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Protecting animals protects everyone

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By Martin Mersereau

California lawmakers recently introduced a bill that would establish an online registry for convicted animal abusers—one that’s similar to existing registries for sex offenders and arsonists. As someone who deals with dozens of cruelty-to-animals cases every week, I urge California legislators to approve this bill, and I encourage other states to consider establishing similar registries. Exposing animal abusers doesn’t only protect animals—it also makes the entire community safer.

Animal abusers are cowards who take their issues out on “easy victims”—and their disregard for life and indifference to suffering often carry over to their fellow humans. A study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. Examples of this phenomenon—known to animal protection and law enforcement personnel as “the link”—abound. 

A history of cruelty to animals regularly appears in FBI records of serial rapists and murderers. BTK killer Dennis Rader, who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he was cruel to animals as a child and apparently practiced strangling dogs and cats before moving on to human victims. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer tortured animals and impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, put cats and dogs into orange crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the slats.

The link is also evident in many homes plagued by domestic violence. Batterers often try to control their victims, such as a partner or spouse, by threatening, torturing and/or killing the victim’s animals. A study of women living in Wisconsin shelters because of domestic abuse found that 80 percent of their batterers had been violent to the women’s animals. Listing animal abusers online would allow people to discover an abusive partner’s background before it’s too late.

I cannot begin to say how many incidents I’ve seen involving animal neglectors who have also neglected their children or other human dependents. Amara Eden of New Carrollton, Md., pleaded guilty to child endangerment and cruelty to animals after authorities allegedly discovered a dog chained in her basement with no food or water and lying in urine and feces—along with Eden’s five unattended children on a mattress that reeked of excrement. The children, including a 6-month-old boy with cystic fibrosis, were reportedly malnourished, had bloodshot eyes and were coughing up mucus.

Lisa Glass of Henderson, Ky., pleaded guilty to a felony charge of abuse/neglect of an adult by a caretaker for allegedly failing to feed her 81-year-old stepfather and allowing him to live in an unsanitary residence. She also pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals for reportedly failing to feed a dog. A registry would help social service agencies and concerned neighbors ensure that any animals, children, handicapped people or elderly dependents who remain in animal abusers’ homes are receiving proper care.

A public record of animal abusers would also give animal shelters a lifesaving tool for screening potential adopters, since abusers often seek out more animals to torture. Just days after allegedly beating, shooting and drowning an adopted German shepherd named Jake, South Carolina resident Alexander Gregor adopted another German shepherd–mix puppy from an animal rescue group and allegedly threw the puppy against the floor until the animal died. Shon Rahrig, who allegedly tortured several animals whom he had adopted from animal shelters in Ohio, was reportedly seen at an adoption event in California even though he had been banned from owning animals for five years.

Experts agree that it is the severity of the abuse—not the species of the victim—that matters. Animal abusers are every bit as dangerous as sex offenders, and the public deserves to know where these sick individuals live so that they can protect their animal companions—and themselves.

Martin Mersereau is the director of PETA’s Emergency Response Team, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.HelpingAnimals.com.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

March 24, 2010 at 9:40 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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