Last week, West Virginia law enforcement officials, with an assist from The HSUS, arrested Victor Zandlo and charged him with suspected abuse of dogs. It was a particularly vicious case of bestiality.
Local rescue groups did their best to help all eight dogs in the house, but they were too late for one member of the pack. Grace had suffered particularly severe and unsettling injuries, and she’s now passed.
We commend the lieutenant of the Wyoming County Sheriff’s Office in West Virginia who charged Zandlo with felony-level cruelty. This is an especially significant charge because prosecution for bestiality is rare in West Virginia, one of just eight remaining states in the nation, along with the District of Columbia, that have no specific laws against the sexual abuse of animals.
Ironically, lawmakers in West Virginia introduced an anti-bestiality bill this year, but both chambers failed to act on it. Maybe now they’ll better understand the importance of a legal prohibition against such assault on these non-consenting creatures. Nevada and Vermont did pass anti-bestiality measures, and both await final approval from their governors. In Texas, the state Senate approved an anti-bestiality bill, and House action is pending.
Animal sexual abuse is a felony in 19 states, a second offense felony in four states, and a misdemeanor in 23 states. Other states without any bestiality laws include Hawaii, Kentucky, New Mexico, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Just a few years ago, 11 states still considered bestiality legal. As with animal fighting and other abuses of animals, The HSUS has been methodically going state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework, and if the chief executives of Nevada and Vermont sign the measures into law, only a half-dozen states will be legally silent on the issue.
Astoundingly, in some states, lawmakers have made catcalls and mocked the idea of addressing this form of animal abuse. In other states, bills have been delayed for years because legislators simply refuse to talk about it. The Kentucky Farm Bureau and the Kentucky Houndsmen Association opposed a bestiality bill in that state, calling it a “slippery slope.” How sad that they neither understand the severity nor the scale of this crime.
Even in states with bestiality laws, enforcement can be lax, and other barriers to a crackdown on the practice exist. Many states that outlaw sexual abuse have archaic language in their statutes that needs to be updated. Abusers try to skirt the law, also, and have done so effectively on occasion. A prime example of this is Sterling Rachwal, a man with a history of abusing horses in Wisconsin, who has been able to successfully use loopholes in the law to appeal and overturn his conviction.
Animal sexual abuse is not the extraordinarily rare occurrence. It’s more common than we’d like to acknowledge in society, and it is often a violent act that frequently precedes child sexual abuse, sexual homicide, and other extreme antisocial behavior.
In a study of over 44,000 adult male sex offenders, researchers concluded that animal sexual abuse is the number one risk factor and the strongest predictor of increased risk for sexual abuse of a child. Some studies have found high rates of sexual assault of animals in the backgrounds of serial sexual homicide perpetrators. This is one reason why bestiality and other forms of animal cruelty are now tracked by the FBI as a Group A offense in the National Incident Based Reporting System, in the same category as rape and murder.
Increasingly, perpetrators use various websites to seek out one another where they often trade, rent, and sell animals for sex. A popular website that appears to be a hub for bestiality enthusiasts boasts over 1.5 million registered users.
The HSUS will continue to work in the states without laws to strengthen and pass laws against bestiality. One dog like Grace, suffering such unspeakable abuse, is one too many. And she’s now just one high-profile victim of a vast underworld of sexual abuse that too many people want to deny or fail to confront in a substantive and serious-minded way.