Tracy Murphy, the founder of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary in New York, is being prosecuted after she gave refuge to two cows who wandered onto her sanctuary’s property
Los Angeles, May 1st, 2023 — Tracy Murphy is the founder of Asha’s Farm Sanctuary, a refuge for abused cows, pigs and chickens in upstate New York. In 2022, two cows wandered onto her sanctuary’s property, and she immediately provided care for them and reported the event to the SPCA. A week later, a farmer stepped forward to claim the cows. Murphy did not immediately hand over the cows she named Ismael and Little Willow, seeking proof of ownership and also expressing a desire to buy the cows in order to save their lives. Tracy Murphy was later arrested, and the cows seized. She is now facing trial and mounting a defense in a case that could ultimately revolve around the concept of right to rescue.
UnchainedTV is following this case closely, and on April 13 reported live from a protest staged by Murphy’s supporters outside the Niagara County Clerk’s building and the DA office. UnchainedTV also broadcast a discussion about the case with a panel composed of Nathan Semmel, a defense attorney and former Manhattan Assistant DA, Renee King-Sonnen, who turned her husband’s cattle ranch into a farmed animal sanctuary, and Ellen Dent from Animal Alliance Network. You can watch the entire two-hour discussion moderated by UnchainedTV’s Jane Velez-Mitchell, here:
The Summary of the Tracy Murphy’s Cow Case
On July 16, 2022, a farmer from Newfane, New York, who also happens to be a New York State Trooper, discovered that two young cows he kept for beef production, meaning they were destined to be butchered, were missing. According to Union Sun & Journal, Tracy Murphy, who runs Asha’s Farm Sanctuary less than a mile from the farmer’s property, reported to the local Niagara County SPCA, on the same day, that the cows had wandered onto her land and were with her. The farmer asked Murphy to return the animals to him, but she wanted to buy their freedom.
Murphy was Arrested and Shackled
Murphy was arrested on August 2nd and charged with felony grand larceny in the third degree, which later was reduced to petty larceny. Still, it carries up to a year in jail. When Murphy first appeared in court, she was shackled around her waist and wrists, which outraged her friends and supporters given this is not the usual way non-violent defendants are treated.
It has been reported that she has since received death threats. Last summer some local residents, in this heavily agricultural community, protested near Murphy’s sanctuary. Signs mocking her dotted the neighborhood. One read “Udder Fool.” She pleaded not guilty and her trial was supposed to begin on April 13th at Town of Newfane Court, but it was postponed to a later date, possibly in June.
The judge has prevented Murphy from speaking to the media and the public, which has led her supporters to hold protests against this gag order saying it’s unfair because the opposing side is not gagged. Before that order was given, Murphy said to the press, “We are a sanctuary, we don’t want to hand over animals that are going to go to slaughter… I was worried about them, I didn’t want them to run into the woods, become wild, get shot, get injured, or die.” Murphy’s supporters have now created a petition titled Stop Prosecuting Tracy Murphy For Giving Two Escaped Cows A Chance To Live, which has already reached more than 1,691 signatures.
“There was an opportunity here to show compassion and mercy, to allow these peaceful creatures to remain without fear or anticipation of harm for the rest of their lives… I applaud Tracy for standing her ground in the name of animal liberation” — Joaquin Phoenix, Oscar-winning actor and vegan activist
Another Right to Rescue Case
This is the latest of a series of cases centered around the concept of the right to rescue, where animal rights activists have rescued animals in need and have later been prosecuted for doing so. The more recent was this March when former Baywatch star Alexandra Paul and co-defendant Alicia Santurio were found not guilty of theft after rescuing two chickens from a Foster Farms’ truck in California. Before this, Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of Direct Action Everywhere who is representing Tracy Murphy in this case as he is also an attorney, stood trial in 2022 after rescuing two pigs from a Smithfield-owned factory in Utah. But, he was also acquitted.
However, this case is different, as attorney Nathan Semmel explains:
“This situation, it’s actually a little bit different. In some ways, you have the animals sort of speaking for themselves…because these two cows… are essentially saying they don’t want to be there. And, I think animals have a sixth sense for their destiny, for knowing that they’re going to be slaughtered.”
“The cows could probably tell that this was a good place for them to wander over, to where there were a bunch of happy cows living out the rest of their lives” — Ellen Dent, Animal Alliance Network
“I think this is a situation where you actually have the animals saying, ‘I want to be rescued; I don’t want to be there.’” — Nathan Semmel, defense attorney
What will Happen Now?
Attorney Nathan Semmel, although not directly involved in this case, expounded on what believed was happening behind the scenes that resulted in the case being pushed back. “I know there’s been a lot of motions filed. I know there are pending motions right now which, it’s my understanding, include a recusal motion to try to get a different judge to handle the case. There is a change of venue motion that’s pending. There are other evidentiary motions that are pending. So, the case just wasn’t trial-ready. We’ve seen it before and my understanding is the case is now scheduled for June.”
Assistant District Attorney Laura Jordan told the court in late January that both cows were sold to an unidentified third party and their present locations are unknown. It is not known whether Ismael and Little Willow are still alive. We invite anybody connected to this case to comment.