Devin Patrick Kelley was a miscreant as an adult—a sick and deranged human being, who left death and suffering and heartache in his wake.
His worst act was the mass murder that he alone executed on Sunday, at a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
But his burst of violence was not without some major warning signs. In recent years, for example, he viciously beat his wife, choking her. He also fractured his toddler stepson’s skull. His wife divorced him, but not before she suffered substantial mental and physical harm from his unwarranted and illegal physical assaults.
In addition, according to The Washington Post, Kelley was charged with animal cruelty. In August 2014, authorities charged Kelley with a misdemeanor count of cruelty in Colorado, where he lived at the time. “Four witnesses told deputies that they saw a man matching Kelley’s description yelling at and chasing a white-and-brown husky,” according to The Post, viciously punching and throwing the dog.
“The suspect then started beating on the dog with both fists, punching it in the head and chest,” a deputy wrote in the incident report. “He could hear the suspect yelling at the dog and while he was striking it, the dog was yelping and whining. The suspect then picked up the dog by the neck into the air and threw it onto the ground and then drug him away to lot 60.”
It is not unusual for us to see this pattern of violence—where perpetrators take advantage of weaker or unarmed victims. So many of the mass murderers who trained their fire on innocent human victims and injured and killed them started off by targeting animals. The animals, unable to file a grievance or to answer the assault, are test subjects for abusers like Kelley.
As we think about a proper social and public policy response to the mass shootings—focused mainly on gun control, and mental health issues—we shouldn’t forget about strengthening the legal framework against animal cruelty, as part of preventing a recurrence of mass violence of this kind.
There is an incontrovertible relationship between animal cruelty and human violence. Some studies report that in 75 percent of cases where there is spousal or child abuse, there is also animal abuse. One day it’s a dog or cat or rabbit, another day it’s a family member or friend.
We need laws to allow law enforcement agencies to interrupt this cycle of violence in its early stages, no matter who the first victim is.
That’s why we are calling on Congress to pass a package of animal welfare reforms that will strengthen the legal framework against animal cruelty.
The House and Senate need not wait another day before they address this cruelty by passing three measures:
The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S.322/H.R.909, will help protect domestic violence victims and their pets by expanding domestic violence protections to include pets, and by establishing a federal grant program to assist in securing safe shelter for the pets. The PAWS Act establishes a national policy on this issue and encourages states to expand their legal protections for pets in abusive households.
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 1494/S. 654, will make it a federal crime to commit malicious cruelty to an animal on federal property or otherwise in interstate commerce. It also targets bestiality, which is associated with child pornography and other sexual crimes. In a study of over 44,000 adult males evaluated for sexual misconduct, researchers concluded that bestiality is the number one risk factor and the strongest predictor of increased risk of sexual abuse of a child. The PACT Act will create a federal anti-cruelty statute that complements the cruelty laws in the 50 states.
The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, H.R. 4202, will ensure that longstanding federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting apply everywhere in the U.S. There are ambiguities in federal law that create doubt about the enforceability of prohibitions against animal fighting in the U.S. territories. This bill amends the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) to make it explicit that federal animal fighting law applies to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories.
Calculated violence against animals is never acceptable. All three of these Congressional initiatives have strong bipartisan support. All three will make animals and people safer. As we search for policy solutions to horrifying violence in our communities, these bills should be on the list of action items.
P.S. While the U.S. considers a series of upgrades in its legal framework against animal cruelty, today, HSI celebrated the launch of the Animal Welfare Unit in Guatemala responsible for implementing that nation’s landmark Animal Welfare and Protection Law and associated regulations. Guatemala’s law, passed earlier this year, prohibits dogfighting, the use of animals in circuses, the use of animals for experimentation and research in the cosmetic industry, and the cutting of animals’ ears and tails for aesthetics. It also creates criminal penalties for those who cause injury, suffering, or criminal death to an animal.