civil suits or insurance claims,  they have always been handled as civil cases. I can find no evidence that any animal accident that befalls responsible animal owners – and many people testify that Mosher is extremely responsible – has ever resulted in criminal charges, absent evidence of malice or chronic and irresponsible neglect. There is no evidence of chronic or irresponsible behavior by Mosher, nothing that would ever be called criminal or require jail time.

This message was posted on Facebook tonight by the Vermont Farm Bureau, which is rushing to Mosher’s defense and asking for help:

Please call or email senators from Rutland Vermont, Peg Flory, Kevin Mullin, and Brian callamore, and Representatives Butch Shaw and Job Tate asking them simply to try to get all charges dropped against Craig Mosher of Killington, VT.

Craig’s bull was loose in route 4 at 10:30 pm last July 31,2015. He was out looking for his bull, a pet, when he learned that a motorist struck and killed his bull and then veered off the road into a tree, killing himself. It is tragic.

Mr Mosher has been charged by a grand jury in Rutland county with involuntary manslaughter. This carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison. Landowners around the area are already reluctant to rent out pastures to neighboring farmers. Other farmers don’t want to let their animals out of the barn. If you live in the area drive by Mr Mosher’s farm and fences. See for yourself how they are.

This was a tragic accident. This case is being pursued by prosecutor Rose Kennedy. This is not good news for anyone with livestock.

The emails for the senators and representatives are first initial last name all lower case with no punctuation @ leg.state.vt.us. For example: [email protected] As of now mr Mosher has a court date of june 6, 2016. Please come to court that day to show your support. We will keep updating the day and time.”

The Vermont Standard quoted Texas attorney and author Jan Dawson, who has written several books about livestock accidents, as saying “I”ve never heard of anybody filing criminal charges like manslaughter.” These cases are always civil cases, settled, when there are damages, in civil courts.

Yet another case perhaps, of a prosecutor who seems to know nothing about farms, or the real lives of animals. That has become a familiar story to farmers and animal lovers.

Believe me, if they can do it to him, they can do it to every one who lives with any kind of animal. If your cat runs in front of a car and causes an accident, this prosecutor believes that  you can face criminal charges.

For farmers and rural communities, this could be a catastrophe.

It means hobby farms and second homers will not permit farmers to graze on their land for fear of criminal charges. It means many farmers – this is already happening in Vermont, according to the Farm Bureau, since the arrest – will keep their cows and other animals confined in barns and never let them graze freely. It means the insurance rates of anyone who lives with any kind of animal could go through the roof.

It means farmers will incur greater expenses and live in even more fear and uncertainty. And this in Vermont, a rural state with a rich history of animals living with people.

A farmer e-mailed me this afternoon – he lives near Mosher – to say he plans to send three of his cows to slaughter because they stick their noses under the fence too often to try to get to the grass near the road. “I can’t take a chance on them getting out now, that kind of indictment would ruin me. Before, when they got out, somebody would tell me and we’d get them back in. Now….I don’t know. It’s just crazy.” He is, of course, terrified to give his name.

This is part of having a farm, there is no foolproof fence against all animals and all of nature.

Increasingly, and in part because of the furor over animal rights, we have come to see animals as deserving of perfect lives. No injuries or suffering or accidents of any kind are acceptable.

Abuse is being radically and arbitrarily redefined, and historic and traditional treatment of animals is becoming criminalized, with no public discussion or due process. As we lose touch with farms, nature, and the realities and identity of rural life, we are losing our perspective when it comes to animals. It becomes ever more expensive, controversial,difficult and dangerous to own them.

How many people will simply decide not to bother with this kind of persecution and forego the experience of having a pet bull or keeping cows alive or even getting a dog and cat? It becomes more difficult and costly and fraught every day to live with animals, and they are the ones suffering the most from this myopia, they are vanishing from the earth.

The New York Carriage Horses, perhaps the luckiest, best  regulated and best cared for horses anywhere, have to fight for their very lives every year because people would ought to know better believe it is cruel for working animals to work.

No animal and no farmer – and no ordinary citizen – would benefit in any way from such a flagrant overreach by government authority and injustice to a respected member of the community. It could happen to anyone.

The local police chief told a reporter he was stunned by the indictment, he said in 17 years he has never heard of an animal accident resulting in criminal charges. He said Mosher was a respected and admired member of the community who had never caused any kind of trouble, with or without his pet bulls and rescue donkeys.

This is not just a Vermont story, or I would not be writing about it here on my blog. This is part of a national hysteria, a new kind of witch trial, now familiar to farmers and animal lovers everywhere. It is disturbing, but also an opportunity to help a fellow animal lover and be part of the new animal awakening, a wiser and better understanding of animals than this.

I’ve learned in recent months that we are part of a new kind of community, we are using this new technology to support one another and fight for a rational and just way to love animals and live with them in the face of almost continuous challenge and assault. There is no way in any rational world that Craig Mosher should be facing up to 15 years in jail because his bull got through an opening in his fence that he could not  have known about or prevented.

I’ll be going to the June 6 hearing,  following this case and sharing its outcome with you.

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