April is Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month

jonnie-england-with-mercy-4-06If you observed an act of cruelty against an animal, what would you do? Are you even certain you know what qualifies as animal cruelty? Is failure to provide a dog with shelter and fresh water animal cruelty, or negligence—or both? If children shoot at a cat with a BB gun, is it animal cruelty, or simply a case of “boys will be boys”?

To raise awareness of animal cruelty and educate the public on how to recognize and report it, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) has designated April as “Prevention of Animal Cruelty Month.”

Ironically, it was in April three years ago that a dog named Mercy died after being stabbed, doused with gasoline and set on fire by her owner. People the world over were deeply touched and outraged by Mercy’s story, and a Dallas County jury sentenced DeShawn Brown to four years in prison for his crime—his act of animal cruelty.

Thirty-three states—including Texas—and the District of Columbia have passed laws that make intentional acts of animal cruelty a felony. So far this year, the Dallas County Grand Jury has handed down indictments in three cases of felony animal cruelty, and a dozen more cases are pending.

This past Saturday, two dogs were set on fire in southeast Dallas. The dogs were burned so badly that they had to be euthanized. Dallas Animal Services and the Dallas Police are investigating this latest act of animal cruelty—in the month set aside to focus on ways to prevent it.

Is animal cruelty on the rise, or are more people stepping up and speaking out for animals? Studies have shown that there is a direct correlation—a link—between animal abuse and domestic violence. One study found that in 71 percent of cases involving spousal abuse, animal abuse was also occurring. In cases of child abuse, over 85 percent of the abusers were also abusing the family pets. And up to 20 percent of battered women said they delayed leaving their abuser because of threats made against their pets.

Another study showed that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have drug or disorderly conduct offenses than non-abusers. Violent criminals often have a history of animal abuse that began in childhood. That’s why we should never dismiss cruel treatment of an animal as simply a prank or a phase that a child is going though.

So what constitutes animal cruelty or abuse? Unintentional abuse usually occurs when someone is ignorant of the proper way to care for a pet. Neglect, inappropriate food, or no or inadequate shelter are common when animals are owned by people who either don’t know enough about the pet’s requirements or simply don’t care enough to learn. But unintentional abuse through neglect is still abuse.

Among the signs of unintentional abuse are lack of shelter, no food or water, a collar that’s too tight or embedded in the animal’s neck, hair loss or mange, wounds or open sores, matted coat, failure to provide veterinary care, malnutrition or a filthy living environment.

Intentional abuse—deliberate acts of cruelty toward an animal—are far easier to identify: Torturing, maiming or killing an animal. These acts are often the result of rage, either toward the animal or toward a person. Abusers see hurting or killing a beloved pet as a way to punish or get back at someone they feel has wronged them. Others take out their anger and frustration—at their bosses, their financial situation or life in general—on a defenseless animal that can’t fight back.

Regardless of the type of animal cruelty—intentional or unintentional—it needs to be reported. Immediately call 911 in cases of intentional abuse or anytime an animal is in danger. Call 311 to report most cases of unintentional cruelty through neglect. If possible, photograph or videotape the neglect or abuse. A picture is worth a thousand words, and photographic evidence may save an animal’s life.

Animals depend on us for companionship and for food and shelter. They also depend on us to protect them, to care for them and to speak up for them.

This April, and every month throughout the year, be a voice for the voiceless; report any suspected animal abuse. Let’s stop animal cruelty…for Mercy’s sake.

Jonnie England is Director of Animal Advocacy for the Metroplex Animal Coalition. For more information, visit www.MetroplexAnimalCoalition.org or www.aspca.org.

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