Once again, our country is in collective mourning over a senseless, gruesome massacre at a school, this time in Parkland, Florida. As the mother of a high schooler myself, I am heartbroken and worried for every child, for every family, and for every community that has to endure such suffering and pain. Beyond the shared grief and heartache for the victims and their families, a common refrain we are once again hearing is, “what could we have done?”
It’s a challenging question to answer — gun violence is a complex, multifaceted issue. When media reports indicated that the shooter had a history of bragging about killing animals on social media, those of us in the animal protection movement were sadly unsurprised. This pattern of violence is common and well-documented — time and again we hear that individuals responsible for mass shootings have also targeted animals as their victims.
Many have long appreciated the important relationship between animal abuse and interpersonal violence, but some individuals have not yet made the connection. The HSUS’s Law Enforcement Training Center shares this important message with law enforcement officers on the front lines. Each year, The HSUS provides training to thousands of officers across the country on investigating and prosecuting animal abuse, with a focus on the link between these cases and acts of violence against human beings. Our courses include discussions around why a child might abuse animals, and how animal crimes are related to other felonies (including mass shootings, distribution of illegal drugs, gang warfare, as well as domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse). Next month, in a sad irony, The HSUS will collaborate with the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association to discuss these very issues.
Prevention through education and awareness is another common theme, as we encourage multidiscipline cross-training, and cross-reporting among enforcement officers, veterinarians, and human service professionals. We encourage early intervention methods, asking domestic violence shelters to team up with humane societies to create safe havens where people fleeing violent situations can keep their pets safe, too. We urge human services agencies to screen for animal abuse during client assessments. In addition, we have been clear in recommending that children who abuse animals should receive help to address the reasons for their violent actions.
At the same time, we, like other humane organizations, have long championed humane education and the cultivation of pro-social sentiments and skills in children, an obvious solution to the social and cultural crisis that violence has created in American life.
In the public policy area, elected officials should continue their efforts geared toward reducing mass murders and gun violence. But they should also consider the role of strengthened anti-cruelty laws. Across the country, The HSUS works alongside state legislators to pass meaningful protections for animals and to hold the perpetrators of cruelty and abuse accountable. At the federal level, there are two bills designed to protect both pets and their people:
- 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 more than 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.
Simply put, animal cruelty is an indicator of social pathology. Congress should act now to pass these bills without further delay, so we can help protect both animals and humans from needless violence.