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The Roadmap to Stopping Animal Cruelty

Tuesday, July 1, 2014 - 4:45pm
The Roadmap to Stopping Animal Cruelty

By ASPCA President & CEO Matt Bershadker

Most of us find acts of animal abuse so shocking and horrific that the thought alone makes us wince. But most is not all, and judging by recent acts of deliberate, depraved cruelty in our own backyard, we’re disturbingly far from all.

In May, King, a one-year-old male cat, was lured over by a young Brooklyn man and then brutally kicked 20 feet into the air as he and his friends laughed. We know this because one of those friends recorded the moment in a video that was posted on Facebook on May 5, prompting a strong and justified public outcry. With help from the North Shore Animal League and other rescuers, King was soon located, and the New York Police Department brought him to the ASPCA Animal Hospital on May 6. He was immediately given medical and behavioral care and made a full recovery.

Another cat, Quattro, was much less fortunate. On May 7, in Paterson, N.J., Quattro was allegedly tortured by three children, all under 12. According to news reports, the kids threw bricks, stones and sticks at the cat. After older children rescued Quattro from the abuse, he was cared for at Chance at Life Cat Rescue, a local animal rescue group. Suffering from broken legs, a broken jaw, a fractured eye socket and head trauma, Quattro was euthanized on May 15 to end his suffering.

These are not isolated acts of cruelty. Just look at each of the previous three months.

  • In April, Roxie, a young Rottweiler, was brought to the ASPCA after being slashed, stabbed and dumped in a trash can. Roxie is receiving medical treatment at the ASPCA.
  • In March, Otis, a young pit bull mix, was brought to our animal hospital by the NYPD after he was abandoned in upper Manhattan. A veterinary examination determined that the dog had multiple blunt force trauma injuries and multiple fractures. Otis is continuing to undergo daily rehabilitation exercises.
  • And in February, a 13-week-old goldendoodle puppy named Miley was seized by the NYPD and brought to the ASPCA Animal Hospital. Although the dog’s caretaker claimed she fell down stairs, a veterinarian who examined the puppy observed a number of injuries more consistent with being kicked or thrown. Miley was fortunately able to make a full recovery in our care. She was adopted shortly thereafter.

Sometimes, acts of cruelty stir such attention and outrage that positive change results. I think of Justin, a cat who was lit on fire just over a year ago in Philadelphia. Though he lost his ears, Justin recovered and is now a symbol for the horrors of animal cruelty, but also for the perseverance of animals and humans to overcome it. Justin has over 135,000 fans on his Facebook page and frequently makes public appearances to bring attention to pet welfare issues.

I also think of Patrick, a pit bull who was found near death at the bottom of a Newark apartment building’s trash chute in 2011. Weighing less than 20 pounds when he was found, Patrick recovered and is the inspiration for New Jersey’s “Patrick’s Law,” signed last year by Gov. Chris Christie. The law increases penalties for animal cruelty offenses in the state.

Both Patrick and Justin were inducted into the 2014 New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association’s “Animal Hall of Fame,” and I was honored to meet them and their caretakers at the Animal Welfare Federation of New Jersey’s annual conference back in March.

But to truly end animal cruelty, we need to look beyond institutional remedies in our government and courts. The truth is, longer prison terms and stiffer penalties – while absolutely necessary as law enforcement tools – are less effective when it comes to stopping suffering as it happens or even earlier. 

To make necessary and meaningful change, we can look to the histories of other social causes.

Drunk driving laws have been on the books since the early 1900s, but without a reliable way to measure sobriety and – more importantly – a public outcry for such laws to be strongly enforced, there was no momentum to abide by or to enforce them. Just consider the phrase “one for the road.” But in the early 1980s, Candy Lightner and her organization, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, put intense public pressure on state and local governments to effect change, which shifted attitudes. As a result, arrests went up more than 220% from 1970-1986, and the number of drunk driving deaths in America has been cut in half since Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded in 1980.

Now consider domestic violence, which, for decades, was seen as a family matter, and at worst, a man’s prerogative. Things only started changing toward the end of the 20th century, when the women’s movement and domestic violence victim advocates exposed the pressing need for life-saving laws and dedicated law enforcement. By 2005 non-fatal domestic violence incidents were reduced by nearly 50%. There was also a 51% increase in the reporting of domestic violence. It all started with people – regular people, like me and you – putting these issues on the forefront of our national consciousness.

I believe these two examples and others illustrate a roadmap for those of us who care about animal welfare. At the end of that road, animal cruelty will not be the problem just for people who care about animals, but a problem for everyone who believes a civilized society has inherent and necessary standards of humanity. Basically, if we can evolve societal attitudes about drunk driving and domestic violence, why can’t we spark a continual evolution of thoughts and values on animal cruelty?

So how do we get there?

One step we must take is to strongly encourage the public to report animal cruelty, just like we encourage them to report suspicious packages or people. Having accessible, visible avenues to report animal abuse – strongly supported and promoted by the media, community, law enforcement, and within the family – not only saves lives but reinforces the message that animals deserve our concern and protection.

If the older neighborhood kids who intervened in the torture of Quattro knew enough to step in, then anyone can do the same, regardless of age or background. You don’t need a degree in veterinary science or animal welfare experience to spot and stop animal cruelty – for most of us, that sensitivity is built into our internal values.

Here in New York City, thanks to our in-depth partnership with the NYPD, anyone can dial 311 to report suspected animal abuse (or 911 to report crimes in progress). The NYPD is trained to respond and investigate. Here are more ways to report animal abuse where you live.

The next step is to share these stories. We know pets have a unique ability to move all kinds of people.  I believe King, Quattro, Roxie, Otis, Miley, Patrick, Justin, and the thousands of other victimized animals they represent across the country can still make a deep impact on a closed mind or a callous attitude. And one open mind leads to another, and another.

We may never live in a world where every animal is treated humanely, compassionately and respectfully, but that doesn’t mean we should ease up on our vigilance. If anything, we need to double down on our efforts – in legislation, in our courts, and in law enforcement– but even more so in our social circles, which are becoming wider and wider by the minute.

Our animals deserve it, and our humanity demands it.

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Suzie J L

Because of social media and the brave people who are whistleblowers, animal cruelty is being exposed. I cannot donate money, but I sign as many petitions as I can. I salute PETA regarding expose's of farm animals being tortured by sick, evil people. I also salute ASPCA and all other organizations. When will all this end?

Janet Diehl

I'm with you, Suzie. I have little money, lots of arthritis, and being retired - an abundant amount of time. Thus my monetary donations are very slim, but I have no quams in signing and commenting on lots of petitions, especially those related to the environment & animals: domestic, wild, & farm. Also I send most of my petition concerns to my Facebook friends; to some friends I Forward concerns.

What shocks me most is what elected representatives at all levels of government propose in bills they want to make into laws. Come on folks, let's speak loud and clear, shame them, vote them out of office. Just grumbling to yourself will change nothing; you must act on your beliefs. Do it now!

Bonnie Radafshar

I think that the ASPCA should partner with the NYC Board of education and start having animal workshops for school children. Starting to teach children at a young age about animal cruelty is important and it is something that they will carry with them into adult hood. Teaching them to report cruelty is also beneficial to everyone.

Trisha

Bonnie,
I couldnt agree more. Not only do young children need to be aware of animal cruelty but also the proper way to care for an animal. A family I work for have three rabbits and every time I would go out and check on them they never had water... I had to keep telling the children that water was so important and if they could not or would not care for their rabbits I would find them a better home. Since I have said this to them they have made changes and started making sure their bunnies have what they need. Many parents expect children to take on the responsibility of their pet if they want it but they are just children and the parents need to monitor and step in if needed. I think making animal care and teaching them right from wrong when it comes to animals can make a huge impact.

TeamLove

What can be done for domestic violence situations -- in terms of having shelters that allow the family pet? Women with pets can't just leave them with the abuser. But most shelters don't accept pets! What type of cultural changes need to happen here? Is there a campaign regarding pets in home-abuse and their safety, too? Thank you. The Stahlmans

Linda Carr

Everyone please contact Facebook and report the site called "Your Dog Sucks" there are pictures there of dogs being tortured and abused it is more than disgusting. I don't know what kind of people do these thinks but at last count they had over 258 "likes" Please do whatever you can to have this site and others like it taken down

Linda Goldbaum

What about the abuse that is going on in the NYC ACC SHELTERS? ASPCA, YOU KNOW ABOUT SOME OF THIS ABUSE AS WELL!!!! WHEN WILL THINGS CHANGE THERE???