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Animal Abuse in Our Communities

By Robin Tierney

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The following article was written by Furthermore columnist Ginnie Maurer and reprinted with her consent.

How Can They Do That to an Animal?

How many of us were shot with arrows of love Valentine's Day?

How many of our companion animals were also shot with arrows-only real ones? When we read about animal abuse in the newspaper or see scenes on television, we wonder "How can they do that to an animal?" And yet, they can and they do.

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have felony animal abuse laws. West Virginia's statute was enacted in 2003. Defendants convicted under these statutes often are sentenced not only to jail time but also to psychological evaluation and possibly counseling. Furthermore, many are ordered to make restitution for the harm they caused and are restrained from "owning" animals often for many years. Some statutes include animals in orders of protection.

We must not tolerate a living, breathing, sentient being being punched, kicked, burned, starved, shot, mutilated, or tortured. Such violence in and of itself should be a sign to society that laws to protect nonhuman animals need to be strong and made stronger where they are weak, that appropriate charges must be filed against perpetrators of such acts, that defendants must be brought to trial, and that judges must sentence them to the fullest extent of their jurisdiction's laws. If the laws do not represent society's belief in the importance of nonhuman animal life, then those laws need to be changed.

Our companion animals should be accorded simple basic freedoms-the freedom from hunger and thirst; from discomfort; from pain, injury, and disease; from fear and distress. For these reasons alone, we must never tolerate animal abuse.

Although there is a well-established link between animal and human abuse and often that link is a reason for enacting felony animal cruelty legislation, animal cruelty in and of itself should be dealt with swiftly and sharply, on its own merits-not because of what it might mean to us-but because of what it means to them. Animals deserve our protection simply because they are living, breathing, sentient beings and not because their abuser may go on to abuse humans.

However, whenever animal abuse is suspected in a household, social workers should be called in as the abuser of an animal may also be abusing members of the family. Whenever a social worker or other professional identifies human abuse in a household, animal control should be contacted if animals are present. Abuse to any species implies potential if not actual abuse to other species.

But why, you may ask, do people abuse nonhuman animals? For some, abusing the family's companion animal is meant to send a message of power and control. The abuser is saying, "See what I can do. If you disobey me, this is what will happen to you." Others abuse animals because they are being abused. They can't lash out at their abuser, so the they lash out at the smallest and nearest object-often the family companion animal. Some derive pleasure from seeing another suffer. Realizing society won't tolerate their hurting a human animal, they attack a nonhuman one instead.

A woman approached me in the gym one day. Noting the logo of an animal rescue group on my T-shirt, she wanted to know if we could take a kitten a family member had found and had started throwing against a wall whenever he became angry. I gave her my phone number. She never called. In another household, children were terrorizing a puppy while the parents watched. Apparently, the parents did not see the harm their children were doing to the puppy, nor did they understand what kind of message they were sending to them through their silence. The puppy was eventually given up. She was lucky.

Then there's Karley. In November 2008, Karley, a 6-month-old puppy, was brutally attacked by Los Angeles Assistant Fire Chief Glynn Johnson, a neighbor of Karley's guardians. Johnson punched Karley first with his fist and then with a large rock. He stopped only when Karley went limp. Karley died from severe head trauma. Johnson was found guilty of felony animal cruelty with special circumstances and the use of a deadly weapon to commit a felony. He will be sentenced March 8.

Jeremy Bentham said, about animals, "The question is not, 'Can they reason?' nor, 'Can they talk?' but rather, 'Can they suffer?'" Yes, they can suffer. But they do not need to-not if, as a society, we do not allow them to suffer. Not if we enact legislation that gives law enforcement personnel the ability to arrest perpetrators of animal cruelty and the judicial system the ability to hand out meaningful sentences to those found guilty of animal cruelty. Our companion animals do not need to suffer if we do not allow them to suffer. Save lives; report animal abuse. Save lives; fight for laws to protect companion animals.

Furthermore columnist Ginnie R. Maurer lives in Falling Waters, WV. Note: If you wish to reprint this article, please append the following attribution: "This column originally appeared in The Journal, Martinsburg, WV."

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Last Updated: June 23, 2013 (LET) PawSupport