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The Crime and Punishment of Animal Abuse

Updated on October 20, 2016

Over recent years, with social media’s broad reach, we’re getting a steady diet of footage showing the hideous face of animal abuse. We’ve seen the butchers at animal slaughterhouses, vicious dog-fight promoters, puppy mill horrors, and savage poachers who threaten endangered wildlife and our eco-system. We’ve read stories and seen the disturbing images of animals being abused in circuses and at zoos, supposed havens for animals.

This “visual nausea” of animal torture and abuse, as disturbing as it is, is ever present here in the U.S., though it is far worse in third world countries where animals are merely beasts of burden and sources of food.

Those capable of transferring such pain and suffering on to animals are malevolent “bad seeds” who likely abuse people in their lives. Many of these dregs have been convicted of violent felonies involving physical abuse, to include rape.

Perhaps the media’s attention growth has been spurred on by the dog-fighting escapades of disgraced quarterback Michael Vick, or there may just be an increase in the abuse of animals. One thing is certain; the media has given more attention to injustices perpetrated on animals, whether they were family pets or animals being led to slaughter.

An appalling piece of news footage showed a U.S. Marine throwing a puppy off a steep cliff in Hawaii. Punishment for such deplorability can range from administrative action, non-judicial punishment or court-martial. The process is governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Anything from reduction in pay, reduction in rank, confinement and/or discharge from the Marine Corps is possible.

A few weeks prior to the surfacing of the Marine video, The Food and Drug Administration recalled 143 million pounds of meat because of factory farm abuses and violations that occurred at the Hallmark/Westland Meat Company in Chino, California. In short, the plant violated regulations by systematically torturing cattle that were too weak, injured or ill to stand, and in turn endangered millions of children who consumed the contaminated meat used in school meals.

The common denominator of these stories is that they involve the appalling abuse of animals. There seems to be a feeling among the perpetrators of animal abuse that the torture and killing of animals is acceptable behavior in (our) society. I would say this is in great part due to the fact that ineffectual punishment is imposed upon those guilty of animal abuse.

The other reason is that animals, like young children, are at a great disadvantage as they cannot speak or defend themselves. A great number of serial killers preyed on animals first, mastering their craft before moving on to their human victims. This is a prime reason why stiffer punishment must be imposed upon animal abusers.

Michael Vick served less than two years in prison for torturing, maiming, drowning and electrocuting at least sixty dogs. The punishment hardly measures up to the crimes he committed, not to mention his additional criminal charges, to include interstate gambling, drug possession, probation violation and with infecting several sexual partners with a sexually transmitted disease. In fact, his time served was not actually for his crimes against animals but for his other crimes.

Only within the last ten years have the majority of states in this country instituted felony-level laws for the abuse of animals. In my former home state of New Jersey, the maximum prison sentence for animal abuse is five years, and many only receive stiff fines, according to the Humane Society of the United States.

If you are guilty or convicted of killing a human, you will go to jail for many years, perhaps life. For the murder of a family pet, one may spend a few months or up to two years in prison, while a person convicted for the third time of a non-violent crime in California may spend up to twenty years in prison. Though the stiffest penalty for the murder of a family pet is five years, even this sentence was not imposed upon Michael Vick, who was convicted of killing not one but nine dogs, abusing at least sixty more.

How can we humans who love dogs, cats and other animals accept the suffering of any animal?

Our legal and penal system, though flawed, is still the best in the world. Yet the aforementioned demonstrates that there is something very wrong with the priorities, and above all, the laws of the society in which we live. Lengthier prison sentences as well as intensive counseling for anyone convicted of any type of animal abuse is in order and worth advocating.

The message has to be sent out across the nation and the world that the abuse, torture and killing of animals is morally wrong and will not be tolerated or taken lightly. People worldwide need to discover and understand their very close connection to animals, and to value the service and assistance they provide us – guide dogs for the visually impaired, seizure and cancer detection, avalanche and marine search and rescue, bomb and drug detection to military canines.

We have all sat in front of our computers and televisions and watched stories in which animals were brutally tortured and killed and we became sickened and outraged. Our laws must reflect our intense anger, and punishment must adequately fit the crime. It takes a growing sentiment of outrage over animal abuse to shake lawmakers into action, to enforce stricter punishment against animal abusers, and to prevent the epidemic of abuse from further rising.

As for the animals that are the source of most of the world’s food supply, is it really too much to ask that these innocent creatures be treated as humanely as possible? Just as a society should not accept the killing of a family dog, it should not accept that the animals that provided last night's dinner were electrocuted and dragged to their deaths in the most callous ways.

Animal abuse is now a felony in all 50 states, with varying levels of punishment. Drastically increasing the penalty for a crime perpetrated on an animal will require a new public stance, lawmaking bodies that will respond to the public and tempered patience.

A huge thank you goes out to all the animal advocacy groups and individuals who work tirelessly to bring these issues to the forefront, to help animals live fair and just lives.

If you witness animal abuse or neglect, contact your local humane society or local police department immediately, and first and foremost, help an animal in distress if time is of the essence.

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