The FBI Finally Takes Animal Cruelty Seriously By Making it a Top-Tier Felony

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It’s a well-known “fact” that young people who abuse, torture and kill animals are more prone to violence against people later in life if left unchecked. In fact, animal cruelty is one of the three behavioural characteristics in the Triad of Sociopathy which aims to work as an indicator for behavioural issues in children.

However, sufficient studies on animal cruelty and its links to sociopathy or other behavioural disorders have yet to take place, and many judge the Triad of Sociopathy as more of a theory than a definitive indicator.

This is largely due to the lack of cases that are recorded, monitored and assessed by government officials who have always classified animal cruelty in ambiguous terms. Until recently, the FBI filed animal cruelty cases under “other”, a label that contained a number of other lesser crimes, making finding animal cruelty cases hard to track and count.

Photo via André Gustavo Stumpf
Photo via André Gustavo Stumpf

However, the FBI announced in October that it would make animal cruelty a Group A felony with its very own category. This is the same way that crimes such as homicide, arson and assault are listed.

“It will help get better sentences, sway juries and make for better plea bargains,” said Madeline Bernstein, President and CEO of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and a former New York prosecutor.

Law enforcement agencies will report incidents and arrests into four categories: intentional abuse and torture, simple or gross neglect, organized abuse (like dogfighting and cockfighting) and animal sexual abuse.

The FBI’s definition of animal cruelty is as follows:

“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. Included are instances of duty to provide care, e.g., shelter, food, water, care if sick or injured; transporting or confining an animal in a manner likely to cause injury or death; causing an animal to fight with another; inflicting excessive or repeated unnecessary pain or suffering, e.g., uses objects to beat or injure an animal. This definition does not include proper maintenance of animals for show or sport; use of animals for food, lawful hunting, fishing or trapping.”


Photo via Josh Henderson
Photo via Josh Henderson

John Thompson, interim executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association who worked to get the new animal cruelty category introduced commented: “The immediate benefit is it will be in front of law enforcement every month when they have to do their crime reports. That’s something we have never seen.”

However, Thompson says that due to the time and money that will be required to implement the new measure, the revision of guidelines and manuals and the updating of the law enforcement databases nationwide, it is unlikely that we’ll see any data collected until January 2016.

The new system will mean that the link between animal cruelty and human-on-human violence will finally be either confirmed or denied once and for all.

In the past, FBI studies have shown that serial killers like Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs, frogs and cats on sticks; David Berkowitz, known as the “Son of Sam,” poisoned his mother’s parakeet; and Albert DeSalvo, aka the “Boston Strangler,” trapped cats and dogs in wooden crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the boxes.

The new animal cruelty statistics will allow police and counselors to work with children who show early signs of trouble, so a preschooler hurting animals today isn’t going to be hurting a person two years from now, Bernstein said.

  • Sarah Burke

    Sarah is a graduate of the University of College Dublin. After receiving her MA in Gender, Sexuality and Culture, she taught High-school English and History for three years before moving to Vancouver to pursue a career in writing. In her spare time, Sarah likes to write poetry, go to music festivals and drink wine. Her favorite food is the burrito. She is an avid reader of fantasy novels, an active participant in feminist circles, and will always have an adventure planned in the foreseeable future. Interesting fact: Sarah is fluent in Irish (Gaeilge).

3 thoughts on “The FBI Finally Takes Animal Cruelty Seriously By Making it a Top-Tier Felony”

    • I really hope so. With the number of undercover investigations capturing farm workers punching, kicking, slamming against walls, using electric shocks, stubbing out cigarettes on animals faces and so on, the video evidence they gather will be of immense importance to get proper punishments to abusers.


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