After three decades in the criminal justice system, I have developed my own time-honored truths about the human soul. One of these truths is: There is something deeply disturbing about people who abuse animals. These types are definitely not the kind of people you want your son or daughter to date. People who abuse animals are downright sinister. And, like an iceberg, what little we see above the surface is a good predictor of the pending dangers lurking hidden below the surface.
Several years ago, I was hired to defend a teenage boy who was caught cutting the ears off a small cat. My case was composed of one count of animal cruelty and one very upset neighbor lady. This young man was not into drugs. He did not shoplift. He simply did not like cats with ears. In the quiet of an attorney-client interview, he not only admitted to several additional counts of uncharged cat mutilation, but also bragged about repeatedly punching out and terrorizing his younger sister.
Unfortunately, that one juvenile client was not unique in his demented thought process. Studies have shown that pet abuse can be a solid predictor of the presence of domestic violence. For example, one research group at Utah State University surveyed domestic violence shelters in forty-nine states and the District of Columbia.* That nation-wide research indicated the following correlations between animal cruelty and domestic violence:
|Percent of Respondents Answering “Yes” to Each Question|
|Do women who come into your shelter talk about incidents of pet abuse?||
|Do children who come into your shelter talk about incidents of pet abuse?||
|In your experience with shelters, have you observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse?||
As a general rule, animal companions are good for us. Studies show that people with pets have lower blood pressure, live longer lives, and suffer from less anxiety. Yet, when the unthinkable happens and domestic violence erupts, family pets are often the first target. Abusive personalities understand and exploit the deep bond between pets and family members. Threatening the pet often causes the victim to stay for fear of what might happen to the animal if they leave.
Given the strong correlation between animal violence and people violence, one would think that animal cruelty would always be included in the list of acts deemed to entitle one to an order of protection. Yet, unfortunately, to date, only a handful of states have enacted such laws.
Recently proposed legislation in Arizona seeks to resolve this official shortcoming. Senate Bill 1087 would add “cruel neglect” or “cruel mistreatment” of animals as grounds justifying the issuance of an order of protection. Senate Bill 1085 seeks to expand the living entities that can benefit from an order of protection. Not only could a battered wife include her children, but if passed into law, Senate Bill 1085 would also let a court issue specific orders that would protect the family pet as well.
Personally, I would have no problem with a judge issuing an order of protection because my client cut the ears off a cat. Yet, as a seasoned litigator, I am always a little nervous that new legislation intended to solve one societal ill is going to get misused by those that were not the intended beneficiaries. For example, the statutory definition of “animal” is not limited to mammals. “Birds, reptiles and amphibians” are also covered. Thus, I have little doubt that sometime in the future, a jilted ex-lover will improperly seek an order of protection. While she has never been the victim of violent behavior and is simply ticked-off beyond reason that her scumbag boyfriend has cheated on her for the twelfth time, I can see her claiming that a failure to feed her pet python amounts to cruel neglect and, thus, entitles her to the order she seeks.
I can only hope that sound judicial discretion will prevail in such cases. In my mind, animals are not more important than people. Yet, if one type of cruel behavior is an excellent predictor of an even worse kind of violent behavior, wisdom dictates that we use that knowledge to keep innocent people safe.
If you need legal advice for a criminal defense matter, give me a call at (480) 833-2341 to set up an appointment.
* The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence: A National Survey of Shelters for Women Who Are Battered”. By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Claudia V. Weber, M.S., and David S. Wood, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Society and Animals, 5(3): 205-218. 1997
Attorney Profile: Brian D. Strong, Criminal Defense Lawyer