BY MARCY SHORTUSE – If the names Michael Wenzel, Robert Lee Benac and Spencer Heintz mean anything to you, you’ve probably heard that they were recently arrested by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission after a four-month-long investigation regarding animal cruelty.
To explain it another way, they were the shark draggers.
Wenzel was charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty, a third-degree felony, as well as one misdemeanor count of illegal method of take for a shark, a second-degree midemeanor. He seemed to be the ringleader of the group in the videos that were posted of animal cruelty acts, with the most-watched of those videos showing him and his friends in a boat driving at high speed with a shark being towed behind them. The damage this does to any gill-breathing species is essentially the same as murder.
Wenzel’s friend Benac was charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty and one misdemeanor count of illegal take method for a shark. Heintz was charged with two felony counts of aggravated animal cruelty.
The FWC has investigated this case for four months now, having a plethora of video and photographic evidence to look through. It’s not as if Wenzel and his various cohorts only did this once, after all. They thought it would make everyone think they were cool if they screwed with our wildlife (not counting at least one domesticated animal) repeatedly. Of course, investigations take time to be done right, though.
Andrew Warren, state attorney for the 13th judicial court said, “The State Attorney’s Office is committed to holding these men accountable for having engaged in such senseless and unjustifiable animal cruelty. We thank the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for their work in investigating these crimes, and we stand with them, along with Florida’s fishing and hunting communities, and all those who cherish our precious natural resources, in condemning the torture of our marine wildlife.”
I hate to break it to some of you, but the era when the common consensus was that man was here to use nature and kill animals for his own amusement and pleasure has passed. Common sense should dictate that anyone who feels the urge to uselessly injure birds, animals and fish has mental issues, to say the least. These are people who should be watched carefully, because anyone who is that comfortable torturing something as “lowly” as a fish might very well entertain crossing the line to enjoy hurting people as well. There is a big difference between catching a fish out of season (or one that that is under- or oversized) to eat, and casually extinguishing a life for one’s own amusement. Both are crimes – there is no question there – but one of those crimes calls for an explanation and follow-up as to why it happened, while the other makes no sense at all. We’re talking about a sick guy who enjoys showing the world a dog he “happened to find dead” that would end up as shark bait, a guy who grabs up a sea bird for the fun of it and holds its mouth shut, prohibiting it from breathing. Was it all for the sake of some social media all-important ultimate selfie shots?
Our new FWC Commissioner Bo Rivard said he appreciated everyone’s patience and support during the investigation, and it is his hope that “these charges will send a clear message to others that this kind of behavior involving our fish and wildlife will not be tolerated.”
Well, go get ’em, Bo. Whether it’s mishandling fish that are meant to be handled with respect or taking live shells, Florida’s abundance of wildlife comes with an abundance of laws. It can sometimes be a difficult job to enforce those laws, to be sure.
But this was a bit of a “gimme,” don’t you think? I seriously hope if these guys didn’t learn a lesson, that they will at least be too cowed by the thought of being caught again to continue with their behavior. I also hope that people who are so eager to torture Florida’s animals – both domestic and wild – will realize that people are watching them and condemning them. People who commit these crimes are brought into the same spotlight as murderers and pedophiles in many eyes; that’s just the bottom line of it. We always hope to see them brought to justice, and this time it actually happened.
Marcy Shortuse is the editor of the Boca Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.