What advocacy groups are doing about animal abuse
By Kristy Zhen
A judge in Collier County, FL barred Tina Cianciglini from owning any more horses in the future, after 34 malnourished horses were removed from her failed horse rescue ranch this past September, according to Naples Daily News. She called herself an animal lover, but county officials called her an animal hoarder for keeping horses on her estate even though she knew she could no longer provide an adequate amount of food for them. Although Cianciglini initially had sincere intentions of taking care of her horses, ultimately her actions were deemed abusive because of her inability to care for them.
Hoarding, bestiality, neglect and animal fighting are all forms of animal abuse. Animal abuse not only harms companion animals, like the kittens that are killed by women in high heels in “crush videos,” but also farm animals and wildlife. Chickens are crammed into battery cages on factory farms, and prairie dogs are poisoned.
Non-profit organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, HSUS exist in order to help shelter, relocate abused animals and promote for their protection. However animals are still mistreated everyday. According to Pet-Abuse.com, in 2009 there were 840 reported cases of animal abuse, a number that likely underestimates the number of animals that are actually abused.
Abusing an animal is a crime in all fifty states. There are a number of reasons why animal abuse still occurs today. This includes a lack of laws that sufficiently require basic needs for animals, enforcement of these laws, and strong penalties for those who commit these crimes. Penalties for convicted animal abusers vary from state to state. Maximum incarceration for felonies and misdemeanors for animal abuse ranges from a maximum of 6 months in Mississippi to a of maximum 10 years in Alabama, Louisiana and Texas. Banning abusers from owning animals again also varies from state to state.
Punishments for animal cruelty are laughable, said Stephanie Feldstein, Change.org editor for animal welfare and wildlife community. She said, “I think punishments should better fit the crime, not only in terms of the animal suffering but also in terms of the types of criminal that you’re looking at that would be perpetuating animal cruelty,” said Feldstein.
Executive Director of Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation Bob Baker, feels that there needs to be better regulation and enforcement of laws. On Election Day in Missouri, the public voted and passed the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, also known as Proposition B, which provides regulations and standards for dog breeding facilities that operate for profit. “We’re very elated. This is a huge victory for the dogs,” said Baker. Prop B requires annual physical exams; access to outdoors space; proper housing, food and water; and veterinary care for ill or injured animals. It also regulates the number of breeding dogs that an owner can have, as well as how often a dog can be bred.
Missouri is known as the “puppy mill capital of the nation” because most puppies in the country are bred in Missouri’s estimated 3,000 puppy mills. The state’s Animal Care Facilities Act was initially passed in 1992 and requires commercial dog breeders with four or more breeding dogs to obtain a license annually. The state can refuse or revoke the license of anyone that does not follow federal or state regulations on the standards of care for animals. However, the standards of care under the federal regulations are minimal. They require cages to be at least six inches longer than the dog itself. Loopholes in the law also allow dog owners to provide water for their dogs only once every eight hours, whether it is blistering hot or freezing cold outside.
Similar to factory farms, puppy mills are powered by greed, and the animals and the conditions that they live in are neglected. Baker feels that Prop B will make a substantial difference by eliminating most breeding facilities that exist only for profit. “It’s a very optimistic message being sent that citizens are not tolerating cruelty to animals,” Baker said. He feels the passing of Prop B will have reverberating effects all over the country.
Besides lack of regulations, another issue that prevents abused animals from being protected is the owner’s right not to be searched by investigators without a warrant. “If we get out there and the owner refuses to allow us to see the animal, we often can’t do anything more,” Kate Walker, humane investigator for Tompkins SPCA, said. Removing an abused animal from the owner requires strong evidence of severe neglect and judges often allow convicted owners to have their pets returned, Walker said.
Investigations also reveal that ignorance on how to properly care for animals is another factor in animal abuse. “A lot of people just don’t know what’s okay in training an animal, they’ll maybe go back to the way their families handled animals or tamed animals which may or may not be appropriate or still accepted,” Walker said. Sometimes people also do not realize that even though it may be free to adopt an animal, there are costs involved in caring for it, and those funds may not be available.
In Suffolk County, NY legislators recently passed the first nationwide public animal abuser registry. Any adult convicted of animal abuse will have to pay a $50 fee and submit their address, a photograph and any aliases. Those who fail to register can face up to a year in jail and maximum $1,000 fine.
Although at face value the animal abuse registry seems to only protect animals, it can also protect humans. Many studies have shown that those who abuse animals also abuse people. The HSUS launched the First Strike Campaign in 1997 in order to raise professional and public awareness on the links between animal and human abuse.
When it comes to fighting animal abuse, most people think about helping companion animals because it is easier to have compassion with dogs and cats and consider them a part of the family. People are conditioned to think about farm animals as food animals; according to Feldstein, “people who live in urban areas, through most legislation and culture, treat wildlife as a nuance instead of something to coexist with.”
Prop B and the animal abuser registry are steps in protecting companion animals; however action still needs to be taken to protect farm animals and wildlife. Factory farm abuse is considered the biggest act of animal abuse because it is so ingrained in the law and industry and allowed to go on, Feldstein said.
“I think part of changing the culture is changing how humans legally see animals. People can’t just get away with doing things to a chicken or to a raccoon in their backyard, that they would never get away with doing to a dog or a cat,” Feldstein said. It is still important to protect all animals because they are innocent, living creatures, and their lives will always be intertwined with human lives.
People coexist with and rely on animals, and the abuse that is placed on them affects other humans in the end, not only by way of humans abusing each other, but by the way we utilize these abused animals.
Major legislation can take a long time to develop and get passed, so it is important to begin with personal choices and local politics to make a difference. Whether it is being a conscious consumer and adopting instead of buying a pet, or ensuring legislation is being passed in your local community by speaking with elected officials, or educating children on how to care for a pet, every little step can lead to a major impact in animals’ lives.
Kristy Zhen is a sophomore journalism major who hates that some animals out there have it really ruff. E-mail her at email@example.com.
***This post has been extended with additional information, differing from the more condensed print edition.***