This is a Catch-22; in attempting to raise awareness on animal abuse issues, animal advocacy groups, the law officials and concerned citizens publicize the details of horrific animal abuse crimes but in our efforts to raise awareness are we actually helping to perpetrate more crimes?Take the Michael Vick case, a high profile, celebrity, animal cruelty, dog fighting case. It has been publicized to the point that people who never heard of Michael Vick now know who he is and what he’s done. People who never knew the horrors of dog fighting have gotten an education they never anticipated or expected. Now look in the news; story after story on dog fighting. I’m not talking about the large dog fighting rings that have been uncovered because public awareness has been raised, that’s a big positive! What I am talking about are the stories that are surfacing of kids on street corners and alleys and backyards  fighting dogs, 12 and 15 yr olds being arrested. Has this been happening all along or can some of this be attributed to these children emulating a ‘sport’s hero’ and all of the publicity surrounding the story?

What about the dog burnings? There have been two relatively recent, high profile, highly publicized cases involving dogs being doused with an accelerant and set on fire; the DeShawn Brown case in which Mercy, a 10 month old pit bull, was stabbed and set on fire and the Derick Phanord case in which another pit bull, dubbed Maximus, was doused and set on fire, both dogs eventually died due to their injuries. Now we are hearing this happening more and more. Juan Daniels, 20, was arrested in Alabama for ‘allegedly’ beating his family’s dog then setting him on fire after being denied the use of the family car. There’s been a rash of dog burnings in Atlanta, almost a dozen. Originally officials thought this might be attributed to gang activity but now they just don’t know. There have been several other cases as well where dogs were set on fire or had some caustic substance poured on them and no one was ever caught or arrested.

After hearing more and more stories like this I begin to question, in the attempt to raise awareness of animal abuse issues, are these highly publicized accounts actually perpetuating the violence. Are there sick and twisted individuals out there reading these stories and getting their kicks, and getting ideas?

Everyone’s heard of copycat crimes. Someone hears about something someone else has done and for one sick reason or another, they are intrigued or excited and figure they’ll do the same thing themselves. Is this happening with many of these horrific animal abuse crimes or would the people who are doing these things be doing them anyway?

And what about scenes in movies portraying animal abuse and other abuses; do these lead to emulations and copycat crimes?

To be quite honest, in all the research I’ve done, the results are disappointingly inconclusive, one way or another. There’s a great deal of talk and discussion and opinions, but no real evidence to prove or disprove. One of the problems is the lack of a central database on animal abuse, even the FBI does not separately categorize animal abuse crimes, and the lack of reporting of animal abuse. Often this can be attributed to the fact that so many people regard animals as ‘just a dog’ or ‘just a cat’ and give its life very little worth. And as much as animal advocates try to publicize to raise the awareness of the heinousness of animal abuse, there are others that trivialize it, often the very system that advocates are working to show that changes need to come, the legal and judicial system.

They trivialize by not charging abusers, by dismissing charges and by giving such lenient sentences that it sends a message out that ‘it’s no big deal.’ You see such cases and sentences publicized all the time and it doesn’t take a genius to understand the message this sends.

At this point, since there are no hard statistical analyses to back up any hard conclusions, just based on research of what is available I’m going to put forth some hypothesis of what I believe.

FACT — Available animal abuse statistics show a steady rise in animal abuse cases.

HYPOTHESIS — It is impossible to conclude from statistics whether animal abuse is on the rise or, due to increased awareness, reporting is on the rise. There is no doubt that animal advocacy has raised the awareness of these crimes, especially with the finally acknowledged link between animal abuse and other forms of violence.

FACT — There is a spike in ‘like crimes’ reported in the media and to law enforcement after a highly publicized animal abuse crime.

HYPOTHESIS — I believe this is due to dual reasons; the increased awareness in the particular crime makes people more sensitive to it and more apt to report it if they have knowledge of it, and I do believe there is some emulation of the crime. How much to attribute to either cause is debatable and I think depends on the crime itself as well as many other factors.

A person who may have once kicked or lashed out at the family dog in anger may now drag that same dog out, beat it and set it on fire because that image is locked in their subconscious.

In conclusion I believe that as a society we are more desensitized to crime, against people and animals because of the images we are faced with every day; in the news, in movies, on TV. I think there is more of a potential for copycat crimes because of publicity.

In regard to animal abuse, does the publicity perpetuate more animal abuse? I guess my final thoughts on this are that it may perpetuate ‘like crimes’ but the people doing these things are people who were most likely going to be doing ‘something’ anyway, whether now or later. Your normal, average person who does not have these tendencies is not going to all of the sudden decide they are going to get a thrill out of hurting, abusing or killing an animal just because they heard someone else doing it. It is going to be someone who is already morally and empathically deficit, someone who, one way or another, is already on that road.

Is it worth taking the chance? Due to the acknowledged link between animal abuse and interpersonal crimes, and the general leniency of animal abuse laws, I believe it is necessary to, within reasonable limits, do whatever we can to raise public awareness of the heinousness of the crime of animal abuse so that people demand stronger laws and sentences in these cases. Very often, animal abuse is the first step toward even more vicious crimes and at other times it is perpetrated in conjunction with other crimes; child abuse, spousal abuse, etc. If we can raise awareness to animal abuse and make our officials take notice and take action, we may be able to stave off future violence.

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