In May 2015, in Temecula, California, a U.S. Marine couple living at Camp Pendleton were accused of shattering their dog’s legs and binding his mouth with rubber bands for days. In a case like this the state can prosecute under its anti-cruelty statute, but given that the practice occurred on a U.S. military installation, it might give local prosecutors pause. That’s precisely why Congress should enact the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act.
Where abuse occurs on federal property, or in cases that span multiple states or other territorial jurisdictions, a federal anti-cruelty statute would allow a crackdown on cruelty. Fortunately, there’s momentum building for just such a measure in Congress. Introduced by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Senators Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., H.R. 2293 and S. 1831 have attracted as cosponsors a majority of the U.S. House and nearly a third of the Senate. The measure would allow federal law enforcement agencies to bring a case against people perpetrating the most malicious forms of cruelty with a federal dimension.
Five years ago, Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, prohibiting the trade in obscene video depictions of animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty. The law is valuable but limited in scope, and while it bans the trade in video depictions of cruelty, it does not prohibit the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself. A federal ban would help not only animals, but potential human victims as well.
There are a raft of studies to indicate the link between the abuse of animals and violence against people:
- Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46 percent admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents.
- Of seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all involved boys who had previously committed acts of animal cruelty.
- A 2002 study found that 96 percent of juveniles who had sexual conduct with animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans.
The National Children’s Advocacy Center, a non-profit that combats child abuse and neglect, endorses The PACT Act. The National Sheriffs’ Association also backs the legislation, along with more than 150 law enforcement agencies across the country. And just last month, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began including animal cruelty offenses in the Uniform Crime Report.
The nation is waking up to cruelty as an indicator of a social pathology. First offenders typically start on animals, then turn their violent instincts to people. While all states have laws against dogfighting and cockfighting, Congress saw fit to pass a federal anti-animal fighting statute for complex cases involving multiple jurisdictions. The state and federal laws are complementary, and we propose a similar set-up for anti-cruelty statutes targeting the most malicious types of abuse.
Congress should act on this legislation now. There’s no excuse for a delay. As a society, we have an unspoken pact with vulnerable creatures to protect them from needless and malicious violence, and the PACT Act is part of any good plan to act on that principle.