Putting up a good fight: Punishment should fit the crime for breeding animal cruelty

Voices Of The Clarion

Posted: Sunday, August 05, 2007

The ongoing case of animal cruelty involving NFL Atlanta Falcons' quarterback Michael Vick should be deeply concerning to more people than just dog lovers.

Indictments against Vick, and the others involved in fighting dogs, allege they killed losing dogs by hanging, drowning, wetting a dog down with water and electrocuting the animal, and for at least one poor creature, swinging the dog by the legs to slam its body to the ground until dead.

Beyond that animals are living creatures with feelings and emotions, and not merely property that human beings can do anything with, the simple fact of the matter is that anyone so destitute of basic feelings of empathy that they take pleasure in torturing animals in this way poses a threat to civilized society and simply cannot be trusted in that society.

Many studies in psychology, sociology and criminology during the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested most had killed or tortured animals as children.

But more important than asking if Vick specifically would take pleasure in torturing human beings as well, is asking since he is a sports icon and role model for many, could the deleterious effects of his actions on our culture — the youth in particular — lead to pervasive violence against humans?

In my opinion, the answer is absolutely.

While dog fighting currently is a clandestine cultural ritual for members of opposite ends of the socioeconomic scale — poor, uneducated young men in urban gangs or rural outlaw cliques at one end of the spectrum, and rich, professional athletes, rap stars and entertainers at the other end — it is quickly spreading beyond these two groups.

A recent survey of school children in Chicago — a hub for dog-fighting activities — found that students are almost universally aware of dogs fighting in their neighborhood, with one out of every six children admitting they have attended a dog fight — a felony in Illinois.

It seems clear the violence observed during these fights, and the subsequent acceptance of this violence as the norm by peers of these youth, could undeniably affect them by promoting a desensitization to suffering, which could lead to them being dangerous adults.

These children also are exposed to gangs, weapons, drugs and gambling because it has been proven that those who fight animals are prone to participate in these other illegal activities.

There also is an obvious public safety issue with training dogs to be aggressive killing machines. Several times a year, news stories across the nation report on the unfortunate incident of when a fighting dog escapes its confines. They often focus on living things resembling what they have been baited to attack, such as other domestics pets or small children, which often become disfigured or suffer broken limbs in the best case scenarios, and dismembered or mauled to death in the worst cases.

Also, the ethos of many dog-fighters is, the more the dog suffers, the tougher it will become, and thus the better fighter it will be. Many dogs are so aggressive they are caged and live a life of isolation, which combined with their combat training makes them so socially maladjusted that even after rescue, they must be euthanized because they are too dangerous to risk adoption to a loving home.

Despite well-documented horrors and the potential for future societal problems, dog abuse prosecutions are few and far between, and when dog fighters are punished, the sentences tend to be pleaded down to misdemeanor charges, despite that dog fighting is a felony in 48 states.

For some judges and attorneys who deal with the murder, domestic violence and sexual assault on humans on a daily basis, the abuse of animals may not directly seem as significant, but if it indirectly leads to these types of crimes, isn't it just as harmful to society as it is to animals?

I think it is, and if this sadistic activity is to be curbed, the punishments must be enforced or even increased to ensure they outweigh the lucrative financial aspects earned and the social clout obtained by individuals engaging in this activity.

Dog fighting should not be shown or alluded to in pop culture movies, rap music or professional sports gear commercials as Nike has done in the past. Whether individuals are training dogs to fight, actually fighting them, betting on the fights, spectating a fight or even in possession of dog fighting paraphernalia, they should all be charged with committing a felony.

If found guilty, these individuals should be punished accordingly, with the punishments mirroring those for child pornography laws, since much like pedophiles prey on innocent children, dog-fighters prey on innocent animals that also cannot help themselves when put into an abusive situation.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Clarion. He can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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