It’s time for Congress to pass an anti-cruelty statute

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Over the course of 30 years in animal protection, I have encountered my share of terrible cruelties, but acts of intentional torture — crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling animals — are the most harrowing, the ones that trouble the most and the ones that endure the longest in my memory. Not only are these acts vicious in the extreme, targeting animals unable to defend themselves, they also present a social threat that deserves more scrutiny and action. This threat of terrible violence spills over from non-human victims to the human population at large. Cruelty to animals is a sentinel crime that we must take seriously, not simply for the sake of animals but also for our own.

This is why the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, re-introduced this week by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) deserves immediate passage in the Congress. This judicious, commonsense legislation would complement state laws by prohibiting extreme acts of animal cruelty on federal property and in interstate commerce.

{mosads}Anyone who doubts the need for such a measure need only consider the disturbing trade in obscene video depictions of animals subjected to cruelty for the titillation of warped minds. In 2010, the Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which prohibits the creation, sale and distribution of such material. However, federal law does not ban the underlying conduct. PACT would do so, while reinforcing the federal government’s alignment with the valuable felony provisions against animal cruelty established in all 50 states.

The U.S. Senate has twice unanimously passed the PACT Act, and it earned 284 bipartisan House co-sponsors in the 115th Congress — a prime example of shared purpose and common ground in our nation’s political life. Despite this widespread support and more than 200 endorsements from law enforcement officials notwithstanding, former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), repeatedly blocked the bill.

However, Goodlatte is gone now, clearing the way for reasoned consideration of PACT and the good it would do. Extensive research has established a direct link between acts of animal cruelty and violence toward humans. A study published in 1995 found that 46 percent of serial murderers engaged in animal cruelty as adolescents — a correlation horribly exemplified in the personal histories of notorious killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Gary Ridgway. Another study published in 2002 found that 96 percent of juveniles who had engaged in sex with animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans. In these and other instances, PACT would reinforce our ability to identify and stop dangerous behavior that could easily escalate from non-human victims to human ones. 

In the current political atmosphere, we are fortunate if there is anything we can easily agree upon, and still more fortunate that animal cruelty and its connection to human violence are so well understood by members of both parties. Incoming Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) should harness this consensus by quickly bringing the PACT Act up for consideration. We urge expeditious action in the U.S. Senate, too. It’s a clear and justified opportunity to protect animals — and in turn, our communities — from extreme violence that threatens us all.

Sara Amundson is President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Tags Bob Goodlatte Doug Collins Ted Deutch Vern Buchanan

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