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September 30, 2014

What should be made of the tough prosecution/punishment trend for animal abuse?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this front-page New York Times article headlined "He Kicked a Stray Cat, and Activists Growled." Here are excerpts:

On one side are the activists.  Once dismissed as cat ladies or fringe do-gooders, they have come to wield real power through funding, organization and a focus on legal remedies for animal abuse.  They have embraced social-media campaigns; offered rewards to potential witnesses to animal abuse; trained prosecutors; and made inroads in pushing law enforcement across the country to arrest, and seek jail time for, animal abusers.

Yet lawyers defending the accused say that punishment can seem disproportionate to the crime when an animal is the victim.  They say that putting people in jail can have serious long-term effects, from starting or strengthening gang affiliations, to taking someone away from school or a job to which they may not return.   “The nature of the crime should not automatically mandate a jail sentence if a person is found guilty,” said Tina Luongo, acting attorney in charge of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal practice.

At the moment, the activists seem to be winning the fight.  The Federal Bureau of Investigation announced this month that it would track animal abuse as a separate crime, rather than lumping it in the “other” category.

In New York City, the Police Department took over responsibility for animal abuse complaints in January, and created an Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad. Arrests for animal abuse increased about 250 percent through September, compared with the same period last year....

Houston’s district attorney said this month that she would seek jail time in animal cruelty cases, and Massachusetts passed a bill increasing maximum prison time for animal abuse cases to seven years from five.  In Virginia, after a push from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a man was sentenced in February to a year in jail for starving a pit bull.  And in Texas this year, a man received five years after offering to guide a wayward pet donkey home, then dragging the donkey behind his truck.  The donkey, which was found in a ditch, survived....

Not long ago, animal cruelty was “considered a side issue, relegated to something a few overpassionate people cared about, basically,” said Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal of the Upper West Side, who has backed several bills strengthening animal cruelty laws. “Now, it’s a mainstream concern.”

And it is one that animal groups are trying to make even more central....  The groups say they have captured law enforcement’s attention in part by emphasizing that animal cruelty can be a “red flag” for future crimes, particularly domestic violence. Prosecutions nationwide are becoming much more frequent, said Sherry Ramsey, the director of animal cruelty prosecutions for the Humane Society of the United States, “and a lot of it’s based on what we know now about the link between animal cruelty and human violence.”

Yet defense groups say animal abuse cases ... should be handled individually, and are not necessarily predictive of worse behavior.  “We don’t punish individuals for alleged future misconduct they might at some point in the future engage, but have not,” Theodore Simon, president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, said in an email. “To do so would be to punish a person for a ‘crime’ that has not occurred and was not committed.”  Defense advocates also say more needs to be done if society wants to tamp down animal abuse.

September 30, 2014 at 11:14 PM | Permalink


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In 123D counting of violent crime, I would include animal abuse. It is a hallmark of conduct disorder, the young version of antisocial personality disorder. It often represents a rehearsal of pleasure from cruelty for serial killers. One could call out prosecutors and animal advocacy do gooders for wearing leather and eating meat, however, the incapacitation of people cruel to animals is a benefit to public safety. If they can do it to an animal, they can do it to a child.

This may bean unexpected view from someone promoting humans safety, but it based on research over the past 30 years.

This abuse trend is also on the way to full civil rights for mammals, then other phyla since it will be politically incorrect to be phyllist. You will not be able to clean your kitchen counter with bleach without a hearing and a court order. Oh the humanity trillions of bacteria subjected to chemical warfare, crush injury, and existential annihilation.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 1, 2014 12:00:00 AM


Don't forget rodent traps/poisons and insect (ant/termite) fumigations!

"“We don’t punish individuals for alleged future misconduct they might at some point in the future engage, but have not,” .

The dear criminal defense lawyer is dead wrong on this issue. Drug and sex stings are clearly punishment for supposed future criminal activities, enabled by who else but the Justus" system, in the justification of prevention of future crimes.

Posted by: albeed | Oct 1, 2014 8:20:46 AM

I'm all for increased concern for animal cruelty. A few incidents notwithstanding, don't know if the punishments have been excessive as a whole.

Posted by: Joe | Oct 1, 2014 9:31:02 AM

As a matter of policy I have mixed thoughts...I have seen the after-effects of horrific examples of animal abuse and I think it should be punished. However, I fear that animal abuse will be just another excuse like child abuse to create all sorts of worse harms. I don't see how kicking a stray cat is animal abuse--it's wrong, no doubt, but it's not abuse. Today, one cannot even let their kids play outside without raising suspicions that one is engaged in dangerous activity. So when laws banning animal abuse are viewed in light of broader cultural trends I have my doubts.

@albreed and SC.

"sentience". Become familiar with that word. It actually has its origin in Jainism but people like Michael Dorf have picked it up and argue that only creatures with "sentience" deserve legal protection. Of course, no one can define with precision what sentience is and it is just total coincidence that the creatures defined as sentience happen to be those that look like genetically engineered plush toys and thus are appealing to the emotionally infantile.

Posted by: Daniel | Oct 1, 2014 2:05:17 PM

Daniel. Stop being a phyllist. Indeed, you need to apologize to the folks in the eukaryote world, and to undergo extensive sensitivity training by lesbians with crewcuts and a lot of hours on their hands. You try bleach in your eyes as a test of sentience, then show more concern about the quiet screams of bacteria as you clean your kitchen counter without due process for your victims.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 2, 2014 8:32:40 PM

Sorry. Bacteria are prokaryotes, being devoid of a membranes around their nuclei. I will not use the offensive word, lower.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Oct 3, 2014 2:50:44 AM

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