SOMEONE tortures and mutilates five cats, and dumps them near an
animal sanctuary; a farmworker beats and kicks pigs in his care; a
boy of eight puts his neighbour's cat in a microwave; a man drags a
bleeding dog down the street, and runs off when the animal
collapses and dies; a person owns a flat and a house that contain
no fewer than 113 dead kittens and 51 suffering cats; a man puts a
cat in a tumble dryer, videos it, and posts it on the web; a man
uses his dogs to hunt and kill badgers and foxes, also on video;
and two 12-year-old boys kick a piglet to death.
These are just a few of the thousands of incidents of animal
cruelty - this year.
For a long time, animal protectionists have been calling for
stricter penalties for those convicted of animal abuse. And the
usual measures, including fines and community orders, seem a
weak-kneed response to those who deliberately inflict cruelty. That
is why some are now calling for automatic prison sentences for
cruelty - and long sentences, at that.
But prison, it seems to me, is not the answer. It has been
suggested that about 40 per cent of ex-prisoners reoffend, and
prison can dehumanise people. We have to find a way in which the
seriousness of cruelty to animals can be registered, offenders
effectively treated, and animals saved from cruelty. This requires
a radical rethink.
I PROPOSE a two-stage approach, based on Christian principles of
repentance and compassion.
The first is compulsory empathy-training for offenders. This
would not be a soft option. Over a period of months, even years,
people who are cruel would have to attend classes that required
them to confront their own proclivities toward violence, and learn
to empathise with the suffering of animals.
Animal cruelty needs to be taken a great deal more seriously.
There is now abundant evidence that children who are cruel to
animals graduate to human victims. That is why, for example, animal
cruelty is one of the diagnostic criteria employed by the FBI.
Professionals often say that children with a proclivity to
cruelty need to be checked early. But who is going to do that?
Parents, teachers, pastors, the police? The truth is, we need all
of them. Cruelty is not a natural stage of growing up, it is a
pathological condition that warrants immediate corrective therapy.
For those who have never been corrected as children, violence can
become a lifetime habit.
There are people who do not know what a respectful relationship
with an animal really is. They have not bonded with a companion
animal as a child, and they have not been encouraged to display
Animal protectionists should embrace this opportunity to lead
empathy-training courses. They should help to fund them, run them,
and staff them with professionals.
Second, the names of those who cannot or will not undergo
empathy training, or who do not complete the course, or who
reoffend, should be placed on a national register. Those on the
register would be forbidden from keeping an animal, or from working
with animals. This register could be consulted by individuals and
employers, and it would become an offence to sell an animal to such
a person, or employ him or her in animal-related work.
WE HAVE to face the fact that some people will not want or
choose to be rehabilitated. Human beings are deeply flawed, and no
corrective system can have a 100-per-cent success rate. Law cannot
make people good, but it can, at best, prevent the worst. At the
very least, a register would prevent those with cruel inclinations
from having further opportunities to abuse.
The low priority given to animal cruelty in the criminal-justice
system is reflective of a much deeper blindness. There is a
well-established link between animal abuse and human violence. This
is supported by hundreds of psychological, medical, sociological,
and statistical studies. A world in which animal cruelty goes
unchecked is bound to be a less morally safe world for human
When I was at university, I can recall, a New Testament
lecturer, in his enthusiasm for his subject, used to exhort us to
"go home, kick the cat, and beadle up on NT Greek". He was not a
cruel or insensitive person: he just had not thought about the
words he was using. We are all similarly caught up in habits of
speech that unwittingly denigrate animals and contribute to a
climate of cruelty.
My proposal needs to be backed up, as a matter of urgency, by
humane education. It needs to figure prominently in our classrooms;
but, currently, it does not even merit a line in the national
All of us are deeply flawed human beings; none of us is entirely
free from violence. But we need to have compassion for victims, and
we should seek to prevent cruelty. My proposal gives people a
second chance, and some animals will be saved from suffering.
The Revd Professor Andrew Linzey is director of the Oxford
Centre for Animal Ethics (www.oxfordanimal-ethics.com) and editor
of The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence
(Sussex Academic Press, 2009).
This is an extract from a sermon to be preached by Professor
Linzey on 30 September, at 6.30 p.m., in St Albans