Amy Gehrt: Treat animals with kindness

Amy Gehrt

Most of us probably don’t give too much thought to where the skim milk or yogurt we buy at a grocery store or restaurant comes from; we simply assume it came from happy, well-treated cows like those depicted in the TV commercials.

However, a Chicago-based not-for-profit group that publicizes what it calls cruel practices in the dairy, meat and egg industries released an eye-opening video last week that shows reality can be far worse than we ever could have imagined.

The recording shows a host of horrible atrocities committed by workers at Ohio-based Conklin Dairy Farms: Employees are seen holding newborn calves down and stomping on their heads, and one worker even uses wire to hook a cow’s nose to a metal bar in order to hold it in place while that worker uses another bar to continuously beat the bleeding animal.

In response to the Mercy For Animals video, prosecutors arrested and charged 25-year-old Billy Joe Gregg Jr. — one of three or four people shown in 20 hours of raw video footage.

According to officials, the video shows Gregg punching cattle in their faces and using metal pipes and pitchforks to strike them. Astonishingly, Gregg faces a maximum penalty of just 90 days in jail and a $750 fine for each of the 12 cruelty to animals charges filed against him.

So that means even if Gregg is convicted on all counts, and a judge decided to impose the most severe sentence available, Gregg would get less than three years in prison — assuming he would have to serve the entire stint, which few prisoners do. It’s far more likely he’d serve a fraction of that time.

It never fails to infuriate me when I see how lightly people get off for heinous crimes against animals. Michael Vick spent 21 months behind bars and two months of home confinement for inflicting tremendous cruelty on dogs he was supposed to love and protect. Instead, he chose to operate an illegal dogfighting ring out of his Virginia home, and punished the dogs who survived those fights but lost with unbearably cruel treatment including electrocution, hanging, drowning or shooting. He was even welcomed back into the NFL.

As a pet parent, I can attest to the amazing amount of love, loyalty and intelligence an animal is capable of possessing. My golden retrievers have enriched my life in ways I can’t even describe, and all they ask for in return is love and a few basic necessities. Yet if someone ever harmed one of my beloved boys, that person would be treated less harshly than if he or she had broken into my house and stolen my possessions, but hurt no one.

What kind of society are we to let people off so lightly for inflicting such inhumane treatment on innocent creatures? Yes, we are at the top of the evolutionary ladder. But as such, don’t we have the obligation to protect those who are unable to protect themselves from mistreatment or speak out about it?

I also have to wonder what kind of person abuses defenseless animals. People who display such wanton cruelty in one area are likely to be equally cruel in other aspects of their lives. After all, don’t many killers get their starts by torturing and killing animals?

Granted, dairy farms exist to provide food for people, and I’m not saying that needs to change. Being a carnivore, vegetarian or vegan is something we each get to decide for ourselves. But regardless of your preference, I think we can all agree that animals deserve to be treated humanely.

It’s long past time food producers be held to higher standards. There is no earthly justification for beating dairy cows, or for egg hatchery workers to throw male chicks into a grinder. Animals, even those being raised for food, deserve to be treated with basic kindness. If the companies and employees aren’t able to do that, they need to find a different line of work.

And here’s a little food for thought: if the companies are willing to resort to cruelty to save a few dollars, do you really believe they wouldn’t cut a few corners elsewhere? Sick and injured animals can taint the food supply. And a company that doesn’t care about either of those things might just be putting your family’s health at risk, too.

Amy Gehrt may be reached at

The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.