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"Judging Amy", April 12, 2005

The episode of the CBS series "Judging Amy" that aired on Tuesday, April 12, included two storylines relevant to animal advocates.
One that explored cruelty to companion animals, was handled beautifully. The other issue, one relevant to billions more animals, the choice of Amy's daughter Lauren to go vegetarian, is still being played out.

Starting with the good news on the animal cruelty issue:

Amy sees a case in which a teenage boy has beaten his mother and locked her in a basement for hours. The neighbors heard her screaming. The prosecutors call him sadistic and remorseless and want him charged as an adult.

We first learn that something was very wrong with his rearing when his mother explains that she can no longer control him, and then says, "He won't stay in his room anymore. When he was little I could lock him in his room till he settled down. 'You want to be loud, you want to carry on? Fine - Mom's going to the grocery store -- see you in a few hours.' I can't do that anymore, he is too big and mean."

Later, when Eric is on the witness stand, he says, of the attack on his mother: "It ain't like I didn't warn her."

When queried he says, "I told her if she touches the dog, something is going to happen."

Judge Amy Gray: "What dog? Is there a dog in the picture?"

Prosecutor: "I believe Eric keeps a pitbull in his mother's back yard."

Amy: "What happened to the dog?"

Eric is silent, looking distressed and angry. Amy explains this is his last chance to tell her what happened before she has to decide whether to have him tried as an adult in which case he could go to jail for a long while. She asks again.

Amy: "What happened to the dog?"

Eric: "She hit him with the bat. She can't hurt me, so she goes after the dog."

The Mother yelling: "That dog was dangerous, he was training it to attack me!"

Eric yelling back: "That dog couldn't hurt nothing! They were going to kill it because it wouldn't fight. That's why I took him. I taught him to fight back. I know because he bit me when I pulled her off. He was hurting and thought I was her."

Amy: "What is the dog's name Eric?

Eric: "Cassius."

Amy: "You want to see Cassius again?"

Eric, now sobbing: "He is dead. She beat his face in. His jaw was all...I took him to the park and I buried him that night."

Mother: "I didn't want that dog in my yard. It was always barking and making noise."

Amy: "So you beat it to death with a baseball bat?"

We see, again, Eric crying. End of scene.

At the time of sentencing this is what Amy says:

"I am surprisingly hopeful today. I am saying that because it is very hard to hear what has been said in this courtroom and not feel disheartened. Here is child rearing at its worse. Abusive, negligent, mutually destructive. As parents we must prepare for the day when our children will test us, and it is at that point that we must be the most vigilant, not just in disciplining them but in disciplining ourselves so that punishment does not become an outlet for our anger and disappointment. Done well or done poorly, parenting leaves its mark. And as Sonya Oldham has learned, you reap what you sew.

"But I promised you hope today and for that I direct you to Eric Oldham. There is a lot to look past, I know. Eric is a violent kid. And I have to
admit that initially I saw him as a kid who didn't care about anyone or anything, so emotionally damaged that he was not capable of caring.
But I was wrong. Eric loved his dog. He rescued it, he trained it, he took care of it, he mourns its death. And while that doesn't make him any less violent, it is a cause for hope. So, Eric, I am dismissing the kidnapping charge. However, I find probable cause on the charge of assault in the second degree. So, if Eric admits... (After a brief consultation with his lawyer, he nods) I will commit Eric to DCF as delinquent for placement in a residential treatment center for eighteen months. I am recommending the QUANT facility which has an inmate program for the training of seeing eye dogs. Seems like a good fit. You know there is a world out there where you don't need those fists, Eric. Protect what is good in you and you won't ever have to face a locked door again.

And in a soft voice, she says to him, "Good luck."

The episode did a beautiful job of making the connection between what cruelty or kindness to animals says about a person's character. At least with regard to companion animals.

One of the strong points of "Judging Amy" is that Amy's character is complex. She is a sensitive, intelligent, charismatic person, but far from perfect. We see that clearly in her reaction to her daughter Lauren's choice to go vegetarian. Here is how the theme has played out so far:

Amy is boasting over breakfast that she is cool with Lauren's attempts to differentiate herself, as young teenage girls do. (Lauren appears to be about twelve or thirteen -- the actress who plays her is in the seventh grade.) She says she can die her hair pink, and not tell her things, and Amy won't let it get to her.

Lauren walks into the room wearing a "Meat is Murder" t-shirt. Amy asks where she got it. Lauren says it is from her friend Regan, a friend Amy has not met. Lauren pushes the bacon off her plate, saying "Ew."

Amy: "So, you're suddenly a vegetarian?"

Lauren: "Yes."

Amy: "Yes what?"

Lauren: "Yes I am a vegetarian."

Amy: "You are going to just stop eating meat?"

Lauren: "That's what vegetarian means."

Amy: "Yes, I know, Lauren, but you can't just eat toast and gummy bears and whatever. You're gonna have to get protein, otherwise you won't be healthy. Isn't that right, ma?"

Amy's mother (Tyne Daly): "I think the two heart attacks disqualify me on this topic."

Lauren: "We don't have to eat animals to survive, but we do it anyways, just because we like it, and that's cruel."

Amy: OK, OK. For the record, animals eating other animals is a totally natural thing. Believe me if there were animals who were bigger than you and smarter than you and had opposable thumbs, they'd eat you.

Lauren as she leaves: "I am not going to argue about it."

Amy calling after her: "Well I think you should think this through because I am not going to make you a separate tofu whatever at every meal."

Another day (the next day?) Lauren comes down to breakfast but only wants to take a banana. Amy says, "Just drink some milk or something." (It has not been made clear whether Lauren is vegetarian or vegan but previews of the upcoming episode suggest she has become a "straight-edge" girl, and they are vegan.)

The doorbell rings. It is Regan, who is tough looking -- spiky hair, loads of eye shadow, multi pierced ears. She and her brother stopped by to give Lauren a ride to school, but Amy won't let Lauren ride with them. When Lauren leaves the room for a moment, Amy reads aloud Regan's badge: "Meat is murder." Then Amy comments sarcastically, "Wow, I didn't know that. I am a judge, you think they would have told me."
Regan says: "Maybe you didn't listen."
Amy says, "I think it is time for you to go Regan."

The next relevant scene is dinner time. The whole family is surprised that Amy has cooked.

She tells Lauren: "Its ravioli. There is no meat."

Then Amy's brother says, "What is in this? These little round things. Did you put shrimp in this?"

Lauren: "I knew it!"

Amy: "It is just shrimp. You didn't say anything about seafood."

Lauren: "You are trying to trick me into eating meat!"

Amy: "Shrimp is not meat."

Brother: "It is also not an ingredient in ravioli."

Lauren: "Why don't you just respect my beliefs?"

Amy: "A lot of vegetarians eat seafood. And I think you should too Lauren."

Lauren: "You don't know what is best for me."

Amy: "And Regan does?"

Lauren, leaving: "You don't even know her."

Amy, again yelling after her: "I know she dresses like a homeless person!"

Actually, throughout the episode, both Regan and Lauren wear jackets covered in various animal rights badges, such as the 'no fur' badge.

That night, Amy discovers that Lauren has run away. She has only gone as far as her father's house across town. The next morning when she gets home, Amy says they need to have a big talk that night. Lauren consents but says: "Don't talk about my friends. Just because they don't agree with you, doesn't make them bad."
Amy says, "OK."

That night we see Lauren asleep in her room. Amy comes in and hangs up her jacket. The last shot is on the 'no fur' badge.

We hope the show is heading towards suggesting that Amy should take some real interest in and show some respect for Lauren's positions. The promo for the upcoming week was not promising. It said: "Amy's daughter is hanging out with the wrong crowd and Amy is getting scared." But promos are not written by the show's producers. In an upcoming scene we hear Amy asking Lauren" "You went to a club called the straight edge??"

Since straight-edgers, besides being vegan, consume no alcohol and do no drugs, such friends should hardly be a parent's worst nightmare. But they look rough, as Regan does, so it is reasonable that Amy might be nervous. We can't tell yet how this will play out.

Since the upcoming episodes have already been filmed, viewer feedback will not impact them. But it can have a significant impact on future seasons, so please take a moment to let the producers know that Lauren's choice is a good one. Notes from parents of healthy vegetarian teenagers would be particularly useful. If that is you, I urge you to write!

Also, there is a poll on the Judging Amy page, where we can support Lauren's choice. It asks "Is Lauren too bratty?"
Since Lauren hasn't really been bratty, but has only decided for herself that she wants to be vegetarian, it is a disappointing question.
The options given are:
-- Yes, she needs to learn to respect her mother.
-- No, she's acting like a normal teen.
-- Not sure.
Unfortunately, as I send this out, the first option is ahead. You can vote at: http://www.cbs.com/primetime/judging_amy/

And you can post a comment supporting Lauren's healthful and compassionate choice at: http://www.cbs.com/info/user_services/fb_global_form.shtml

Choose "Judging Amy" from the pull-down menu.