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From Bark to Bite: FBI Upgrades Animal Cruelty to Top-Tier Felony

1Call it puppy love! Last week, the FBI announced that it will reclassify animal cruelty as a Group A felony, on par with arson, assault, and homicide. This compares to its previous classification as an “other offense” along with a variety of “lesser crimes”. Furthermore, the FBI will now start tracking all forms of animal cruelty (including neglect, abuse, and torture) and publishing the findings in the Uniform Crime Report.

Such changes “will play a vital role in bettering the lives of all animals”. According to Madeline Bernstein, President of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Los Angeles, the new classification will bring animal cruelty to the forefront of criminal investigations. It will “help get better sentences, sway juries, and make for better plea bargains” by accused animal abusers. It is also likely to create positive spinoff effects by “giv[ing] animal cruelty laws in all 50 states more clout”.

Additionally, the Humane Society of the United States believes that the new tracking system will allow “law enforcement agencies and other organizations to better understand the volume and nature of these crimes”. This, in turn, will allow for a “better allocation” of resources for prevention and enforcement. For example, police and counselors will be able to work with children who show “early signs of trouble” to prevent further animal abuse.

But these pet-friendly benefits were not the only motives behind the policy changes. A recent study by the Chicago Police Department showed a “startling propensity” for animal abusers to also commit violent crimes against humans. In fact, separate studies revealed that 71-83% of women in domestic violence shelters had partners who abused or killed a pet. Moreover, approximately half of 36 interviewed mass murderers tortured animals in their adolescence. Thus, identifying and counselling animal abusers early may actually spare human victims.

As with any policy changes, however, implementation will take time.The new Group A felony classification will take effect in 2015. The FBI will also spend next year revising manuals, guidelines, and the National Incident Based Reporting System to facilitate animal cruelty tracking. It will start collecting data in January 2016 and releasing annual findings thereafter.

To learn more about animal cruelty, and how you can help, please contact the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.

Flickr photo credit: Katherine