It's the Law

by Felicia Langel, DVM

In a boost to animal protection laws nationwide, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently listed animal cruelty as a "Group A" offense and now considers it a "crime against society." Previously, animal cruelty was classified in an "all other offenses" category along with a variety of lesser crimes, making it difficult to find, count, and track cruelty.

Like murder, arson, and assault, animal cruelty now has its own category in the FBI crime database, known as the National Incident-Based Reporting System, or NIBRS. Beginning in 2016, law enforcement agencies will have to report incidents and arrests in four areas: simple or gross neglect; intentional abuse and torture; organized abuse, including dogfighting and cockfighting; and animal sexual abuse.

Animal cruelty is an early indicator of violent crime. Young people who torture and kill animals are more likely than others to commit violence against people as adults. Particularly egregious examples are detailed in FBI studies of serial killers such as Albert DeSalvo, aka the "Boston Strangler," who, as a child, trapped cats and dogs in wooden crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the boxes. Tracking animal cruelty statistics in NIBRS will allow police and counselors to learn where and to what extent animal cruelty is occurring, which will enable law enforcement agencies, community groups, and animal welfare organizations to better target efforts to prevent animal cruelty and other violent crimes.

The new classification of animal cruelty as a Group A offense has the added benefit of elevating crimes against animals in the eyes of judges, prosecutors, and legislators. The cruelty statistics will demonstrate to state and local officials that they have no choice but to acknowledge the seriousness of animal cruelty and that, if not properly dealt with, such crimes can lead to greater violence within their communities. As such, this new classification should lead to more appropriate sentences and plea bargains and should, ultimately, add more clout to animal cruelty laws in all 50 states.

According to the FBI, the definition of animal cruelty will be "intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment." Neglect is included in this definition, described as a failure to "provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, [or] care if sick or injured," as is "transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; [or] inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., [the use of] objects to beat or injure an animal." The definition excludes "proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food; or lawful hunting, fishing, or trapping."

If you see or suspect animal neglect or another form of cruelty, report it to Frederick County Animal Control (301-600-1544 or 301-600-2558 after hours) or dial 911. You may choose to report animal cruelty anonymously, though doing so may hinder the investigation. You may also submit complaints related to animal cruelty online: http://www.frederickcountymd.gov/requesttracker.aspx.

Felicia Langel, DVM, is Lieutenant Colonel, US Army Veterinary Corps, and secretary of Frederick County's Companion Animal Welfare Advisory Committee.