Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
11 October 2000 Issue

By [email protected]

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 animals.

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 problems."

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.

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