FBI begins tracking animal abuse like it does murder, rape

For the first time ever, the FBI began collecting data on animal cruelty crimes

By Lisa Gutierrez
The Kansas City Star

WASHINGTON — The plight last week of a malnourished Yorkshire terrier mix found wandering a Kansas City street with a muzzle that had been bound shut angered many people.

A police officer saw the dog running along Bannister Road and took him to the Kansas City Animal Shelter, where the friendly little pup quickly became known as “Bannister.”

One commenter who read Bannister’s story on KansasCity.com wrote: “There is a special kind of hell for a person who would do this to an animal!”

As of this month, there’s a special place in FBI databases for people who abuse animals like Bannister.

For the first time ever, the FBI began collecting data on animal cruelty crimes through its National Incident-Based Reporting System. Data collected this year will be available for public review in 2017.

Kate Fields, the president and CEO of The Humane Society of Greater Kansas City, applauds the move.

“I think it’s brilliant that the FBI is recognizing it, finally, and doing something about it,” she said.

Every Monday morning, Fields begins her week by reading emails and listening to phone messages from people reporting suspected animal abuse around the metro. This week, someone called to report cats living in a house where no one had been seen in three weeks.

The FBI defines animal cruelty as “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly taking an action that mistreats or kills any animal without just cause, such as torturing, tormenting, mutilation, maiming, poisoning, or abandonment.”

Law enforcement officials will choose one of four categories to report animal abuse to the FBI: simple/gross neglect, intentional abuse and torture, organized abuse such as dog-fighting and animal sexual abuse.

Bannister, a malnourished Yorkshire terrier mix, had his mouth bound shut

Bannister, a malnourished Yorkshire terrier mix, was found on Monday by a Kansas City police officer and taken to KC Pet Project for help. After matted fur was removed around the mouth, wounds from someone binding the dogs mouth were found.

The cases are heinous. Pets chopped up with machetes. Puppies set on fire. A pit bull named Rosie was doused with hydrochloric acid in one of the cruelest cases in San Antonio history.

Animals are thrown out of cars and buildings, as with the Tibetan spaniel who lost his eyes after he was thrown from a third-floor balcony in Kansas City in November 2014.

Last winter someone left a puppy in a crate to freeze to death in a Michigan park; a young girl found it frozen and covered in feces.

Earlier this month in West Virginia a dog named Cuffs was found with his testicles bound by zip ties.

The move to track the crimes reflects research that shows a connection between animal abuse and violence against people.

A study from the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, for instance, revealed that 76 percent of animal abusers also abuse someone in their family.

“I think what really prompted this was that there are just so many studies out showing a relationship between violence against humans and the relationship to abuse against animals,” said Bob Baker, executive director of the Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation in St. Louis.

The research has been very clear on that connection, but it has taken the law enforcement community a while to recognize it, John Thompson, the deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association, told NPR recently.

“If you look back at the Son of Sam and (Jeffrey) Dahmer and Ted Bundy in Florida, if you look at the serial killers, the majority of them abused animals prior to turning on humans, and even one admitted, ‘I did it to see how the animal would die before I killed a human,’ ” Thompson said.

“It’s amazing. The school shooters — Pearl, Mississippi, and Columbine — they all abused animals and killed animals prior to their shooting spree. The data’s there, and it’s not just guesswork, it’s actual documented data.”

Acting on that data, the city of Milwaukee two years ago launched a first-of-its-kind public awareness campaign to stop both animal and domestic abuse.

The goal: convince people to call 911 when they suspect animal cruelty.

The message: People have the power to stop two forms of abuse with one phone call.

The campaign unleashed a blitz of radio and TV ads and social media messages. Billboards showed pictures of abused pets next to pictures of young children with the provocative message: “She’s next.”

“We need a new way to expose domestic violence and catch the abusers,” John Chisholm, the Milwaukee County District Attorney, said of the campaign.

“It’s just simple math. If we can increase the number of opportunities the police have to investigate domestic abuse inside the home, the more families we can help get the resources they need and move them into safer environments.”

According to The Humane Society of the United States, surveys suggest that people who intentionally abuse animals are predominately male and younger than 30, though children as young as 5 have been known to abuse animals.

The fact that the FBI is now tracking the data doesn’t change local or state laws concerning animal cruelty or make it easier to prosecute abusers. But it’s a start, animal welfare activists say.

“People think it’s really easy to get someone charged with crimes, and it’s not,” Baker said. “So when the FBI announces that it’s serious, we hope that it spurs other agencies to take it seriously also.”

Copyright 2016 The Kansas City Star 

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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