The Fight Against Animal Cruelty
Unlike violence against humans, government agencies do not currently collect comprehensive data on animal abuse cases, making it difficult to determine exactly how pervasive the problem is—but that is changing.
Animal cruelty crosses all social, economic, and geographic boundaries. The appalling number of cases reported in the media—from the person who kills a neighbor’s barking dog to the animal hoarder who does not provide adequate food, water, and shelter, to the many cases of pets freezing to death when left outdoors in frigid weather—are likely just the tip of the iceberg.
Unlike violence against humans, government agencies do not currently collect comprehensive data on animal abuse cases, making it difficult to determine exactly how pervasive the problem is. But that is changing, as are the laws against those who commit crimes against defenseless animals.
In 2016, the FBI began adding data on the specifics of individual acts of animal cruelty to its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), a collection of detailed crime statistics from law enforcement agencies around the country. Prior to that, animal crimes data were only included in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) system, which simply noted that a crime occurred. Today, some states report crimes to UCR, some to NIBRS, and others to both. By adding animal cruelty offenses to NIBRS, law enforcement agencies and advocacy groups are hoping to glean a more complete picture of the nature of cruelty to animals.
In 1990, fewer than 10 states considered animal abuse a felony. Today, all 50 states have felony provisions for the gravest crimes against animals, solidifying the consensus that egregious animal abuse is a serious offense and should be treated as such. Many crimes against animals are still considered misdemeanors, however, and penalties for felony crimes vary by jurisdiction.
Another step forward in the fight against animal abuse is the institution of animal abuser registries. In 2015, Tennessee became the first state to adopt a nationwide animal abuser registry, which took effect in 2016.
Registries have been instituted in a smattering of counties across the country, and at least 12 other states have statewide legislation pending. In some states, registries are available only to law enforcement, animal control, and shelter facility personnel, while other states allow access to the public. Like registries for convicted sex offenders, animal abuser registries can offer law enforcement help in identifying convicted animal abusers, and assist animal shelters in preventing convicted abusers from adopting. Proponents argue that access to this information is crucial in keeping companion animals out of the hands of potential abusers.
Because veterinarians deal with animals and their owners every day, you are critical in the effort to thwart animal cruelty. Martha Smith-Blackmore, DVM, founder and president of Forensic Veterinary Investigations, LLC, who lectured at the 2017 American Veterinary Medical Association Convention in Indianapolis, Indiana, on how to deal with cases of neglect, notes that whether the situation you encounter is one of ignorance, neglect, or outright cruelty, turning your suspicion into action requires a careful approach and a collaborative effort. We hope you heed her advice if you suspect a client may be mistreating his or her pet, and support the states enacting legislation to fight against all forms of animal abuse.
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