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What a horrific cruelty case can teach us

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By Martin Mersereau

A West Virginia man named Jeffrey Nally Jr. is facing 29 charges of cruelty to animals after he allegedly used various tools—including a crossbow, a drill, saws and hammers—to torture and kill at least 29 dogs and puppies over several months. Nally is also charged with allegedly holding his former girlfriend captive for months, physically and sexually abusing her, forcing her to watch him torture the animals and then making her clean up the mess. According to reports, Nally told police that he got the dogs from ads in the local newspaper and that the animals were all advertised as “free to a good home” or sold for a few dollars.

It’s tempting to push this horrific case of cruelty out of our minds as quickly as possible, but we can help save other animals—and humans—from suffering similar fates by learning from the lessons it holds. Nally’s alleged abuse of both dogs and his ex-girlfriend points to the link between cruelty to animals and cruelty to humans, and his apparent pattern of acquiring the animals he tortured from newspapers highlights the dangers of giving away animals or placing them without a proper adoption fee, pre-adoption home evaluations and follow-up visits.

As Nally’s case seems to indicate, cruelty to animals isn’t just a minor personality flaw; it’s a symptom of a deep mental disturbance, and it should never be taken lightly. Animal abusers are cowards—they take their issues out on the most defenseless victims available, and their targets often include members of their own species.

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. A history of cruelty to animals regularly appears in FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and many notorious serial killers also abused and killed animals. Dennis Rader, the so-called “BTK Killer,” who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he had been cruel to animals as a child and had 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.

Many who batter their partners or spouses also try to control their victims by threatening, torturing or killing the victim’s animals. In three separate studies, more than half of the battered women surveyed reported that their abuser threatened or injured their animal companions. For everyone’s safety, it’s crucial to report all known or suspected abuse to authorities immediately, and prosecutors and judges should treat cases of cruelty to animals with the seriousness they deserve.

Advertising animals in newspapers, on bulletin boards or online is like handing them to animal abusers on a silver platter. Cruel people routinely use these sources for free or cheap animals to abuse. Barry Herbeck, a Wisconsin man, was sentenced to 12 years in prison for torturing, sodomizing and killing nearly two dozen animals whom he had obtained through “free to a good home” ads. Such people are often masters of deception: Herbeck confessed to taking his kids with him when answering ads so that people would be comfortable turning animals over to him.

Classified ads are also a source of animals for dealers who sell friendly dogs and cats to laboratories for experiments as well as dogfighting ring operators who look for animals to use as “bait.” Newspapers that allow people to advertise animals facilitate these tragedies. The most humane and responsible option for people who must part with their animals is to take them to a reputable open-admission animal shelter. There, the animals will be safe and cared for and will have a chance to find a loving home.

It’s too late for the 29 dogs who allegedly died in terror and the woman who reportedly endured unspeakable abuse at Nally’s hands, but we can help prevent other innocent beings from becoming victims by taking the lessons of this case to heart.

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.PETA.org.

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