Stopping the mad dog killers
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1999:
ANIMAL PEOPLE, as part of our ongoing effort to help solve animal protection
problems by accurately defining them, has since 1992 been tabulating all the data we can get
about cruelty cases to develop species-specific, method-specific, and motive-specific composite
portraits of the typical offender.
Not surprisingly, the psychological pathologies inflicted on different species tend to
vary according to whatever the animals most often symbolize. Among our findings, reported
and updated from time to time in greater detail:
• Men who harm women may also harm dogs, but tend to hurt cats with a particular
passion. Serial killers of women are frequently also serial cat-killers.
• Men who serially kill other men may kill cats, but more often serially kill dogs.
• Overt violence is overwhelmingly a male proclivity, but passive/aggressive abuse,
exemplified by dog-and-cat hoarding, child-starving, and starving farm animals, may be
practiced by either gender, as a symptom of chronic depression. The victims tend to be any
beings who are at the mercy of the offender. Depressive behavior, including hoarding, tends
to come earlier in life for men, coinciding with financial reverses, and later for women, coinciding
with bereavement, but the full syndrome can occur in either gender at any age.
• Jealousy is often involved in all common forms of abuse, as the animal victims are
associated with absent or unresponsive human associates.
• Poisoning, sniping at, and/or non-fatally mutilating and releasing animals found
at large, however, seems most linked to a general resentment of the love and attention that
others lavish on pets or give to wildlife, whether endangered owls or the pigeons and squirrels
often fed by visitors to public parks. The poisoner, sniper, or non-fatal mutilator, whom we
call a “marker,” makes a cruel but usually impersonal statement, attempting to dominate a
place or situation without risking close involvement.
The deeds may seem sadistic, yet such a person may not be a sadist in the classic
sense, and may not wish to see the victim animals suffer, nor even know they have died.
Poisoners often prefer that death be neat and out of sight. Markers, including snipers who
shoot to wound, typically want to see the injured animals flee, not suffer and die in front of
them. If caught and questioned, markers tend to cite not killing their victims as evidence of
intent only to punish and deter. Poisoners, snipers, and markers seem to derive a sense of
power from what they do, but seeing too much of the outcome appears to diminish rather than
heighten their illusions. Perhaps this is because the dead or injured animal invariably seems to
be much less than the monster they prefer to imagine they have defeated.
Poisoners, snipers, and markers tend to be profoundly hostile and socially isolated
people, of either gender. They are the same kind of people who embed razor blades in apples
at Halloween, or who slip cyanide into analgesic capsules and put the bottles back on supermarket
shelves. Their statement is aggressive and vindictive, yet covert and anonymous.
Many escape detection by integrating themselves, at least superficially, into mainstream society.
We note that serial poisoning, sniping, and marking are among the crimes against animals––and
humans––which are least often solved.
Poisoners, snipers, and markers manifest exaggerated territorial resentment of the
purported transgressions of the species they fixate on, but it masquerades behind claimed concerns
about public health, the expense of helping animals, weighed against what isn’t done
for humans, or culture-based claims about the nature of the animal/human relationship. Some
even claim intent to protect animals, like the elderly Vermont couple who were recently convicted
of spray-painting cats who lurked near their bird-feeder.
There are many nonviolent ways to solve the problems that poisoning, sniping, and
marking purport to address. Yet no solution seems to occur to the poisoner/sniper/marker
which does not include doing the animals actual physical harm.
As dismaying as the fixation such people have on doing injury is that their mentality
is entrenched in public policy, at which level expressing it is not only socially acceptable but,
among mainstream conservationists, politically correct. In the U.S., for instance, obsessive
poisoning, sniping, and marking behavior may underlie the ongoing USDA Wildlife Services
war on coyotes; the hatred of feral cats manifested by many pro-bird organizations; and the
national purge of non-native species now being engineered by the Invasive Species Council,
appointed in February 1999 by President Bill Clinton.
The poisoning/sniping/marking mentality is also overtly expressed wherever either
sport hunting or traditional catch-and-kill animal control are practiced––or witch-hunts, or
genocide. Both historically and currently, the offending individuals or even a whole society
need only define potential human victims in animal terms to unleash the same mayhem typically
inflicted on “nuisance” creatures.
It seems not incidental that while cats have often been aggressively persecuted, the
words most often associated with a violent response have canine reference.
The novelist Sir Walter Scott noted this especially early. In Ivanhoe (1820), Scott
foreshadowed the viciousness of intolerant and avaricious “nobles” with scenes in which they
derided their victims as “French dogs,” “English dogs,” and “dogs of Jews.” The more often
a character maligned dogs, the more likely he was to be engaged soon in rape, murder, torture,
robbery, and expelling Jews from England so as to take their possessions.
Scott mentioned as well that despite the frequency with which dogs are kicked,
starved, and beaten, most are culpable for nothing worse than having trusted humans.
Scott had little if any direct involvement in the rise of the humane movement, which
first defined itself within his lifetime. Yet his hugely popular writings, whose heroes and
heroines always had loyal and beloved dogs, may have contributed much to the pro-dog attitudes
emerging in Victorian times and prevailing in Britain today.
Just 133,400 dogs entered British shelters in 1998, for example, as abandonees or
strays. Only 22,000 dogs were killed in shelters, for a national rate of 0.39 dogs killed per
thousand humans. In the U.S., only Bozeman, Montana does even half as well. As a nation,
the U.S. kills dogs at 23 times the British rate––and that’s after an 80% reduction from the
U.S. dog-killing rate of 35 years ago, before the advent of neutering.
The comparison doesn’t end there. Britain has just 20% of the U.S. human population,
and 74% of the per capita income, yet the three leading British dog-related charities, the
Dogs Home Battersea, National Canine Defence League, and the Royal SPCA, are each
among the 10 wealthiest humane organizations worldwide; pay top executive salaries of about
half the U.S. level for comparable positions, as the British attitude seems to be that money
given to help dogs should be spent on dogs; and are increasingly distinguished for sharing
resources to assist dog (and cat) neutering and rescue work abroad.
None of this seems known or appreciated by one Vivek L. Dev, who disgraced the
September 4, 1999 edition of The Times of India with an op-ed diatribe denouncing the efforts
of the Animal Welfare Board of India and member agencies to achieve no-kill animal control
throughout India by 2005. This goal was adopted as national policy in December 1997.
“In Mumbai,” Dev fumed, “if we do not put a stop to the antics of some busy bodies
and animal rights groups, we will soon have to pray for a Pied Piper to deliver us from
stray dogs. The Bombay Municipal Corporation, which used to effectively deal with the
problem [by electrocuting dogs en masse] has been restrained by the High Court from killing
stray dogs and directed to work in coordination with animal rights groups to sterilize stray
dogs,” Dev lamented. Dev called this “an egregious lapse of practical judgement.”
Ignorant that high-volume neutering has now reduced the U.S. animal shelter killing
toll by nearly 75% in 15 years, after more than a century of high-volume killing achieved no
reductions at all, Dev alleged that neutering is an unproven approach to controlling dog populations,
and that foreign activists are using India to test it before trying it at home.
Continued Dev, “The issue essentially is not about cruelty to stray dogs; rather it is
about responsibility. Animal rights groups do not seem to understand that it is one thing to
protest the indiscriminate killing of wild animals like black buck, but quite another to stop the
killing of stray dogs. In India,” Dev fulminated on, “public good can always be sacrificed for
claptrap ideologies imported from the west. These ideologies often have little or no relevance
in the Indian context. By far, the greatest cruelty to animals is on account of non-vegetarianism,
and the west leads the world in this regard. We in India are a vegetarian society. Even
those of us who consume meat are practically vegetarian by western standards. If animal
rights groups could only convert about 1% of the rest of the world to vegetarianism they would
do a much bigger service to animals than by stopping the BMC from doing its duty.”
Having made his one factually accurate point, Dev ranted on that animal rights
activists ignore fur and leather (though the anti-fur movement is among the most globally
prominent and successful branches of animal rights activism), and Dev repeated at least six
times the assertion that Bombay is overrun by dogs at peril to public safety, without citing a
single statistic or specific example.
Dev seems irate over many matters, but his anger centers on dogs, perhaps because
among the supposed causes, only dogs may be done violence with relative impunity.
Despite the British concern toward dogs and the improving treatment of dogs in the
U.S. and much of Europe, dogs remain the most abused of animals in much of the rest of the
world. Buried with evident loving care, dog bones have been found among the human
remains at some of the oldest known cemeteries, yet almost identical animals are killed and
eaten in Korea (see page one) by methods one can scarcely bear to contemplate.
Vaccination may cure the phobia
“I’m sad because the terrorists killed my mother and my dog,” Peruvian orphan
Nelson Vilcapoma recently told New York Times reporter Clifford Krauss, summarizing in
one sentence the losses which to him, at age 11, make the world a bleak and frightening
place. Murdering mothers makes nothing better for anyone––and neither does killing pets.
Other children, to be sure, are killed, maimed, and orphaned every day by dog
attacks, many as the result of rabies. Nearly 700,000 humans died of rabies, chiefly in Asia,
during the past 25 years. Historically the toll may have been higher. About 80% of all cases
traced to a specific incident result from dog bites. Indeed, dog-meat eating in both Asia and
Africa may have originated in the hope that a literal “hair of the dog” cure could confer immunity.
European tales of werewolves likewise seem to have begun in proximity to rabies.
As rabies is invariably fatal, highly contagious, and the victims die hideously, fear
of dogs in parts of the world which have rabies is easily understood. Anti-rabies vaccinations
are of relatively recent invention, and only within the past two decades became accessible
throughout the world. Fortunately the advent of Raboral baited vaccine pellets in the early
1990s encouraged the World Health Organization to begin a now five-year-old global effort to
eradicate rabies. Outbreaks are already fewer and more easily contained.
Ancient phobias may die harder, however, than the disease itself.
As ANIMAL PEOPLE often editorially points out, and Dev underscored, humane
organizations have a moral duty to discourage meat-eating. But no matter how successful one
is in that regard, the humane community also retains an ongoing duty to help neuter and vaccinate
dogs and cats, wherever the work remains undone, to eliminate whatever pretexts anyone
may have for mounting pogroms against these animals. Organizations for whom dog and
cat overpopulation is already history will find that contributing to sterilization and vaccination
work abroad is an especially effective form of outreach.
Once we remove the major public pretext for killing dogs and cats, we might make
more headway in raising their status in the places where they suffer the most from fear and
ignorance––and may be better able to flush out the irrational minority, including at policymaking
levels, who target dogs and cats for covertly