Federal Animal Abuse Law Effectiveness in Question

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By Managing Editor Teri L. Hansen

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act signed into law in November looks promising on the surface, however its effectiveness is being questioned. While PACT is intended to ban acts of cruelty on animals, such as burning, crushing, drowning or causing serious bodily harm, it has been labeled as weak in many parts of Kansas. The act only covers federal land or animals being transported from abroad or across state lines. It also doesn’t really cover neglect.

“I guess I don’t get terribly excited about laws passed at the Federal level in many areas as I struggle to see the local benefit,” said Mary Steffes of the McPherson County Humane Society. “I do feel that work remains to be done when it comes to penalties for “neglect” of an animal as PACT does not address this.  Neglect is what we see much more regularly than violent abuse, especially with cats.  Probably at least half of our intakes have not been fed and most have had minimal, if any, medical care or vaccinations.”

While perhaps not terribly effective on a local level, the law has been lauded for covering areas previously unattended and allowing federal prosecutors more options. If local prosecutors are unable to dedicate the necessary resources to a case that crosses jurisdictions, that case can now become federal.

“Although all 50 states have felony penalties for animal cruelty, prior to the PACT Act’s passage, there was no federal law that protected animals when abuse occurs in places where the federal government solely has jurisdiction,” the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty To Animals, said in a statement. “The PACT Act bridges this gap.”

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas, they have only had one animal abuse case in the last 10 years. That was in 2013 and involved dog fighting in rural areas of Kansas City.

“I think this new act is a step in the right direction and hope that states will follow suit with it,” Steffes said. “This new legislation is a milestone and certainly will bring awareness to the humane rights of all animals, domestic and otherwise.  If the act could be expanded in the future to define and include neglect that would be a major gain in the fight to stop animal, and ultimately, human abuse as well.”

Animal cruelty statistics are sorely lacking at all levels, so it will be hard to track just how effective the act is over time. The Federal Bureau of Investigation tracks the issue nationally, but it is listed as a subcategory of the National Incident-Based Reporting System. According to the Humane Society of the United States no state in the country maintains accurate animal abuse numbers. 

“We encounter abuse cases occasionally as well,” Steffes said. “Kansas ranks very high in numbers of puppy mills and I would assume there is much neglect that goes on in that area.

As of 2018, NIBRS showed no incidents in Kansas or McPherson for that matter. Those stats don’t include animal welfare checks, voluntary surrenders or unfounded investigations. According to local officials, 2019 was higher.

National Incident-Based Reporting System showed no animal cruelty incidents in McPherson in 2018.

“Our Officers and Animal Control Officers have jointly investigated five complaints of animal cruelty, neglect and possible animal abuse or neglect in 2019. Of the five complaints, three involved dogs and two involved cats,” McPherson Police Department Administrative Captain/Public Information Officer Mark Brinck said. “We submitted three reports (two-dog and one-cat) to the city prosecutor. Two resulted in complaints/charges filed and one is pending review. The two complaints not sent to the city prosecutor were unfounded. These statistics do not include animal welfare checks, which did not result in potential cruelty or neglect complaints.”

While the cause of animal cruelty is not easily definable, a correlation has been drawn to the aftermath. Animal abuse and cruelty has long been credited as a precursor to more violent crimes. Infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer practiced butchering small animals before moving on to humans. 

“We hear many times that education is key but I fail to understand how individuals cannot instinctively know how to properly care for an animal,” Steffes said. “I firmly believe that anyone who abuses or neglects an animal is very capable of doing the same to another human being.”

According to the Humane Society of the United States, 71% of domestic violence victims reported their abuser also targeted family pets.

In any case, cruelty towards man’s furry, scaled and feathered friends is on the radar of local law enforcement.

“The McPherson Police Department, Animal Shelter, and Animal Control take animal cruelty and neglect seriously,” Brinck said.

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