Local law enforcement attitudes in the area of animal
abuse need to change all over the country. Police and prosecutors are
not taking this issue seriously enough, and this can be dangerous.
Teachers need to take a look at incorporating respect for animals into
their curriculum as well. A Florida psychologist, Dr. Paul Halpern, says
that "Respect for others' feelings, respect for life, and compassion are
attributes that we must be taught. They are not something that humans
are naturally born with. It is the responsibility of our parents and
community to show sensitivity and caring values through actions and role
modeling. Children always seek out role models and will pick whoever is
readily available, and imitate behaviors they witness. The role models
they pick are not always the ones we want for them.
Our schools do not have curricula on compassion and
responsibility. Yet, we expect our kids to behave in responsible,
nonviolent ways. Animal neglect and abuse is an extension of our lack of
sensitivity to the feelings of those different than ourselves. It is no
different than racism, sexism, ageism, or nationalism. We objectify the
animal, and use it without realizing how it feels. All studies show that
animals feel profound pain, and have a deep desire to live. The more we
treat things like objects the easier it is to become abusive and
neglectful to other people and even ourselves.
There are numerous studies that show that children who
have become violent were permitted to inflict pain on defenseless
All people need a sense of power in their lives. When
power over their own life is taken away from someone they will exert
power in some other, often destructive, way. Power can take the form of
violence. It can also take the form of compassion. But young people need
to know that compassion is an option that is rewarded and rewarding.
In the book "Pay It Forward" (which is now being
released as a movie) you can see how simple acts of unrequited
compassion can change the world.
The Talmud says that the highest form of kindness is
kindness to animals, because there is no return action expected. Maslow
in his hierarchy of values talks about the levels of reasons for doing
good deeds. This starts from avoiding punishment and ends at the highest
level of doing good for the implicit reward of doing good. That is the
goal we should expect of all of us."
Dr. Randall Lockwood, a psychologist with the Humane
Society of the United States, along with FBI officials, published a
report revealing that David Berkowitz, Albert DeSalvo, Jeffrey Dahmer,
and the Columbine killers, were animal abusers. Clearly, those who hurt
animals and get away with it will also hurt humans
New legislation involves years of lobbying by local
animal advocates. One such example is an ordinance in Palm Beach County,
ordinance 98-22 Sec. 24 (I) which prohibits dogs riding unrestrained in
the back of pickup trucks. This important ordinance took over four years
to pass. Now we can't get it enforced. I see police officers driving
behind pickup trucks with dogs riding in the back, clearly violating the
ordinance. When I call the police to find out why they don't stop these
drivers, I'm told officers were unaware of this ordinance and
animal-abuse laws aren't taught in police academies. But ordinance 98-22
Sec. 15 (A) dictates that Palm Beach County commissioners have a
responsibility to "educate the population …concerning the law and the
proper care and respect for animals …..." Clearly, this education should
be mandatory for school children prosecutors and law enforcement
personnel charged with enforcing the law.
"Sharon," a West Palm Beach resident reported to police
that her neighbors were slaughtering animals in their backyard. She saw
the animals being led, heard their cries, smelled dead animals and saw
the neighbors barbecuing following these incidents. The next day, she
could see the remains of the animals she had seen walking the night
before. According to Florida Statute F.S. 838.012, she was witnessing
the commission of felonies, however, the sheriff's office said "there
was nothing we could do, call Animal Care & Control for animal
This is common when concerned citizens call their local
police agencies to report animal abuse. Agencies are quick to pass it
off to Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control (ACC). For a county as
large as Palm Beach, a single officer in charge of animal cruelty cannot
possibly handle all of the complaints by herself. Nor should she be
expected to. Local police can and should enforce these laws.
When police arrested a dogfighters ring recently, the
local sheriff and state attorney assured the public they take animal
crimes seriously. Dog fighting is a third degree felony punishable by
five years in prison, yet, these criminals are facing probation and a
fine. Why are they not being punished in accordance with the law?
Hon. Nancy Perez, a County Court Judge said ""Animal
enforcement officers need training on how to present their case, " and
in a letter from Circuit Court Judge Virginia Broom following an
animal-cruelty case, she wrote "If I could have imposed more than the
maximum sentence, I would have", indicating that even when the case is
tried correctly, punishment is inadequate, and not even the judge can
change that, it takes legislators.
But legislators are not making crimes against animals a
priority either, and won't admit it. In an interview for Animal Writes,
Congressman Mark Foley told me "… I believe that how we treat animals
reflects on how we treat people. I was appalled to learn that Mr.
Weston, the man who shot those two capital police officers, had admitted
to shooting neighbors cats in the weeks before. Perhaps if he had been
made to pay for the crime of shooting cats, he wouldn't be out shooting
policemen." When asked about lack of police education, he said "…I have
seen many people fight hard to get laws passed and once they are, the
attention is off of it and things go on as before, with nobody enforcing
them. When someone takes advantage of an animal and kicks the dog, they
will take advantage of a child and hurt them too."
This appears to be the sentiments of a sincere person,
yet Foley neglected to vote on a bill that would go a long way towards a
ban on cockfighting, and he voted against bills that would save
dolphins, coyotes and other species. He had nice things to say, but he
also has the power to make changes, and he neglected to use it.
In one neighborhood, a dog was tied to the back of a
pickup truck and dragged for miles. His injuries required euthanasia.
When the sheriff agreed to file a complaint, the state attorney let it
go because, they claimed there was no case. In an incident where a
Pomeranian named Sadie was found skinned alive, ensuing public panic
brought a motorist to police, explaining that he accidentally hit Sadie
with his car and left her to die. She waited nine hours by the side of
the road, completely degloved, until found and taken to a veterinarian
for euthanasia. Charges were filed under the cruelty statute, FS 828.012
an element of which is intent. Since the motorist didn't intend to hit
the dog, charges should have been filed under the abandonment statute,
FS 828. 013 (c) which prohibits abandonment of an injured animal. The
judge had no choice but to dismiss the case.
Broward Sheriff's Lt. Sherry Schlueter, a world-renowned
authority on the subject of crimes against animals, is consulting with
the Palm Beach County Sheriff on the installation of the pit-bull unit.
She has traveled the world lecturing on this subject to enlightened and
progressive police agencies. She has offered to travel to local agencies
too, but local police chiefs are not quick to accept her offer. " Police
need to be more educated," Lt. Schlueter says "Animal cruelty
investigations and prosecutions are not addressed in the police academy.
This happens time and again. The police hear about animal abuse and
almost always refer the complainant to the animal control agencies, or
if they do get involved, they take the attitude that they are simply
there to assist the animal control officer. It needs to be the other way
around. Law enforcement officers can and should enforce state statutes."
Tequesta Detective Charles Weinblatt responds by saying
"One of the reasons is, these crimes are not pursued aggressively by the
State Attorney's Office. Therefore, when these crimes are addressed by
the police, the perpetrators are usually given a fine, at best, unless
the act is so heinous that the fear of public pressure on the
prosecutors' office would spur them on to more severe punitive measures.
As far as education, I think you might look towards the criminal justice
training standards and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, who
have input as to courses addressed at the recruit level. It's a jungle
out there, but cops care! The State Attorneys' office is also like a
voice of the people, so to speak, people must speak up and tell the
office what is important."
Unless we incorporate education about animal crimes into
police and attorney continuing education, we will continue to see a rise
in animal cruelty, and a parallel rise in crimes against people too.
Go on to Standing Firm
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