The rite stuff

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2000:

VATICAN CITY, PRETORIA, BANGALORE, PARIS, SINGAPORE, ISTANBUL––Pope John Paul II on March 12 asked forgiveness from God for the sins of Roman Catholics through the ages, mentioning offenses against Jews, ethnic minorities, women, and children.

The Roman Catholic Church has persecuted animals too, in all the same ways, and in many of the same places and times. But the closest the Pope came to mentioning animals in his prayer was a brief allusion to “those who abuse the promise of biotechnology.”

The Pope did not say whether this included the researchers of Cattletech Ltd., a British firm which has injected hormones from the urine of menopausal Italian nuns into milk cows in order to increase the frequency with which they produce multiple transplantable embryos. The idea is to produce more super-producing cows, faster, to replace the four million cattle Britain has killed in the national effort to stop the spread of bovine spongiform encephalopathy (mad cow disease).

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Witch hunts & wildlife

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, November 1998:

Alleged sadists and Satanists were sought for purportedly stealing, killing and dismembering cats and dogs in at least nine states as Halloween 1998 approached. The supposed crimes drew sensational media coverage, lent emphasis to humane society warnings against letting pets run at large, and rewards of up to $10,000 were posted in some cases for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.

An accurate description of the suspects, however, in all but a handful of the animal deaths and disappearances, would include either four legs and a tail, or wings, and none would be either werewolves or griffons.

Similar panics have developed each summer since the editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE began tracking them about 10 years ago. They coincide with the emergence of young foxes and coyotes from their mothers’ dens and with the first hunting by newly fledged raptors. The panics gain momentum approaching Halloween, as public attention to witches, ghouls, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night rises toward a crescendo. The panics virtually stop each year after
Halloween, however, distinctly unlike cases involving actual human sadism, which surge just before and after Christmas.

Trained to investigate human-inflicted cruelty, police detectives and humane officers typically have little background in  predator behavior. Veterinarians tend to expect –wrongly–that injuries done by coyotes, the most frequent wild predator of pets, will resemble those done by domestic dogs. Forensic evidence is thus misread by sincere people, acting in good faith, who incite witch-hunts at possible expense to professional credibility.

Marks of sadists

Human sadists tend to disable their victims by blinding them and/or by tying, breaking, or removing limbs. They then subject the victims to prolonged torture, often using fire or hot objects. They tend to focus on the face, especially the eyes, genitalia, and the anus. They often kill in a ritualistic manner, in which case the use of props such as candles or crosses may be evident. Often the remains are crucified. Dismemberments and disembowelings are characteristically bloody; the blood itself may be used to draw graffiti or symbols. If witnesses hear the victim, they will typically hear more than just a single cry.

Body parts removed from victims may include the ears, tails, genitals of male animals, and feet or claws. Internal organs of small animals are rarely if ever removed. Larger animals may be field-butchered, in essentially the same manner that a hunter field-butchers a deer.

Knife wounds made by sadists are typically crude, especially when they hack into bone. Sadists tend to do repetitive, frenzied stabbing, rather than clean cutting. Sadists do occasionally skin animals, after the manner of trappers, but–for the safety of the sadists, who also tend to be cowards–they usually begin only after the animal is dead and incapable of clawing or biting. Trappers use several different skinning techniques. They have in common that the initial incision is made from either a paw or a bodily orifice, and continues as far as possible in an unbroken line, avoiding any cut  across a marketable portion of the pelt. Even when the pelt is not to be sold, they tend to make the cuts of habit.

The ANIMAL PEOPLE files on thousands of cruelty cases indicate none in which a human sadist has been convicted of a crime against animals that was distinctively different in modus operandi from either sadistic crimes commonly committed against people, or routine hunting, trapping, and butchering practices.


Predators, in contrast to human sadists, are astonishingly quick and efficient. Except in instances when predators take
disabled but still living prey back to a den or nest to teach young how to kill their own food, predation victims tend to make little sound, if any, rarely even having time to know what hit them. Predators try to avoid wasting time and energy inflicting uncessary injuries. Their teeth and claws usually cut more cleanly than any knife. Predators don’t leave much blood behind: that’s food. If interrupted in mid-attack, they run or take flight with the parts they most want to eat. If able to eat at their leisure, they consume the richest organs, such as the heart, and leave what they don’t want.

Coyotes and foxes typically attack small prey such as cats and rabbits from behind and to one side, with a scissors-like jaw snap to the backbone and midsection which frequently cuts the victim in half. If startled, they tend to flee with the larger back half and whatever internal organs come along, leaving the head and forepaws. These are among the cases most often misread by investigators, who mistake the discovery of the head as an indication of ritualistic crime.

Coyotes have an entirely different attack pattern against prey larger than themselves, such as sheep and deer. Against these animals, they go for the throat and belly. They then consume the viscera first.

Cats, both wild and domestic, tend to leave inedible organs in a neat pile. Cats also have the habit of depositing carcasses, or parts thereof, at the doorsteps of other cats or humans they are courting. When cats kill much smaller animals, such as mice, they consume the whole remains, but when they kill animals of almost their own size, such as rabbits, they may leave behind heads, ears, limbs, and even much of the fur.

Tomcats, especially interlopers in another tom’s territory, often kill kittens. Instead of eating them, however,
kitten-killing toms sometimes play with the carcasses as they would with a mouse, then abandon the remains in an obvious place, possibly as a sign to both the mother and the dominant tom.

Coyotes, foxes, and both wild and domestic felines often dispatch prey who survive a first strike with a quick skull-crunching bite to the head. ANIMAL PEOPLE has resolved several panics over alleged sadists supposedly drilling mysterious parallel holes in the skulls of pets by suggesting that the investigators borrow some skulls of wild predators from a museum, to see how the mystery holes align with incisors.

Any common predator, but especially coyotes and raptors, may be involved in alleged “skinned alive” cases. The usual victims are dogs who–perhaps because parts of their bodies were hidden in tall grass–are mistaken for smaller prey. The predator holds on with teeth and/or claws while the wounded victim runs. The result is a set of sharp, typically straight cuts which investigators often describe as “filets.” The editor of ANIMAL PEOPLE once saw a cat
pounce and nearly skin a rabbit in such a case, and unable to intervene in time to prevent the incident, euthanized the victim. The attack occurred and ended within probably less than 30 seconds.

Raptors tend to be involved in cases where viscera are draped over cars, porches, trees, signs, and mailboxes: they take flight with their prey, or with a roadkill they find, and parts fall out. They return to retrieve what they lose only if it seems safe to do so.

Birds, especially crows, account for many cases in which eyes, lips, anuses, and female genitals are removed from fallen livestock. Sometimes the animals have been killed and partially butchered by rustlers. Others are victims of coyotes or eagles. The combined effects of predation and scavenging produce “mutilations” which may be attributed to Satanists or visitors from outer space, but except where rustlers are involved, there is rarely anything more sinister going on than natural predators making a living in their normal way.

The ultimate sacrifice

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1998:

Christians, and Jews marked some of their most sacred holidays
by killing animals. Hindus mobilized to save animals
from slaughter. Snowbound Tibetan Buddhists starved
rather than eat animals who were already dead or dying.
The Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, commemorating
Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, fell on
April 8 this year––halfway between Palm Sunday and Easter,
two days before Passover, and one day before the Jain festival
of Mahavir Jayanti, the annual celebration of the birth of
the teacher Mahavir, a contemporary of the Buddha.
The several moveable feasts and fixed occasions
coincided unusually closely, bringing conflicting cultural
views of animals into dramatic contrast.

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From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:

MONTGOMERY, Texas––Not the
nail of Confucian proverb who sticks up, so is
hammered down, Yong Gwinn wasn’t thinking
about religious or cultural context when
she called minister Jean LeFevre recently
about an injured duck. She was just thinking
about the duck. A cake decorator at the
Woodlands Executive Conference Center and
Resort in Montgomery, Texas, Gwinn knew
LeFebvre and her husband Lawrence rehabilitate
birds at the nearby St. John’s Center, so
she picked up the telephone and became
As the duck later waddled free,
greeted by his surprised and delighted mate,
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules
Committee moved to de-escalate a year-long
flap over the sale of live animals as food by
dropping two of the four members of the
Commission for Animal Control and Welfare
who unsuccessfully pushed to ban such sales.
Although the ban cleared the Commission last
November, the Supervisors never voted on it.

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Religion & animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 1996:

Santerian priest Rigoberto Zamora, 59, of
Miami––whose credentials are disputed by some other prominent
Santerians––on July 30 accepted a plea bargain in settlement
of four counts of cruelty filed against him for animal sacrifices
performed to celebrate the 1993 Supreme Court ruling
that although the conditions of such sacrifice may be regulated,
forbidding animal sacrifice itself violates the constitutional
guarantee of freedom of religion. “During the two-hour ceremony
before TV cameras,” Raju Cebium of Associated Press
reported, “Zamora killed five roosters, three goats, two hens,
two pigeons, two guinea hens, and a lamb. Zamora switched
knives midway through the slaughter of one goat, ripped the
head off a pigeon, and slammed a guinea hen against the floor.”
Pleading no contest to one cruelty count, and pledging to
appeal, Zamora was sentenced by Dade County judge Victoria
Sigler to do 400 hours of community service at a Catholic home
for the aged. Objected Zamora, “To send me to a center run by
the Catholic Church,” which regards Santeria as heresy, “is to
violate my freedom of religion, and to force me to do hard
labor is an assault on my health.” Zamora said he is a diabetic,
and has heart disease.

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The faithful do sheep

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

Traditional celebrations of the Islamic version of the
Feast of Sacrifice were held in more U.S. and European communities
than ever before this year––and apparently provoked
more protest, too.
More as a matter of custom than of religious teaching,
the feast is marked by male heads of households slashing
the throats of sheep, reprising Abraham’s slaughter of a ram
instead of his son Isaac, who is said to have been sire of both
the Hebrew and Arab people. Extra meat is supposed to be
given to the poor, but so many sheep are killed at pilgrimage
sites that most of the meat reportedly goes to waste.
In France, Islamic leaders called Brigitte Bardot
“racist” for her annual criticism of the practice. Responded
Bardot, “If tomorrow Muslims stop slitting sheeps’ throats, I
will find them the most wonderful people in the world.”

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Religion & animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

The first deed of the shortlived Hindu fundamentalist
government of India, inaugurated May 24 only to
resign five days later, was to introduce a bill to ban cow
slaughter. Killing cows is against the Hindu religion, practiced
by 750 million Indians, but 110 million Moslem citizens
eat beef. Paradoxically, though Moslems are only 14%
of the total Indian population of 930 million, 10% of all the
Moslems in the world live in India; only Pakistan has more.
The Shaolin Temple, in central Henan province,
C h i n a, on June 6 won a lawsuit against the Luohe Canned
Food Factory, which had used actors depicting the Buddhist
monks of Shaolin in a TV plug for ham. Devout vegetarians,
the Shaolin monks devised and still teach the martial art of
kung-fu to avoid using lethal weapons in self-defense.

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Hopi eagle sacrifice offends Navajo

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July 1996:

WINDOW ROCK, Arizona––Members of the
Hopi Tribe must report their eaglet and hawk gathering activities
every five days to federal judge Earl Carroll and the
Navajo Nation until June 30, Carroll ruled on June 13, reaffirming
his May 8 preliminary verdict––and may take no
more than 12 golden eaglets and two red-tailed hawks from
Navajo land.
Carroll also refused a Hopi request to drop individual
criminal complaints against each of 11 Hopis who were
cited on May 2 for collecting two eaglets at Twin Horn Butte
without a permit from the Navajo Fish and Wildlife bureau.
The Hopi had asked Carroll for unlimited eaglet and
hawk gathering privileges. At issue were the customs and
ceremonies surrounding traditional Hopi eaglet and hawk sacrifice,
abhored by many Navajo, which may have begun
before recorded history in connection with Hopi resistance to
Navajo predation. The Hopi, descended from the cliffdwelling
Anasazi, are the northernmost people of the Aztec
linguistic family. The Navajo, related to the Shoshone, were
nomads before European settlement, who frequently raided
Hopi villages. The Navajo were and are by far the larger and
politically more powerful tribe.

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From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 1995:

Self-styled Santerian priest Rigoberto
Zamora, 58, was charged July 18 with four counts
of felony cruelty for killing 11 birds, three goats, and
a lamb in his Miami Beach apartment on June 26,
1993. Zamora, whose priestly credentials are chal-
lenged by other Santerians, staged the slaughter to
celebrate a U.S. Supreme Court ruling two weeks ear-
lier that bans on animal sacrifice per se violate the
First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The
court left intact anti-cruelty statutes, which may
affect where and how sacrifices are made, without
prohibiting them outright.
Afflicted with an inflamed stomach,
Shin, a 10-year-old Himalayan snow leopard who
lives at the San Francisco Zoo, hadn’t eaten in two
weeks as of June 10, when she was visited by 11
Tibetan monks from Gyuto Tantric University in
Tenzin Gang, India. The monks performed a five-
minute puja for her––a healing chant. Reported Jorge
Aquino of Religion News Service, who photographed
the event, “As the monks began their blessing, Shin
came down from her 15-foot perch and sat down to
face the monks. She watched and listened, apparent-
ly transfixed.” Shortly after the chant ceased, she
resumed eating her regular rations.

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