From the Gracia's compound

Juan & Bertha Gracia: Animal-Cruelty Trial Is A Trial In Itself

Hair Balls couldn't help but scratch our head today over the arguments and testimony spewed forth in the second trial of exotic bird breeders Juan and Bertha Gracia, who were found guilty of animal cruelty last August. Although that scratching was mostly to keep us awake.

Although Harris County prosecutor Linda Geffin presented enough evidence the first time around to persuade a judge that the Gracias didn't adequately feed or water their animals, she's taken heat from a surprising number of advocates for the Gracias around the country. (A Houston Chronicle story about the online support for the Gracias cited one fervent blogger who refers to Geffin as "Attila the Prosecutor.")

Ordinarily, we would not expect a so-called animal cruelty case to put anyone to sleep, especially one that involved the HSPCA and constables siezing over 1,000 birds and an assortment of dogs, rabbits and hamsters. We're also not sure about what appears to be a knee-jerk reaction by fans of the Gracias to instantly demonize Geffin. But the witnesses Geffin put on today -- a neighbor of the Gracias, and Colorado-based "national avian behavioral consultant" Julie Murad -- lacked what we might call substantial firepower.

Someone wanting to find out whether birds were indeed neglected or abused would've been frustrated by the proceedings, bogged down as they were in the most monotonous of minutia. Murad, founder and president of the Gabriel Foundation, testified that photos Geffin displayed of shit-encrusted water bowls and sorry-looking bird cages were indeed below the standard of care that her organization strives for.

This left defense lawyer Jennifer Gaut in the rather unfortunate position of arguing that perhaps Murad loves parrots a bit too much and that, depending on who you talk to, some folks might think it's perfectly acceptable to hardly ever clean water dishes.

But what surprised us the most was how evasive Murad appeared under cross-examination. Geffin objected to Gaut's questions about how Murad felt about breeders in general; when Gaut finally was able to get Murad to read a portion of her organization's position on breeding, Murad herself complained about having to read something "out of context." But we wondered why she was trying like the Dickens to evade Gaut's question, because the Gabriel Foundation is not anti-breeder. And even if an organization has a stance against breeding, would that somehow make it acceptable for the breeder of parrots to not feed their birds or a breeder of dogs to kick their freaking dogs?

Hair Balls really got our dander up when Geffin put on her next witness, a neighbor of the Gracias....who testified that they were good neighbors, and the only evidence she saw of animal abuse or neglect was the fact that their basset hound was on the thin side, and that he was outside during Hurricane Ike. Now, Hair Balls thinks it's a total dick move to leave your dog outside during a hurricane. But it might also be considered a dick move for the prosecution to put on a prosecution witness who testifies that the defendants were good neighbors. And, um, remember those thousand-plus birds everyone's been talking about? Yeah, the neighbor couldn't testify about that.

Gaut told Hair Balls that the Gracias have been in business for over 15 years, and have had many satisfied customers. Moreover, she said that if conditions were as deplorable as authorities contend, investigators would've found a property full of dead and diseased birds, which they did not. (The defense hasn't called any witnesses yet).

The pictures we saw today didn't instill a lot of confidence in the Gracias -- dudes, if you decide you want to make a living by making birds fornicate, try to have the courtesy to clean a food bowl often enough that dried shit doesn't completely cake the outside, and if you can't do that, then go be a freaking accountant or something -- but we also have about the same amount of faith in the HSPCA, an organization that operates very much in the dark. The HSPCA doesn't often tell the public what becomes of the animals they seize. We hope that, at some point in time, the Harris County Attorney's Office will demand that the HSPCA lets the taxpayers know what happens to each and every animal that they seize in the taxpayers' name.

Because the way things stand now, the HSPCA has been using public servants to further a goal that is about as clear as the water in the Gracias' bowls.

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