In 2016, the FBI started to track animal cruelty, including neglect, torture and sexual abuse, because of disturbing connections between abuse and killing of animals and dong the same to humans.
Writing for theconversation.com, Jessica Rubin of the Animal Legal Defense Fund and an assistant clinical professor of law at the University of Connecticut, states the evidence is more than anecdotal. Researchers like psychologists Randall Lockwood and Frank R. Ascione have determined that people who abuse animals may move on to hurting people.
By vigorously prosecuting animal cruelty cases, the justice system could potentially help stave off violent crimes against people, Rubin writes. But these animal cruelty offenses often get short shrift in state courts.
Rubin notes that courts and prosecutors often have more cases involving crimes against people than they can handle. So cases of animal cruelty are dismissed or defendants are given probationary sentences – leaving no record of the offenses.
In South Carolina, that may be about to change with a package of animal welfare reforms drawn up by a group of state officials and animal-rights activists and approved by a panel of state senators. The proposals are headed for the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in January.
Dog-tethering would be prevented for the first time, and pronged or “choke” collars would be banned.
At present, law enforcement cannot take action against owners who leave their dogs tied up outside unless officers decide the tethering constitutes “animal cruelty.” The change would require that any dog tied up and unsupervised for more than an hour must have food, water, shelter and at least 100 square feet of “useable space.”
Importantly, the Senate proposal also includes more training for local magistrates on handling animal-cruelty issues – because tougher laws on animal cruelty will do little if law enforcement and the judiciary do not take them seriously.
Toward cases being treated seriously, Connecticut offers a model.
Writing in the article titled “How Dogs and Cats Can Get Their Day in Court,” Rubin said Desmond’s Law enacted in 2016 creates a program that allows courts to appoint supervised law students or lawyers to serve as volunteer advocates for animals in cruelty cases. The legal experts represent the interests of animals and justice, mirroring a practice that is already standard for children who have been abused or killed.
“Advocates research police and veterinary records, interview experts and present recommendations to courts regarding intermediate and final issues in cruelty cases. They aim to ensure that courts consider and protect animal interests,” Rubin writes. Volunteers track cruelty cases in the state and attend court hearings.
The first case to use Desmond’s Law involved a defendant accused of engaging in dogfighting, Rubin notes. Lacking a record of prior convictions, he was eligible to apply for an accelerated rehabilitation program through which a defendant complying with court conditions and not committing additional offenses may have charges dismissed.
A student under Rubin’s supervision argued that the defendant should not be eligible for the accelerated rehabilitation program because the crime of which he was accused was serious and likely to recur.
A Connecticut judge allowed the defendant to use the program but was receptive to imposing conditions on the defendant’s probationary two-year program term. For example, he may not have any contact with animals and must undergo a psychological assessment.
South Carolina may not be ready to implement its own version of Desmond’s Law but such an approach should be considered. It would be a way to give legal advocates for animals standing to do more than speak loudly in the public arena – a could be a factor in putting a stop to violence against humans later.