Numerous studies have established the correlation of animal cruelty to other violent crimes. Collateral crimes linked include family violence, sexual abuse, serial killers and mass shooters, organized crimes, and even terrorism. With this in mind, it is highly encouraged that branches of the criminal justice profession be more observant and vigilant when addressing and attending to cases as what they handle may uncover co-existing crimes and violations in relation to the link.
Back on Justice Clearinghouse is Michelle Welch. She is the Senior Assistant Attorney General in the Virginia Attorney General’s Office and the Director of its Animal Law Unit. She serves as Virginia’s resident animal law expert acting as a special prosecutor in animal cruelty cases.
Points she discussed include:
- What animal abuse is and how the FBI categorizes these cases in their reporting system.
- Ways that animal abuse is perpetrated:
- Crimes of omission which is about the owner not doing what is required to care for the animal and neglecting its needs.
- Crimes of commission which looks at actions an individual commit that endanger the animal.
- Simple versus gross neglect which looks at the severity of the action or inaction and the impact of the neglect to the animal’s health and well-being.
- Forms of animal abuse
- Through deprivation by failing to provide standards of care – adequate water, food, shelter, and veterinary care.
- Animal sexual abuse which encompasses penetrative sex, sodomy, and masturbation with/of an animal.
- Hoarding where an individual accumulates a large number of animals and due to mental or physical limitations is unable to provide the necessary standards of care.
- Wildlife trafficking where people participate in the sale or trade of wildlife/exotic animals.
- Animal fighting where individuals commit animal cruelty by training animals in extreme conditions and subjecting the animals to harm by fighting them.
- The concept of the link and the different collateral crimes that may be seen co-existing with animal cruelty.
- How everyone in the family may be subjected to violence In the form of child abuse, intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and animal cruelty.
- Exposure to animal cruelty as a form of child abuse that has detrimental effects on a child’s development and welfare.
- Statistics demonstrating how kids who were physically or sexually abused have greater chances of committing cruelty to animals.
- How sexually violent offenders and child sex abusers typically have a history of animal sexual abuse.
- The history of animal cruelty/abuse and torture that was found with at-risk youth, school shooters, and serial killers.
- The drugs, alcohol, gambling, money laundering, firearms, violence, child endangerment, prostitution, tax law violation, and illegal practice of veterinary medicine seen in animal fighting operations.
- The critical role of probation officers being the branch of the criminal justice system with the longest and most thorough contact to the segment of the community involved in crimes and violence in spotting activities that may link human crimes with animal crimes and addressing these.
- By paying attention to statements and declarations from probationers about their crimes, activities, and background.
- By observing their clients’ living conditions and environment for potential hints that animal cruelty and other forms of violence may be transpiring.
- By practicing vigilance to identify equipment, paraphernalia, documents, and animals that may hint involvement in animal fighting or its operations.
- By documenting observations and facts they gather from interacting with their clients and coordinating these with the prosecutors and judges.
- By always taking animal cruelty incidents seriously and charge offenders accordingly based on available statutes.
- A multitude of examples provided for the various circumstances that the link manifested in cases and how awareness of the link and its consequences can keep communities remain safe.
Topics tackled during the Q&A were on:
- The difference between animal welfare and rights.
- Resources for law enforcement on how to document and conduct forensic investigation for animal cruelty.
- Charging for child endangerment by exposing children to animal abuse.
- How to intervene in incidents where it is the children who are abusing animals.
- The link between animal cruelty and elder abuse.
- Actions or inaction that qualify as animal neglect.
- Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application (Ascione and Lockwood, Editors)
- Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence against People (Merz-Perez and Heide)
- Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention (Arkow and Ascione, Editors)
- Confronting Animal Abuse: Law, Criminology, and Human-Animal Relationships (Beirne)
- Animal Abuse: Helping Animals and People (Tiplady)
- Veterinary Forensics: Animal Cruelty Investigations (Merck)
- Reference List of Peer-Reviewed Articles
- Article: Animal Abuse as a Type of Trauma: Lessons for Human and Animal Services Professionals (Randour, Smith-Blackmore, DeSousa and Guyony)
- What Every Clinician Should Know about the Link between Pet Abuse and Family Violence (Randour)
- A Common Bond: Maltreated Children and Animals in the Home. Guidelines for Practice and Policy (American Humane)
- “I always knew there was a link between animal abuse and other criminal acts, but this webinar helped me realize what I can be doing as a probation officer to recognize the signs.” — Anna
- “As an animal control officer, it was great to hear that there are law enforcement officers interested in animal welfare and are looking out for animals amongst their everyday cases and follow-ups.” — Christina
- “Excellent. I am in the process of retraining and moving into this field, and this was informative, timely, inspiring, and all-around just excellent.” — E
- “As a new officer, hired just prior to Covid, I have not spent a lot of time in the field. I have a lot to learn and this provided a lot of insight on things to watch for.” — Kylie
- “I learned to look for things that I would not normally look for when conducting home visits with my officers. Great training.” — Rosita
- “What I found most valuable about this webinar was the abuse animals were facing. I had no idea these types of cruel and unwanted acts were taking place, which is something I am definitely going to look into on my next visit to homes, making sure that these types of behaviors are not happening.” — Stanford