The Case For Felony Laws
[In reference to reports that animal abuse is an indicator of future crimes against humans.]

Sometimes we feel like we're tilting quixotically at windmills.

I've heard all of their "arguments" against the existence of the link, and against tougher sentences for animal abusers based on the link, and they are all easily refuted:

Argument: The studies claiming to demonstrate a link are flawed, because we have no data on how many persons who abuse animals did not go on to abuse humans.

Response: Obviously, there is no way to determine such data with any accuracy. But studies have found that virtually every serial killer in prison had animal abuse in his past. The facts that virtually 100% of serial killers abused animals, and that obviously a smaller percentage of the general population had done so, demonstrates that those who abuse animals have a higher than average propensity to become homicidal maniacs later in life, warranting that we identify, punish and correct the behavior of animal abusers whenever and wherever we can, by the strongest and most effective means possible. It is certainly not a stretch to realize that persons who take pleasure in inflicting pain on living, sentient beings, are not likely to show much compassion to their fellow humans.

Argument: Making animal cruelty a felony will "equate an animal with a human."

Response: That's nonsense. Under current felony animal cruelty statutes in most of the 41 states of the United States which have them, cruelly killing an animal is punishable by prison terms of no more than a year or two. There are a few exceptions, such as Washington State, where the maximum sentence is 5 years; and Louisiana, where the maximum is 10 years. The maximum punishment for cruelly killing a human is life in prison in 12 states, and death in the other 38. The vast disparity between punishment of those who commit crimes against animals, and those who commit crimes against humans, clearly shows that we are not "equating animals with humans."

Argument: The link between animal abuse and later crimes against humans should not be factored into criminal punishments for animal abuse, because "we have to punish people for what they do, not what they might do."

Response: That's only half true. Our justice system does punish criminals for what they do; but courts, in determining an appropriate sentence for what someone has done, have always factored in the criminal's "future dangerousness." Incarceration is not just a punishment, another of its accepted purposes is to incapacitate the criminal so he cannot commit more crimes. Likewise, the laws forbidding felons from owning or possessing guns help to lessen the risk of future crime; with animal abusers convicted as felons, there would be a lot fewer potential serial killers legally in possession of guns. And law enforcement authorities would have the right to keep close tabs on them, also possibly reducing future criminality.

Argument: Prosecutors are far too busy, and prisons are far too crowded, dealing with criminals who have harmed humans; we have to give these cases priority, so animal abuse shouldn't be viewed that seriously.

Response: This argument has some small semblance of truth, but it is short-sighted. Since the animal abuser of today stands a very good chance of being the murderer, rapist or child abuser of tomorrow, odds are that the justice system will be dealing with him sooner or later anyway. And if we are really serious about protecting the public from heinous crimes, we should deal with him sooner.

Argument: "It was only an animal."

Response: Even if a person takes this insensitive position (most don't), the issue that needs to be examined is not so much the species of the victim as the cruelty of the act committed. Cruelty is cruelty, and it is always wrong. As evidence demonstrates, someone heartless enough to torture a defenseless animal is capable of nearly anything, and as a compassionate society we have a duty to protect the innocent and defenseless among us from those with sociopathic tendencies.

I have never heard a convincing argument from the other side. Along with many others, I have often debated our opponents on this issue, and the untenability of their position becomes so often evident as they usually end up resorting to ad hominems, profanity, or just plain ignoring what they don't want to hear.

Ever tried nailing Jell-O to a wall?

--Paul A. Ernest, J.D.

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