More time for animal abuse: STUDY FINDS MARKEDLY HEAVIER SENTENCES
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1996:
EAST BERNARD, Texas––On March 16, East Bernard High School baseball
players Britt Sensat, Danny L. Crane, and Ryan Walters, all 17, and a juvenile, 16, captured
Tiger the cat, unofficial mascot of Koym Field and a favorite of many younger players,
tied her into a feed bag, beat her with their bats, ran over the carcass with a pickup truck,
and tossed the remains in a creek bed.
Informed of the deed, East Bernard High baseball coach Jim Bruce ordered the four
young men to run 100 miles in 30 days––training that many ballplayers would be doing anyway.
(Most pitchers run considerably more.) Bruce allowed them to remain on the team,
which they had helped to win two consecutive state division championships.
Aware that violence toward animals often precedes violence to humans, school
superintentendent Nancy McNeal bucked vocal community opinion and risked her job by
removing all four players from the team, the most meaningful penalty she could impose, and
a significant setback to any ambitions any might have had to win a college baseball scholar
ship and/or play professionally.
Formal cruelty charges followed,
filed by law clerk Pam Michulka, who was
among several neighbors who fed Tiger. On
April 29, after the crime generated national
outrage, Wharton County Judge Lawrence
Naiser sentenced the four to pay fines and
court costs of $347 apiece, and do 40 hours
each of community service during the next
six months, during which time they will be
on probation. If after six months they have
fulfilled the requirements, their criminal
records will be expunged.
The sentencing brought another
explosion of outrage, denounced as meaningless
by many but attacked locally, in part
because historically crimes against cats
haven’t been procecuted or punished at all.
The Tiger case came as A N I M A L
PEOPLE was in the midst of a review of cruelty
sentencing, nationwide, to see what
changes might have occurred since 1992,
when a previous study by ANIMAL PEOP
L E editor Merritt Clifton and four volunteers
from the Animal Legal Defense Fund
found sharp differences in judicial treatment
of crimes against horses, dogs, and cats.
The initial intent of the 1992 study
was to discover the sentencing norms for all
types of cruelty in all cases that go to court.
Lack of centralized recordkeeping on cruelty cases, even at
the county level, doomed that approach. Instead, each study
ended up producing averages of sentences in cases prominent
enough to get newspaper coverage, at least locally, and/or a
mention in humane media: principally Animals’ Agenda,
1990-1992; CHAIN, the magazine of the Collective Humane
Action and Information Network, 1990-1996; and ANIMAL
Each study found that sentencing information is
published in only a fraction of the number of cases receiving
coverage, even when the alleged offenders are convicted.
Reasons for non-publication of sentences include conditions
of plea-bargains; consideration of the youth of some of the
offenders; consideration of the mental condition of some others,
principally animal collectors; and loss of public interest
following a conviction in a high-profile case. The public
catharsis comes with the conviction itself, not with the sentencing,
which may come weeks later.
Despite the low numbers of cases producing the
averages reported in both 1992 and the 1996 follow-up, there
is cause to believe that the averages are representative, at
least for high-profile cases. In particular, the sentencing patterns
seem to be fairly consistent, even within small samples.
Urban courts generally treat crimes against animals more seriously
then rural courts, but there are no obvious differences
among urban courts in different parts of the U.S.; any
extreme differences in sentencing seem to be explained by
variations in the circumstances of the crimes themselves.
To avoid distortion in presenting the averages,
ANIMAL PEOPLE has simply tossed out the data and filled
the blanks in the accompanying tables with a dash whenever
a particular type of penalty is not common for a specific
crime, or where there is extreme variation in a relative handful
of penalties. The averages presented cover only offenses
for which norms are readily evident.
Clearly, the norms of punishment in high-profile
cases have dramatically shifted. In almost every class of
crime, penalties are markedly more severe. Some decreases
in time spent on probation are offset by dramatic increases in
jail time actually served.
The increasingly stiff sentences for animal abuse
coincide with the late 1991 debut of an ongoing American
Humane Association effort to publicize the frequency with
which animal abuse precedes violence toward humans. The
AHA has had parallel divisions attacking animal abuse and
child abuse since 1878, but prior to the last months of 1991
they rarely combined efforts behind a single focus. The united
campaign linking animal abuse and child abuse hadn’t had
enough time to influence sentencing norms by May 1992,
when data-gathering for the first sentencing study was completed.
Over the past four years, however, AHA and
increasing numbers of other organizations have actively promoted
cross-training of social workers, police, and humane
officers, to recognize and respond to the association of one
type of abuse with another.
Separately, but with an overlapping influence, the
National Animal Control Association has emphasized investigative
and prosecutorial strategies in recent conferences and
training events. The bar associations of New York,
Michigan, and other states have meanwhile recognized animal-related
law as a specialty, which in turn has encouraged
attorneys to develop specific expertise––and perhaps has
influenced prosecutors to take crimes against animals more
Sins of commission
“I was talking to guys at work about this,” said
sugar plant machinist James Ryza of the Tiger case, “and
some of them said they did things to cats when they were
young that would make these kids look like angels.”
Since Ryza was young, and especially over the past
four years, crimes against cats have gained recognition not
only as frequent precursors of violence toward humans, but
in particular as a precursor of crimes against female victims.
On May 11, a 10-year-old male babysitter was held for probable
charges in Englewood, Colorado, home city of the
AHA, after Jazmine Haen, age 18 months, was beaten into
a fatal coma with a shoe and a bicycle chain. Emergency personnel
found a dead cat nearby. The confluence of symptoms
of a pathology beginning to be recognized as Cat Abuse and
Torture Syndrome couldn’t have been more dramatic.
In CATS, identified in psychological literature for
about 15 years, widely recognized by humane workers and
increasingly recognized by police as well, male rage and
frustration against a perceived lack of affection and attention
from women––in the Englewood case an absent mother and
apparent jealousy of the infant––is initially transferred to cats,
who for whatever reason are powerful subliminally recognized
symbols of the feminine. The abuser kills and tortures
cats––and often dogs, too––for some time, gaining confidence
in his ability to get away with it. He frequently gets a
sexual charge from the deeds that requires ever more violence
to achieve. Eventually many offenders cross the species barrier
to kill humans. Albert DiSalvo, the Boston Strangler,
who killed 13 women in 1962-1963, was perhaps the first
offender whose record of animal-killing, especially of cats,
drew the attention of criminologists. By now, CATS is
incorporated into the FBI profile of the typical serial killer,
and seems to be part of the background of perhaps the majority
of men who kill women. A current nonfiction bestseller,
The Stalking of Kristin, by George Lardner Jr., recounts a
classic CATS case that resulted in a murder/suicide.
A variant of CATS is evident in many female cat
abusers. While relatively few women violently abuse animals,
those who do tend to abuse cats more often and more
severely than dogs––and tend to have histories of bitter rivalry
with a mother, stepmother, or sister(s) for the attention of
a frequently absent or indifferent father.
The CATS pathology also appears in many dog
abuse cases––but courts have taken dog abuse seriously for
somewhat longer. In 1990-1992, dog-killers and torturers
served 80% more jail time than cat-killers and torturers, with
more than thrice as much time suspended. Now dog-killers
and torturers are serving twice as much jail time as cat-killers
and torturers, averaging 10 months each, partly due to the
hugely publicized multi-year sentences handed to Roy Elliot,
Jan Pyatt, and Jason Tapper, of Buckshire County,
Pennsylvania, in the 1995 Duke-the-Dalmation torture
killing. Seeing the book thrown at them encouraged prosecutors
all over the U.S. to ask that dog-killers and torturers get
more time, and encouraged judges to mete it out. Fines for
dog-killing and torture are down by 60% on average because
judges usually don’t fine offenders who are going to do
enough time that it will inhibit their ability to pay.
Despite the growing gulf between the time done by
dog-killers and torturers and the time done by cat-killers and
torturers, the latter are now doing four times the time they
used to do––or three times the time, if the longest and shortest
sentences are tossed out of the average, which then
shrinks from 138 days to a still surprisingly tough 90
days––and are apparently also being prosecuted twice as often
as four years ago.
As might be expected, a stiff sentence for violence
against animals is typically not just theoretically but directly
associated with violence toward humans. The stiffest individual
sentence for either cat or dog torture during the past
four years went to Clayton Butsch, 29, of Everett,
Washington, who according to CHAIN, spring 1995, “was
sentenced to five years in prison for burning a kitten in an
oven and intimidating the woman who witnessed it. A charge
of raping the woman was dismissed in a plea bargain.”
The stiffest sentence not directly associated with an
alleged crime against humans went to Jose Canales of
Baltimore, who got three years in 1994 for fatally raping a
German shepherd with a broom handle.
Variations on the theme
ANIMAL PEOPLE extracted three common subcategories
of dog and cat killing and/or torture from the
cumulative numbers to see if particular sentencing patterns
were apparent in association with them.
In seven cases of men doing injury to dogs in a violent
rage after the animals bit them, bit a child, or defecated
inside a home, the average jail sentence was 40% longer than
for other violence to dogs. Apparently judges aren’t sympathetic
to men who can’t keep their tempers.
In 14 of 15 cases of men killing dogs and cats to
intimidate women and/or children, however, the sentences
were inexplicably lighter than the average sentence for violent
abuse of a dog or cat. The Butsch case was the exception that
sharply raised the average in cat-related cases of this variety.
The comparatively light sentencing in cases of this nature is
particularly troubling because the animal abuse may be a
direct precursor of murder, as in the case of Kristin Lardner,
who was killed after her ex-boyfriend, Michael Cartier, had
first tortured and then on a later occasion killed his previous
girlfriend’s kitten. Further, at least 31 states have anti-stalking
laws that permit the prosecution of a crime against an animal
as a felonious attack on a human, if the intent of the
crime appears to be intimidating or harassing the human victim.
Stalking generally carries stiffer penalties, at least in
theory, than animal abuse.
Animal-dragging is of note for typically occurring
in chronological clusters, often inspired by the accidental
dog-dragging presented as a gag in the Chevy Chase comedy
Summer Vacation––as convicted draggers Dennis Steven
Artzer, 20, and Jeffrey Scott Wilkerson, 21, admitted in the
1995 Lucky case in Tuolomne County, California. Lucky, a
black-and-white cat, survived through the efforts of
Tuolomne County animal control officer Waynette L.
Townsend; his photo appeared on page 14 of our May edition.
Dragging sentences tend to be light, although there are
indications of a high risk of recidivism: two of the nine individuals
sentenced for dragging during this survey period were
multiple offenders, one of them previously convicted of a
similar offense. Restitution is somewhat higher than in other
violent abuse cases because more of the animals are rescued
while still alive, therefore receiving more veterinary care.
Running counter to the trend of stiffer sentencing
for violent animal abuse is the trend as regards cockfighting.
From all indications, cockfighting is on the rise, especially
among Hispanic communities. All 40 convictions included in
the current sentencing survey were of individuals with
Hispanic surnames. In the majority of cases, defense lawyers
convinced judges that their clients shouldn’t be hammered for
engaging in a pursuit traditional within their culture.
By contrast, all 13 dogfighters whose sentences
were surveyed were Afro-American. Perhaps because dogfighting
is not historically recognized as native to AfroAmerican
culture, they drew on average 68 times more days
in jail than the cockfighters. Since dogfighting is also commonly
practiced by certain elements of the Caucasian population,
the absence of reported sentences of Caucasians in connection
with publicized cases tends to be troubling: are
Caucasians being allowed to get away with it?
Sins of omission
Criminal sins of omission involving animals tend to
be treated differently depending on the identity of the abuser
and the abused, even though as ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed
out in July/August 1993, they tend to follow the same pathology:
the increasingly well-documented animal collector syndrome.
The overwhelming majority of high-profile neglect
cases surveyed both in 1990-1992 and in 1992-1996 involved
people of evident emotional impairment, usually alone or in
otherwise socially isolated pairs or trios of related parties,
whose inability to cope began after a death in the family.
Their initial motivation for having animals certainly varied:
some had animals in connection with kenneling, training,
breeding, or selling pets, some were farmers, and some were
initially animal rescuers. That motive, however, was long
lost by the time most of the criminal prosecutions began.
Purported breeders usually hadn’t sold a dog or cat in years;
farmers were bankrupt, in part because they hadn’t been willing
to sell the livestock they couldn’t feed––when they still
could have been sold––to satisfy debts. The incidence of
recidivism was high: not only had most animal collectors
been in trouble before for the same offenses, but also most of
the breeders and most of the farmers. Operators of boarding
kennels, training facilities, and abusive pet stores fit the
sterotype less than the others, but in most cases several “collector”
traits did apply.
Still, the law distinguishes one sinner of omission
from another. Under the law, in both 1990-1992 and 1992-
1996, people who failed to adequately feed, shelter, and
provide veterinary care for animals in connection with any
commercial enterprise other than a farm tended to be penalized
more than individuals who neglected animals in their
homes. The penalties imposed on pet trade entrepreneurs who
neglected their animals over the past four years have included
dramatically more jail time, higher fines, more restitution,
and longer probation. Perhaps in consequence, the number of
such cases fell by nearly half.
Yet heavier penalties, if not as heavy, also seem to
be having a deterrent effect on private animal collectors.
Although people who neglect lots of dogs and cats tended to
be fined more in 1990-1992 than people who neglect only
one animal, the penalties for animal collectors and negligent
individuals were otherwise just about the same. That’s no
longer the case. Collectors are now getting triple the jail time,
an average of two months, up from none, and twice the probation––and
are being obliged to make serious restitution to
animal control agencies and humane societies, sometimes
resulting in forfeiture of homes. As harsh as seizure of a collector’s
home is––and many of these often elderly and/or
essentially unemployable people have nowhere else to go––it
does slow down the rate of animal acquisition.
As with the incidence of neglect at commercial
establishments, animal collector cases have declined by half.
This may also be in part because animal control agencies and
humane societies have become quicker to move against single-animal
neglect. There were roughly 2.5 times more highprofile
single-animal neglect convictions in 1992-1996 than in
1990-1992, resulting in more jail time and higher fines for
the convicted offenders. Whether or not any of the people
convicted might have become collectors, the high-profile
prosecution of people who neglect single animals may send a
warning signal to people who are neglecting larger numbers.
That some collectors, at least, seem to be deterred
by stiffer sentences tends to belie the common stereotype that
they don’t see the misery around them. The statistics on convictions
and sentencing seem to suggest selective vision: they
see the misery and clean up the situation, apparently, if
forced to do so. Thus holding collectors rigorously to
account, regardless of their seeming mental impairment, may
be the most humane approach to the problem.
Contrary to the stereotype that farmers who starve
their herds tend to get away scot-free, the data indicates they
are currently penalized at approximately the same level as
collectors of dogs and cats. This seems to be a recent development,
however, as there were too few high-profile prosecutions
of such cases in 1990-1992 to permit compiling meaningful
People who sevely neglect or otherwise harm horses
still tend to be charged more in fines and restitution than people
who victimize dogs and cats, but in 1992 were markedly
less likely to do time for it, perhaps because they could afford
better lawyers. That’s no longer the case; they’re not only
doing time now, but also paying almost six times as much
restitution to the agencies that impound their horses. And
horse abuse cases too are down.
There seems to be little doubt that with regard to
animal cruelty, zero tolerance works. Cockfighting is out of
hand, it would appear, not for cultural reasons but because
judges are tolerating it to the point of passing out lax sentences.
If this trend is reversed and cockfighting sentences
return to the severity of 1990-1992, this crime too should
begin to decline.
May 1992 to May 1996
January 1990-May 1992
Jail time, suspended sentences, and probationary periods are
expressed in days; community service is expressed in hours.
Sins of commission
Cases Jail Susp. Fine Restit. Serv. Prbtn.
Cat torture, mutilation, burning
35 138 23 $ 327 $ 140 44
18 29 6 $ 310 $ 33 –
Dog torture, mutilation, burning
38 298 1 $ 171 $ 237 27
32 49 20 $ 416 $ 100 19
Dragging animal behind vehicle
9 128 4 $ 666 $ 451 56
Male killing dog for biting or defecation
7 497 6 $ 61 $ 30 none
Male killing animals in front of women/children
6 dog 103 – $ 208 $ 729 34
9 cat 329 50 $ 212 $ 39 27
Killing wild animal by sadistic abuse
9 none given $ 108 $ 173 119
40 6 4 $ 226 $ 26 12
9 27 122 $ 461 $ 431 16
Dogfighting, related cruelty
13 407 21 $ 347 $ 25 12
Sins of omission
Cases Jail Susp. Fine Restit. Serv. Prbtn.
Abusive kennel/trainer/breeder/pet store
9 132 16 $1,143 $2,358 15
17 – 24 $ 347 $ 54 –
27 63 20 $ 369 $1,204 74
56 – 7 $ 171 $ 134 –
Animal neglect (single-animal cases)
34 19 2 $ 343 $ 152 18