Last Friday, rancher Michael Swails was sentenced to 60 days in jail, and another five years probation, for abandoning over 100 cows to die. (Click here, here and here to read background of the case.) Swails was originally charged with 120 counts of cruelty to animals, a recognition that each animal in the herd suffered from lack of food and clean water. Unfortunately, at trial in November jurors found Swails guilty only on five misdemeanor charges.
If Mr. Swails was a vegetable farmer facing financial problems, abandoning a field to weeds would be an understandable decision, but to abandon animals that you are legally responsible for without food, day after day, is incomprehensible.
Although we feel that Mr. Swails was deserving of a much stiffer penalty, we are pleased that the judge defied the pleas of local cattlemen who packed the courtroom last week in Naples and delivered a sentence that included jail time. At sentencing, Judge Elizabeth Krier cited Florida’s historic 2002 ban on the cruel confinement of pregnant pigs in factory farms as evidence that Floridians believe all animals—including “farm animals” deserve protection from abuse and neglect.
Please send Judge Krier a letter of thanks for taking this case seriously.
Hon. Elizabeth V. Krier
Collier County Government Complex
3301 Tamiami Trail E.
Naples, FL 34112
Fax: (239) 774-9654
Compared to a previous, similar case, Swails’ sentence could be seen as progress. In 2002, thousands of chickens starved to death and another 180,000 were euthanized after Cypress Foods, an egg farm in Pasco County, when the company ran out of money. The market for eggs had turned sour, and at the time it cost the farm more to feed the chickens than the farm would get by selling the eggs, so the chickens were abandoned. Despite activist’s pleas, no criminal charges were filed.