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As news reports and undercover investigations reveal, animal abuse occurs with troubling regularity in the United States. No species of animal seems to be immune from this cruelty: from companion animals to circus animals to farmed animals, animal abuse is an increasingly concerning issue.

Perhaps more concerning is how little protection and justice animals are afforded under the law. Very often, animal abuse is simply ignored by authorities. When it is charged as a crime, defendants often get away with insignificant misdemeanor convictions and trivial fines as their only punishment. For example, a New Jersey woman who starved her dog, stuffed him into a trash bag, dumped him into a garbage disposal, and left him to die only received a $2,000 fine and 18 months of probation for her crime. In another case, workers who viciously kicked, stomped on, and beat dairy cows at an Idaho dairy farm received nothing more than minuscule $500 fines.

These disproportionate results may be because historically, animal abuse has not been considered a particularly serious crime. However, there are a number of reasons why animal abuse should be taken much more seriously and considered a “violent crime” deserving of stronger punishment.

What is a “Violent Crime?”

A “violent crime” is one where the victim of the crime is harmed by or threatened with violence. Under U.S. law, violent crimes include murder, rape, sexual assault, robbery, and assault. Such crimes are considered especially serious and are thus closely tracked by law enforcement and typically punished more harshly than other crimes.

Currently, a violent crime only qualifies as such if the victim of the crime is a human being. This means that an act of violence committed against an animal – no matter how egregious – is not technically considered a violent crime, and it is not punished as such.

Why Isn’t Animal Abuse Currently Considered a Violent Crime?

Astonishingly, animals are still considered property under the law, much the same as a table or chair. Because violent crimes contemplate harms committed against people and not against property, animal abuse does not qualify as a violent crime, despite the fact that animal abuse very obviously involves violence.

Instead, animal abuse is often treated as an infraction or low-level misdemeanor, typically punished by no more than a fine and probation.

Animal Abuse Should be Considered a Violent Crime!

There are a number of very important reasons that animal abuse should be considered a violent crime in our legal system.

First, we know based on personal experience and countless scientific studies that animals are not things. They are nothing like other “property” such as tables and chairs. Animals are sentient beings with the ability to feel a range of emotions, and they are harmed both physically and psychologically by violent abuse, much as human beings are. They deserve to be treated under the law as the complex creatures that they are.

Second, animal abuse is strongly linked with other forms of abuse, such as domestic violence and child abuse. One study found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of homes where child abuse had been discovered. Another study found that up to 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters report that their abusers also abuse the family pet. In fact, animal abusers are five times more likely to abuse people.

Changing the Law to Change Public Perception

By classifying animal abuse as a violent crime and tracking and punishing it accordingly, we will protect both helpless animals and the people animal abusers are more likely to abuse. While it is incredibly important to appropriately punish animal abusers this change would play an even larger role in the way we regard animals in our society.

When we consider the harm done to animals as equal to the harm done to members of our own species, we can begin to change cultural perceptions of animals and one day upgrade their status from being property to being individuals in their own right. It is only when this conscious change is made that we can hope to see a real change in the way that people treat and view animals. It’s not only an upgrade in the law, but an upgrade in our own values.

Image Source: Tim Dawson/Wikimedia Commons

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1,637 comments on “Should Animal Abuse be Considered a Violent Crime?”

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rowdy
6 Days ago

I forgot to add that certain types of animal abuse could be considered violent. I think it has been suggested that those that prey on humans to harm them generally started with abuse of animals. I think the punishment should be more harsh considering the type of abuse. There is also ignorance in the care of animals same as children neglected., and should be considered on a case to case basis.


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rowdy
6 Days ago

I would support any legislation that protects all animals from abuse including being tied up. In exteme cold or hot weather failure to provide adequate shelter. There need to be more public information on the care of animals and the punishment that will follow if animal owners do not comply. People forget about dental care flea prevention and worm prevention and treatments. Probably not enough public education. Maybe also start with the schools. Probably the punishment is lacking could be why pet owners mistreat animals.


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Roberta Matsunaga
9 Days ago

Absolutely


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Cassandra
10 Days ago

Most definitely!!! ALL animals should be treated with love and respect X


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Carl
11 Days ago

I notice the image included with this article on whether "animal abuse" should be considered a violent crime is the image of one of modern humans’ most liked animals--dogs. These animals, some frankly assert, are members of "our family." While I don\'t sanction cruelty to dogs (or other pets), the question seems disingenuous to me so long as it is limited to animals we happen to like. Imagine the question, "Should bullying of children we know and like be considered a crime"? Most would find that not just absurd, but also offensive. All sensitive beings should be protected from the depravations of humanity. So long as we\'re not willing to take this step, abuse of animals (and other people) will persist because we\'re essentially extending protections just to those beings we happen to like. So those who happen to feel differently, to not like the same beings, may be inclined to harm them, an entitlement we simply often condone. At least in this area, the moral precept ought to be general, not specific.


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pedro
28 Days ago

no no


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