Katie Brown’s Dog: A Very Serious Response to a Very Serious Crime
Dec. 2, 2015 (Mimesis Law) — Katie Brown shouldn’t have taped her dog’s mouth shut. She really shouldn’t have posted a picture of it on Facebook. The Internet went crazy:
Florida police have opened an animal cruelty investigation into a Facebook user who posted a picture of her dog with its mouth duct-taped shut.
Katie Brown first put up the disturbing photo Friday morning, with the caption, “This is what happens when you dont shut up!!!”
It has been shared over 238,000 times as of Saturday afternoon, and police in South Daytona say they have been overwhelmed by messages and emails — receiving about 32,000 calls about the post.
Somehow, the cynic in me doubts the South Daytona police would have gotten a fraction of the number of calls they did if Brown had been a South Daytona cop who’d shot a black guy and posted a picture of that instead. Regardless, the internet mob got its way, and Brown is now facing charges:
Katharine F. Lemansky — known on Facebook as Katie Brown, among other things — has been charged with one count of misdemeanor animal cruelty, and faces a fine and up to 150 days in jail.
Lemansky put up the grotesque picture of her dog on Friday, along with the caption, “This is what happens when you don’t shut up!!!”
It quickly spread across the Internet, causing so much (perfectly justified) public outrage that police in two states where she was thought to be, Florida and Connecticut, said they were investigating and asked folks to please stop calling them about it.
As it turns out, Lemansky and her dog were in Cary, North Carolina, and that’s where she’s facing criminal penalties.
It seems the internet gets what the internet wants, and clearly, it wanted punishment for Brown taping her dog’s mouth shut. Of course, she’s unlikely to get anything close to the 150 days she might theoretically serve. As is pretty much always the case, people love to cite the statutory maximum when writing about criminal charges, even when it doesn’t provide a shred of useful information about what the defendant is actually likely to get. It is sensational, and that’s the point.
Getting back to the “crime,” it says something else that’s not so positive about the article’s author that she would call the photo not just “disturbing,” like the previous article, but “grotesque.” Is it a great example of responsible pet ownership? Of course not. But grotesque? For that to be the adjective she decided to use, maybe the author hasn’t poked around the internet much. Or maybe that’s the reaction one should expect from the Huffington Post’s “animal welfare editor.” When it comes to mistreatment of animals generally, it seems people can’t do enough to publicly express their disapproval, lest they be accused of cruelty themselves. Perhaps people should be expected to use the most dramatic adjective they can find.
The photo bothered enough people to make something happen. As for me, I just wonder how the tape is that much worse than the muzzles regularly seen on dogs, even some dogs being handled by government agents. Honestly, I’m not so sure where the line is between duct tape and those head collars or “gentle leaders” I see all the time either, devices that direct your poor dog’s snout wherever you choose to tug it. After all, the dog was fine after Brown took off the tape:
Animal control officers examined the dog from the photo, and another in the same home. Both were found to be healthy and well-cared for, “which is why we did not and could not remove them from the owner,” said Rhyne.
Luckily, he added, the dog’s muzzle didn’t seem to be harmed, “not even detectable hair loss.”
Brown was an easy target for the moral outrage of a mob of people with internet connections and access to telephones. After an unbelievable 32,000 calls to a police department in Florida that had no real connection to the crime at all, they made who knows how many calls to the wrong people in Connecticut before finally bugging the hell out of some more cops in North Carolina. It worked, eventually. However, I do wonder how that compares to the volume of calls to various police agencies after their officers kill human beings and never get charged. I almost don’t want to know.
The police justified their charging decision:
“Taping the dog’s muzzle shut was a terrible decision on Ms. Lemansky’s part, and charging her with animal cruelty under North Carolina law was the right thing to do,” said Cary Police Captain Randall Rhyne in a statement.
The “right” thing to do is an interesting concept. It’s pretty clearly a legal one, though, so I found what I think is the law they claim she broke:
If any person shall intentionally overdrive, overload, wound, injure, torment, kill, or deprive of necessary sustenance, or cause or procure to be overdriven, overloaded, wounded, injured, tormented, killed, or deprived of necessary sustenance, any animal, every such offender shall for every such offense be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
If that’s the one, I’m even more confused about the distinction between duct tape and any number of devices countless pet owners use every single day, things that line the shelves at pet stores everywhere. She obviously didn’t overdrive, overload, or kill the dog. Not even having caused the dog any hair loss, she hardly wounded or injured it either. Furthermore, considering that the dog’s mouth was only taped shut briefly, it wasn’t even arguably deprived of necessary sustenance.
My guess is that she’s charged with tormenting the dog. That’s an awfully broad thing. In fact, I regularly tell my wife she torments our dogs by making them pose for holiday pictures wearing reindeer antlers or Santa hats. I have no doubt they’d agree with my assessment, but would it really be a crime in North Carolina? Luckily, the law has a definition:
As used in this section, the words “torture”, “torment”, and “cruelly” include or refer to any act, omission, or neglect causing or permitting unjustifiable pain, suffering, or death.
What makes the cops think the dog was in pain at all? It didn’t die, and saying it suffered seems about as apt as calling a picture of it grotesque. I’m not seeing a crime
Contrary to the police captain’s claim, unless I’ve gotten something wrong, it seems the decision to charge Brown probably wasn’t legally right at all. It was, however, undoubtedly right in the sense that it mostly placated an angry internet mob with a lot of free time. Brown probably doesn’t have a lot of visible local support, and she’s probably got no ties to the police department. She’s an easy target in a little case with a lovable, furry little victim. Unlike in most cases, it’s just the sort of situation where people online can actually end up being powerful.