EDITOR’S CORNER: Will justice be served in animal cruelty case?
(Opinion by Miles Smith/LPR Editor)
As a general rule, I like animals more than I like most people.
I never had pets growing up – a family who suffered myriad allergies made such a thing an impossibility, but I wasted no time adopting animals of my own once I had my own household. Over the years, I’ve had cats, dogs and even horses as pets, and I’ve loved them all.
When one considers the mostly unconditional love a pet usually gives its owner (if I didn’t feed one of my cats, she’d surely devour me in my sleep), it’s easy to feel anger toward those who are accused and/or convicted of animal abuse and neglect.
Until 2017, people accused of animal abuse often walked away with a slap on the wrist. Only the most egregious charges would draw convictions that carried steep fines and jail time, and even then, not more than two years, with most convictions carrying only punishments attributed to Class A misdemeanors.
That changed in 2017, when a Senate bill signed into law increased the punishment of certain types of offenses, including torturing, cruelly killing, poisoning or causing serious bodily injury to an animal, to a third-degree felony with a penalty of 2-10 years in prison.
In the coming days, Lockhart could get to see up close and personal how these new penalties are put into play should the case of Craig “C.J.” Tobler go to trial.
Tobler was indicted on felony animal cruelty charges in November when the Caldwell County Grand Jury convened just before the Thanksgiving holiday. According to the arrest report, Tobler was charged after Caldwell County Sheriff’s deputies went to investigate a report made by witnesses who testified against the former breeder during his sentencing hearing. While we were all in court learning whether Tobler would serve time for a misdemeanor animal cruelty conviction stemming from a former employee’s discovery of a badly wounded French bulldog in the filthy backroom of a house, deputies were at his property investigating the claims of a Dallas-area animal rescue volunteer who said he witnessed the mistreatment of numerous animals when he visited Tobler’s property to rescue 12 French bulldogs.
That day, deputies seized 261 animals from the property.
“Based on the facts of this case, he was charged with a felony,” District Attorney Fred Weber said.
On the same July afternoon Tobler’s property was under investigation, County Court-At-Law Judge Ed Jarrett handed him a two-year probation sentence, reasoning that it would be easier to keep an eye on him if he wasn’t behind bars. He was barred from owning animals during his probation, was ordered to surrender the animals he had within 30 days, and was required to serve 30 days in jail, which he already has.
Tobler’s opponents criticized the judge’s sentence, saying probation was too light and they would have liked to have seen him serve more time in jail.
I agree. The slides of the dogs submitted as evidence showed habitual neglect that didn’t appear to be isolated to just a few accidental cases. The judge had a chance to make an example of him to would-be offenders and really missed the mark.
But here’s what I’m struggling with. Is it fair to go out to his property and investigate complaints while he’s at his sentencing hearing, and charge him with an entirely new crime when the judge said he had 30 days to surrender his animals?
What I think doesn’t matter. I live in Travis County and won’t be called in for jury duty. But I believe it’s really hard to say. Granted, the deputies seized the animals in July 2018, nearly three years after he was first arrested on animal cruelty charges. The rescue volunteer’s testimony and officer’s report in the affidavit certainly suggests Tobler had done little to improve conditions for his animals since his 2015 arrest.
But I’m still chewing on the part about the judge ordering him to surrender his animals within 30 days. Didn’t he deserve a chance to do that, as well as a chance to comply with the terms of his probation, before facing an entirely new set of charges and the possibility of jail time?
What do y’all think?
Feel free to send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be really interested to read your thoughts.