Actor Joaquin Phoenix weighs in on Asha Sanctuary cattle controversy

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Aug. 4—Academy Award-winning actor Joaquin Phoenix is coming to the defense of Asha Farm Sanctuary owner Tracy Murphy.

In a written statement Thursday, Phoenix, who won the 2020 Oscar for Best Actor for his portrayal of the lead character in "Joker," said authorities who arrested Murphy on a grand larceny charge for holding a heifer and steer that wandered onto her property should have shown more "compassion and mercy."

"To so harshly punish a woman who was simply showing kindness to two individuals who had wandered onto her property is astounding," Phoenix said in a statement issued by his social impact adviser, Michelle Cho. "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."

Phoenix said he applauded Murphy for "standing her ground in the name of animal liberation."

"What this merciful opportunity was met with was such a shame," he said.

New York State Police and the Bureau of Criminal Investigation arrested Murphy, 59, on Tuesday after a dispute about the ownership of the cattle erupted in mid-July. Police charged Murphy with third-degree grand larceny.

Scott Gregson, who claimed the cow and steer held at the sanctuary as his property, said he asked a few farmers to aid in retrieving his cattle on Tuesday with assistance from the Niagara County SPCA. The cattle were taken away by truck to a location that Gregson declined to disclose out of fear for their safety.

Phoenix is well known for his animal rights activism. During his Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actor in Joker, he spoke of the exploitation of animals in farming, particularly in the dairy business. Two days later, he rescued a cow and her calf from a California slaughterhouse and brought them to an animal sanctuary.

The situation involving the cattle and Asha's Farm Sanctuary began last month when Murphy reported to the Niagara County SPCA her discovery of two cows on her property. Gregson later came forward identifying himself as the owner. While Murphy said she was interested in purchasing the cattle from Gregson, negotiations broke down after an altercation at the sanctuary, and from then on Murphy refused to give up the cattle. Murphy is known for promoting veganism.

The incident sparked outrage in the community, especially from local farmers who likened Murphy's actions to "cattle rustling." Protests began to occur near the sanctuary, with a particularly large gathering on July 31.

Concern had also been raised in the community about whether the sanctuary was safe for Gregson's cattle, after the July 31 death of another cow at the sanctuary from an unconfirmed disease.

It is also known that the sanctuary was experiencing financial hardship due to overdue veterinary bills. The day before her arrest, Murphy said crowdfunding support had helped her to pay off the sanctuary's debt.