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A register for animal offenders

28 September 2012

Andrew Linzey argues for a more pro-active response to those who inflict pain on animals


Rescue: volunteers from Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary round up surviving horses in Newtownabbey in March this year.  A number of dead and malnourished horses and foals were found

Rescue: volunteers from Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary round up surviving horses in Newtownabbey in March this year.  A number of dead and m...

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 sensitivity.

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 beings.

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 curriculum.

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 Cathedral.



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