One afternoon after school in March 2018, some students watched as Robert Crosland, a science teacher at Preston Junior High in Idaho, fed a live puppy to a snapping turtle. The turtle was later euthanized—not by Crosland, thankfully—because the teacher did not have a permit to keep it.
Outrage over this disturbing incident spread around the world, yet many of Crosland’s students and their parents defended him. Crosland was not suspended or fired from his job.
Jill Parrish, a former student of Crosland’s, received death threats after she reported the puppy killing to police. “This is a cut-and-dried case of animal cruelty,” she told the Idaho Statesman last year. “But they’re saying, ‘The teacher is a good teacher.’ Everybody loves him.”
One of those supporters is Farahlyn Hansen, the mother of two students who witnessed Crosland killing the puppy. She told EastIdahoNews.com last year that if anyone should be upset about it, it should be her, but that wasn’t the case. “I felt like it was the more humane thing for Robert to do than to just leave it to die,” Hansen said. “The puppy was dying.”
Another parent, Annette Salvesen, agreed with Hansen. “If it was a deformed puppy that was going to die anyway, Cros[land] is very much circle of life,” she said.
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Although about 4,000 people signed a petition supporting Crosland, more than 248,000 people signed a Care2 petition urging the teacher to be fired.
After a three-month investigation, the Idaho attorney general’s office charged Crosland with animal cruelty. Because this was Crosland’s first offense, under Idaho law it was a considered a misdemeanor. If he was found guilty, Crosland faced up to six months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
But nearly a year after he killed the puppy, a jury of Crosland’s peers has found him not guilty of animal cruelty—which really shouldn’t be too shocking, considering his support from the community. The trial at the Franklin County Courthouse in Preston lasted just two days—most of the first day was taken up by jury selection—and the six jurors deliberated for only 30 minutes, KIFI reports.
Disturbing Details of the Puppy’s Death
According to testimonies from witnesses during the brief trial, the farmer who had given the puppy to Crosland’s son told him it was sick and dying. “I honestly thought I was doing the right thing by putting it out of its misery,” Crosland told an investigator. The prosecution argued that the puppy may not have even really been sick.
I don’t know if it was brought it up during the trial, but it should be noted that there’s at least one animal hospital located less than a mile from Preston Junior High, where the puppy, if it really was dying, could have been humanely euthanized.
Instead, witnesses—who insisted Preston cares deeply about animals—said he put the puppy in the snapping turtle’s aquarium, which was filled with water. Witnesses said the puppy “paddled a few times, and then the turtle grabbed it and pulled it under the water,” KIFI reports. “The puppy drowned before the turtle started eating it.”
Although Crosland’s attorney moved that the case be dismissed because of the lack of evidence that the puppy suffered, the judge ruled this decision was best left to the jury.
And, yes, the jury somehow decided in 30 minutes that the puppy hadn’t suffered. After all, they and Crosland’s supporters had no problem with what the teacher did—so why should the little puppy have any problem with Crosland dumping him into an aquarium with a hungry, sharp-beaked snapping turtle?
The Idaho Humane Society (IHS) released a statement saying it was outraged and saddened by the verdict, and I’m sure that many of us who truly do care about animals feel exactly the same way.
The one upside, as the IHS points out, is that this case has shined an international spotlight on Idaho’s weak animal cruelty laws.
“This travesty does not create any new precedence for allowing cruelty but rather, will undoubtedly serve as a rallying cry for those who care passionately about the welfare of animals to renew their efforts in communities throughout Idaho to ensure vigorous enforcement of our cruelty laws and to improve these laws both at the state level as well as locally,” it said. “Additionally, this verdict will no doubt bring both national and even international condemnation of Idaho’s laws and the reputation of Idaho in general.”
Photo credit: East Idaho News/YouTube