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In 2013, let’s remember: Kindness is not a finite commodity

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By Alisa Mullins

The dog on the chain vibrated with excitement as the woman picked her way through the muddy, junk-strewn yard. She was only bringing a bale of straw to line the floor of the dog’s dilapidated doghouse, a small measure of comfort that would hopefully prevent the dog from freezing to death in the coming winter months. But for a dog who goes without human—or canine—contact for 23½ hours out of every 24, this was a thrilling event.

Such impoverished living conditions might find favor with South African President Jacob Zuma, who caused an international uproar recently when he told attendees of a rally that people who lavish their dogs with so-called extravagances, such as taking them to the veterinarian when they are sick, show a “lack of humanity.”

Zuma has it precisely backwards, of course. It has been demonstrated over and over again—so many times that you’d think that it wouldn’t bear repeating—that it is not the people who are kind to animals that we have to worry about. It is the people who are cruel.

That’s because cruel people are equal opportunity abusers. Men who beat their dogs often beat their wives and kids, too. In three separate studies, more than half of battered women reported that their abuser threatened or injured their animal companions. The same goes for negligent and abusive parents. Sixty percent of more than 50 New Jersey families being monitored because of incidents of child abuse also had animals in the home who had been abused. In Indiana, a couple faced felony charges after authorities reportedly discovered their two children and three dogs languishing in a trash- and feces-strewn home. In Illinois, authorities found 40 sick and emaciated dogs mired in 6 inches of feces on a filthy property that was also home to three children.

History is replete with serial and mass killers whose violent tendencies were first directed at animals, including the Boston Strangler, the Son of Sam and Jeffrey Dahmer, just to name a few. Not much is known yet about Adam Lanza, the disturbed young man who massacred more than two dozen first-graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but the youngsters involved in previous school shootings at Columbine; Pearl, Mississippi; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and other places “practiced” their crimes on animals.

The FBI has found that a fascination with cruelty to animals is a red flag in the backgrounds of serial killers and rapists, and a police study in Australia revealed that “100 percent of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of animal cruelty.” President Zuma himself was charged with rape in 2006. He denied the charge, reportedly saying that he could tell the woman wanted sex because she was wearing a short skirt.

Contrary to the implication of Zuma’s dog-pampering comments, kindness is not something that gets used up. You don’t start out your day with a measure of kindness that you have to dole out sparingly, reserving it for the most “worthy” recipients. For example, the people whom a Clemson University student recently documented intentionally running over lifelike rubber turtles that he had placed in the road as part of an experiment weren’t saving up their kindness—if indeed they possessed any—for a little old lady crossing the street in the next block.

Scientists are planning to study Adam Lanza’s DNA in an effort to determine if there is some genetic marker or mutation that sets apart a mass killer. While they’re at it, maybe they should also study the DNA of people who intentionally mow down animals or chain up their dogs and leave them to rot in the backyard. They might be surprised by what they’d find.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 15, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Cruelty on the court

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By Gemma Vaughan

With a new school year just underway, students, teachers and administrators are all ready for a fresh start. And as sure as there will be lost homework, missed school buses and overcooked cafeteria food, there will also be school fundraisers, including, in some districts, a cruel spectacle called “donkey basketball” that should have been benched long ago.

Yes, you read that correctly: Students and faculty shoot hoops from the backs of donkeys supplied by a couple of companies that rent out these personable animals like carnival equipment. Donkeys used in these fundraisers are frequently handled roughly by unruly riders who are more caught up in putting on a show for spectators than treating these gentle animals with the care that they deserve. During games, donkeys are often punched, kicked, screamed at or whipped for being “uncooperative.”

Donkeys are intelligent, gregarious and full of personality. They are very companionable and, in the wild, travel in herds with up to 100 members.

The donkeys used for basketball games are loaded and unloaded into tractor-trailers and hauled from one event to the next. They find themselves in the middle of gymnasiums surrounded by screaming kids, bullhorns and whistles. According to The Donkey Sanctuary in the U.K., an average-size donkey is not able to bear much more than 100 pounds, yet in most games, donkeys are forced to carry riders weighing 150 pounds or more.

Donkeys are specifically excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and are afforded no federal protection whatsoever. Operators of traveling shows come and go quickly, and even if local humane authorities want to take action, the donkeys and their owner will be long gone.

Stress and confusion can lead donkeys to become skittish and unpredictable. A game at a Washington high school was canceled after three donkeys fought being taken into the school and one slipped and fell. A rider in a donkey basketball game in Waterloo, Ill., was awarded more than $110,000 for injuries that he sustained, and a Wisconsin state senator fell off a donkey during a game, breaking her leg. In March of 2006, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida sued the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the owner of the Dixie Donkey Ball company, claiming she suffered injuries after being thrown off a donkey at a fundraiser.

Supporting donkey basketball sends kids the message that forcing animals to perform ridiculous stunts is acceptable if it’s for “a good cause.” Child psychologists as well as top law-enforcement officials consider cruelty to animals a red flag, and given that most schools rightfully strive to live up to a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, they should condemn all forms of gratuitous cruelty, including cruelty to animals.

With so many innovative and humane ways to raise funds, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs.

Gemma Vaughan, M.S.W., is a cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

October 3, 2012 at 8:56 pm

The military abuse video you haven’t heard about

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By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Americans and Afghans alike are rightly outraged over a video circulating on the Internet that allegedly shows U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Pentagon officials are scrambling to do damage control, fearing that the video will hinder peace talks, and military officials are promising that those involved will be punished to the highest extent. But another video that surfaced recently also merits outrage and action: It shows a soldier viciously beating a sheep with a baseball bat while other soldiers laugh and cheer.

Blow after metallic, stomach-churning blow rains down on the terrified sheep’s skull. The convulsing and kicking animal tries in vain to rise and flee, but the man with the bat just keeps swinging. A local boy in the background jumps up and down in apparent delight while the sheep struggles on the ground. After much public outcry, military officials are finally investigating the video.

Animals don’t start wars. They don’t have political views, militaries or weapons. Yet they are often the victims of cruelty in combat zones. In 2008, video surfaced of a smiling Marine who hurled a live puppy off a cliff while another Marine laughed. Thankfully, after a massive public outcry and pressure from PETA, the puppy-tossing Marine was expelled, and another Marine in the video faced disciplinary action.

The same year, video that was allegedly taken from a CD found in Baghdad’s Green Zone depicts what appear to be U.S. soldiers taunting and tormenting a dog whose back legs were apparently crippled. The laughing men threw rocks at the dog, who snarled and yelped in pain before making a desperate attempt to flee on two legs. One of the men in the video said the dog’s attempt to run was “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Many other similar incidents of abuse have been recorded on video, and many more likely never see the light of day.

Whether the abuser is a military service member or a regular Joe, cruelty to animals isn’t “normal” behavior, and it must be taken seriously, for everyone’s safety. People who find pleasure or humor in harming animals aren’t just cruel; they’re also cowards because they target “easy victims” who don’t have any hope of fighting back.

Mental-health and law-enforcement professionals know that animal abusers’ disregard for life and indifference to suffering indicate a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animal victims. A history of cruelty to animals regularly shows up in the FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and 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. Violence is a fact of war, but the depravity shown by the sheep-beating soldier and the sick pleasure the onlookers seemed to derive from watching the beating are red flags.

All the students who have opened fire on their classmates have histories of cruelty to animals. “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 cats’ and dogs’ heads on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, used arrows to shoot cats and dogs who were trapped inside crates.

Whether it occurs at home or in a war zone, there is never an excuse for harming animals. The stakes of cruelty to animals are far too high to ignore it, to excuse it or to let those who commit it go unpunished. It’s time for the military to treat acts of cruelty to animals with the seriousness that they deserve.

Lindsay Pollard-Post is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

January 30, 2012 at 9:09 pm