By Phil Snyder, Executive Director of Suncoast Humane Society
Published in the Englewood Sun on February 7, 2016
The Uniform Crime Reporting Program of the FBI has established a national database for animal abuse cases. Cruelty cases formerly were recorded as "other crime" in the agency's national Incident Reporting System. They now are being categorized as serious class A offenses.
This means that crimes against animals now are being ranked comparable to other crimes against society, such as arson, gambling and prostitution. The database will subcategorize animal abuse as simple gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse (dog and cock fighting), and/or animal sexual abuse.
What does all this mean? To me, it means that a blind spot in the justice system now has been removed. The proven connection between animal cruelty and human violence now is being documented in a centralized, national database.
The connection has been recognized and studied for years by animal cruelty experts and law enforcement individuals. It was evident to me during my early years as a cruelty investigator that cruelty to animals was often an indicator of other serious issues going on with the offender. Local law enforcement often advised me to be very cautious when investigating certain individuals for animal cruelty because of their past record of child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence or other violent crimes.
This issue became very prevalent in the 1990s and early 2000s, during my years with The Humane Society of the United States. I was invited to speak in front of many anti-violence groups, such as the National Association of Child Abuse and the National Association of Elder Abuse, as well as animal control and law enforcement associations.
Law enforcement officials were gathering important information that showed that individuals convicted of violent crimes, including many serial killers, had early histories of abusing animals. One such study was conducted by FBI agent Robert Ressler, who actually coined the term "Serial Killer." The connection was recognized; however there was no national database that could be used as a reference by investigators, prosecuting attorneys or judges.
National animal-protection organizations realized the importance of the connection, due to the work of individuals like Dr. Randy Lockwood. During his years with The Humane Society of the United States, Lockwood studied human-animal activities, including animal fighting, animal hoarding, dog bite prevention, fatal dog attacks, and the connection, which some referred to as the Cycle of Abuse.
Lockwood has provided expert testimony at high-profile cases across the county. He currently is employed with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and has written several papers and books, including his recent "Forensic Investigation of Animal Cruelty."
This national cruelty database will not bring the end of animal abuse. It will provide central documentation and allow the study of crimes. It may, however, set the stage for strengthening laws and increasing penalties of cruelty and abuse.
Violence is violence, after all, whether directed toward a two or four-legged creature. I applaud the FBI's action in creating the database. We all should recognize the tireless dedication of animal cruelty investigators.
If you witness animal cruelty, neglect or abuse, contact your local animal control/services or law enforcement. Please give them as much factual information as possible.
Remember, you could be ending the suffering of an animal, and maybe preventing future violence.