Animal Writes
From 26 October 2003 Issue

Desecrating the Ark:
Animal Abuse and Law's Role in Prevention
By Margit Livingston

Boys may kill frogs for fun, but the frogs die in earnest.

Human violence against animals has existed for centuries. Certain kinds of violence toward animals, such as hunting and killing them for food, have almost always been viewed as acceptable. Historically, even the deliberate torture of domestic animals has been regarded either as an exercise of the owners' justifiable dominion over their property or as an amusing spectacle. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, however, social reformers began to press for laws forbidding intentional animal cruelty, and such laws were gradually enacted in England and the United States.

It is debatable whether modern animal cruelty laws, many of them identical to their nineteenth-century predecessors, have been effective in curtailing animal abuse. Although there has been an increasing public outcry over individual incidents of animal abuse, these acts are seemingly on the rise and are perpetrated by both children and adults. Arguably, the flaw in the legal system lies with inadequate penalties for animal abuse and apathetic enforcement of existing laws.

Today, only a scant majority of state jurisdictions provide for felony- level penalties for intentional animal abuse. In addition, anecdotal evidence suggests that police in many jurisdictions are not trained to identify and arrest animal abusers, prosecutors are hesitant to devote their resources to vigorous investigation and prosecution of animal cruelty offenses, which are frequently only misdemeanors, and courts are often reluctant to enforce the available sanctions, particularly against juvenile offenders--perhaps on the theory that torturing a cat is nothing more than a childish prank.

Although the relatively light criminal penalties for animal cruelty and neglect and the under enforcement of existing laws may suggest that animal abuse is not a serious social problem, certain evidence indicates otherwise. A growing body of social science literature reveals that there is a link between juvenile violence against animals and later adult violence against humans.

In other words, the rascally child prankster who burns his dog to death often develops into a spousal batterer, a child abuser, or even a murderer. The weight of this evidence should persuade lawmakers to modify laws to increase criminal penalties for animal abuse, to enforce existing laws more stringently, and to refer juvenile offenders for psychological evaluation and treatment more frequently so that the likelihood of later adult violence is reduced.

Throughout history the law has always mirrored to some extent the philosophical and religious views of its era. Three divergent views of the relationship between animal and human interests characterize the philosophical and religious literature on animals. These three perspectives ultimately have shaped our legal treatment of other species. In the first view, animal interests are subordinate to human interests. In the second view, animal interests are intertwined with human interests.

Finally, in the third view, animal interests are separate from, but equal to, human interests. Over time, the law has evolved as our society has moved away from the first view that regards animals as merely property to be exploited for human purposes. As the second and third views have become more prevalent in society, the law has moved toward recognizing animals as feeling creatures deserving of at least some legal rights.

Modern social science data also support, at a minimum, the second view-- namely, that animal interests and human interests are intertwined. More specifically, the data suggest that humans should take cognizance of cruelty to animals because such behavior often leads to violence against humans as well.

Taken as a whole, these studies bolster the legal reforms proposed in this Article. Although the more animal-protective third view suggests that animals are worthy of humane treatment because of their sentient nature, policymakers need not adopt that view to support the legal changes advocated in this Article. The weight of the social science research concludes that there is a positive correlation between animal abuse and violence against humans, and because of that correlation, investigation, punishment, and treatment of animal abusers foster human welfare.

Part I of this Article attempts to tease out the three views of the relationship between animal and human interests in philosophical and theological writings. Although philosophers and religious writers over the centuries have adopted all three views, most modern thinkers can agree that, at a minimum, animal and human interests are intertwined. They aver that deliberate animal cruelty injures not only the animals but also the human perpetrators because it degrades the human spirit and hardens individuals to the suffering of their fellow humans.

As a prelude to the arguments for the legal reform of animal cruelty laws, Part II of this Article analyzes the changing role of the law in protecting domestic animals from their human masters. Again, the three views of the relationship between animal interests and human interests emerge. Part II.A describes the shift of Anglo-American law during the nineteenth century from regarding animals as the property of their owners to viewing them as living beings capable of suffering and worthy of greater legal protection. Part II.B summarizes modern statutory treatment of animal cruelty as anywhere from a minor offense to a felony with serious penalties. Part II.B also notes the deficiencies of many of the statutory schemes and asserts that even if society is not ready to accord animals the full spectrum of legal rights enjoyed by humans, animal cruelty statutes should be reformed at a minimum to protect human interests.

Part III of this Article continues this theme of protecting human interests by examining the social science research on the link between animal abuse by juveniles and juveniles' later commission of violent crimes against humans. Part III.A briefly considers the anecdotal evidence linking childhood abuse of animals to later adult violence. Part III.B then explores in greater depth the growing number of studies showing an above-average incidence of animal cruelty during childhood among adult batterers and murderers.

Finally, Part IV outlines desired changes in animal cruelty laws that, it is hoped, will reduce the overall incidence of violence against both humans and animals. It argues for increased criminal sanctions for adult animal abusers, cross-reporting requirements, more frequent placement of juvenile animal offenders in treatment programs, and restrictions on ownership of animals by convicted animal abusers.

For the rest of this article, see..
Desecrating the Ark: Animal Abuse and Law's Role in Prevention

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