Dog burners must be put away forever

by Jim Longworth

Pie-in-the-sky idiots like to say that Michael Vick’s dog-fighting saga served a useful purpose. They argue that the infamous case helped to heighten public awareness of animal abuse, and at least one city’s data supports that argument. Ever since Vick’s so-called conviction five years ago, telephone calls to the Richmond Animal Care and Control Office have skyrocketed, now numbering over 15,000 per year, one third of which involve animal cruelty. “More people are asking us to investigate these crimes,” said Jody Jones, a spokesperson for the animal control office. Meanwhile, an increasing number of governing bodies have stiffened the penalties for anyone convicted of torturing an animal. Here in North Carolina, legislators recently passed Susie’s Law (so named for a dog that had been set afire) which will take effect on Dec. 1. That’s all well and good, and I’m also glad that offenders like Vick are being made to speak to youth groups about the error of their ways. Unfortunately, the new laws and the hollow messages aren’t getting through.

Earlier this month, Greensboro police arrested three teenagers and a 10-year-old for burning a dog. One of the boys, a 17-year-old, was charged with felony cruelty to animals, felony burning of personal property and felony conspiracy. The 10-year-old was released to a parent. Unfortunately, despite all the hoopla about legislative reform and lessons learned, animal cruelty by young people is still on the rise.

For example, in Monmouth, NJ, the Humane Society has processed over 1,200 cruelty cases in the past year. The organization’s Bruce Sanchez noted, “We’re seeing animal abuse coming from new areas — middle class, upper class. It’s no longer centered in impoverished areas.” The fact is that a few twisted young people have always done unspeakable things to dogs and cats, and the problem is getting worse.

April 8, 2009: In Dallas, Texas two dogs, one of whom was recently pregnant, were set on fire by two 17-year-old boys.

UnfortUnately, despite all the hoopla aboUt legislative reform and lessons learned, animal crUelty by yoUng people is still on the rise.

May 27, 2009: In Baltimore, Md. a dog was set ablaze by 17-yearold twin brothers. “This is one of the most cruel things I’ve ever seen,” said one veteran police officer.

September, 2009: In Montgomery Ala. a young man beat a dog with a shovel, soaked him in lighter fluid and set him on fire while it was chained to a post. The youth later confessed that he tortured the dog because his parents wouldn’t let him drive the family car.

July, 2010: In Springfield, Mass. a young person burned a dog to death and dumped the body in some nearby woods.

No one knows exactly why certain kids torture animals, but one thing we do know is that such behavior poses a threat to society both now and in the future. As far back as April 2005, the Journal of Child Psychology and Human Development reported conclusively that childhood cruelty to animals leads to “dangerous aggression against others at a later age.” And for the past two decades, the FBI has been warning criminal justice officials that serial killers start out by torturing pets.

Animal abusers often justify their actions by saying that they didn’t know any better. Michael Vick’s defenders, for example, claimed that dog fighting was ingrained in the football star’s culture growing up, so his behavior was normal. I’m sorry folks, but there are just some things that anyone at any age knows is wrong, and hanging a dog or setting him on fire are two of of those things. I don’t care where you live, how many parents you have or how much (or how little) money you have — a normal human being knows it’s wrong to pour gasoline on an animal and watch it burn to death. Young people who commit these crimes are evil, and they remain evil as adults. That’s why a little jail time or community service isn’t going to change or deter them. You just can’t rehabilitate evil.

Sadly, it may be time for prosecutors to try certain juveniles as adults, then ask for life in prison for those who confess to, and are convicted of, committing heinous crimes against animals. Only then might we curb animal abuse now, and prevent murderous violence against humans in the future.

Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Fridays at 6:30 a.m. on ABC 45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 10 p.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).