Abuse pets, abuse people
Sunday, July 21
By Marty Crisp
Sunday News Staff Writer
Humane League session links two
"I go to a house because of an animal cruelty complaint, and what do I find?" asked Humane League of Lancaster County police officer Keith Mohler."I find 25 cats, living in filth with a 13-year-old boy and his mother. The kid doesn't seem right.
"Later, I learn he's lived with his mother in a car most of his life, and never been to school. But we're still trying to convince people that animal cruelty is tied to child abuse and battered wife and elder abuse and lots of other crimes."
Mohler was, as several speakers noted, "preaching to the choir" at the Humane League of Lancaster County's "First Strike" seminar Saturday at the League's facility on Lincoln Highway East.
"Being cruel to an animal is like practice for bigger things," agreed Ann Gearhart of Baltimore's Snyder Foundation for Animals.
The evidence does pile up convincingly.
Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer started out killing cats. The boys who wielded the guns at Colorado's Columbine High School massacre had several animal cruelty complaints filed against them first, for shooting woodpeckers in the stand of trees behind their homes.
When it comes to criminal behavior, animal abuse is often the first step, according to 20 years of national Humane League research. And the message of "First Strike" is that authorities ignore it or take it lightly at a community's peril.
Twenty professionals and volunteers, from a Lancaster County dog warden to a veterinary technician from Pet Emergency Treatment Services, gathered to listen to educator Virgina Prevas of national Humane League headquarters in Washington D.C. talk about the league's five-year-old initiative aimed at making policemen, judges, district justices, and those who work with abused women and children more aware of the documented link between animal cruelty and its role in desensitizing criminals to the pain they later cause people.
Officer Mohler, who has only had the arrest powers of a regular police officer since legistlation was passed in 1998, showed gruesome slides of bleeding cats and dogs perched on towering mountains of feces.
"I went to one house where the littlest kid answered the door," Mohler recalled. "He was naked, and he peed right in front of me. On the floor. It wasn't much of a stretch to find a skeletal dog in the basement who'd never seen the light of day. The ones who are beating and neglecting their animals are the ones beating and neglecting their kids. It's all the same thing."
Mohler spoke of a case where a law enforcement officer in Lancaster County refused to prosecute a kid who "stomped a kitten to death. He said the kid was a good kid and that "boys will be boys,' " Mohler said with obvious disgust. "He really didn't believe it was a big deal. A lot of law enforcement people don't take it as seriously as they should, clinging to that "boys will be boys' mindset. But it's all related."
It was a day for horrific stories about children who endured abuse to try and protect their dogs and women who wouldn't leave abusive husbands because women's shelters wouldn't admit their cats. There was a brief discussion of a popular form of Internet pornography only recently outlawed, called "crush,' that involves women wearing stiletto heels (and little else), wading through tanks of rats and mice. It all sounded pretty fantastic. Pretty not-from-around-here.
So, does it happen in Lancaster County?
"Twenty years of research shows that animal abuse and cruelty is closely linked to antisocial behavior in every part of the world," said Prevas.
"Abuse is like a staircase," added Gearhart. "You get bopped, then you bop the next person (or animal) down."
Megan Clark, director of education for the Humane League of Lancaster County, confided that of 1,200 cases of animal abuse investigated by the local Humane League last year, only 17 cases actually went to court.
"We have it all here," Clark said grimly,"From the city stuff, like dogfights staged for gambling, to horses whipped to their knees on our roads and cows dying in our fields. Lancaster County has both the urban stuff and the rural stuff. And the problem is that penalties are extremely minimal and there's very little intervention to keep it from happening again."
"We get calls every single day," said the league's interim director, Jodie Rutt. "We need the people who work with abused and abusive people to recognize the seriousness of the connection. We need interagency cooperation."
"It's not only that hurting an animal can be someone's "first strike,' as in, their first experience with committing violence," said Prevas. "It's also a chance to intervene with that person when they're on their first strike, instead of waiting for three strikes, you're out."