Congress needs to end animal cruelty
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There is hope for a bipartisan breakthrough in Washington. It centers around our pets.

Americans love their animals. We spend $70 billion a year on pet supplies, from the mundane (food, collars and chew toys) to the extravagant (a dog house with plasma TVs). Social media is literally crawling with viral videos of cute puppies and cuddly cats doing things that make millions of people smile.

Sadly, not everyone treats animals with the kindness they deserve. In fact, torture and abuse remain more prevalent than many Americans would care to admit, and while it is difficult to pinpoint exact statistics for how many pets are abused each year, animal cruelty remains a major problem in this country.

That is why Congress must pass the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. The bill would make animal cruelty and torture a federal crime. Some people might be surprised to learn that such a law doesn’t already exist, but that is because a 2010 bill that outlawed videos of animals that were “intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated or impaled” neglected to outlaw the acts of cruelty themselves.

Law enforcement officials like the PACT Act because research has established that someone who abuses an animal is five times more likely to go on to commit a violent crime, and there is an established link between animal violence and domestic violence. It’s telling that many of the most infamous serial killers – John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Son of Sam – were known animal abusers. Identifying these people creates a valuable early warning system for the FBI, as well as state and local law enforcement; in fact, the FBI began recording animal abuse in its Uniform Criminal Code in 2016. Prosecuting animal abusers makes us all safer.

The bill has strong bipartisan support, and the House looks poised to pass it soon. The Senate approved an earlier version last year, and I expect them to do the same once the House sends them a bill for final approval. This is a necessary solution to a problem that has persisted for far too long.

Some 44 percent of American households have pets, and there are an estimated 78 million dogs and 85 million cats in the U.S. today. Pets are taking on a greater significance in our society and in many peoples’ lives, providing a safe harbor of loyal companionship when human interactions become tricky or exhausting. They are increasingly recognized in the military and medical fields for their value as service animals, doing lifesaving search-and-rescue work or helping disabled people to live independently, providing emotional and physical support to those in need.

Animal abuse and torture comes from ignorance, anger, and a sense of powerlessness, but primarily it stems from greed. We are in a vicious cycle in this country of animal overbreeding and euthanization. In addition to the overt acts of cruelty against animals, many commercial breeders raise dogs and cats in horrific conditions without proper food, water or medical attention. They breed the animals without regard for the genetic defects caused by in-and-overbreeding, and then they sell these animals through pet shops or online to unsuspecting consumers.

Imagine an excited family going to pick up their $2,000 purebred pup, only to realize the dog is sick – really sick – going blind, or already showing signs of hip dysplasia. These are all genetic defects preventable by proper breeding techniques. The dog will need extra care, the vet bills are high, and a family can easily become overwhelmed by the pup’s special needs, causing them to bring the dog to a shelter, where it is likely to be euthanized. We still kill 2 million dogs a year in the US, because they are homeless. They are often abused, starved, and neglected in their short time on earth. What greater animal abuse can there be than to deprive a dog or cat of its life?

This law will bring justice to those who torment animals, provide a useful link in building a psychological profile of probable violent criminals, and help establish a standard of basic animal welfare that our society can be proud of.

One other, not-insignificant point: there are few more life-affirming things to do than taking a helpless animal out of harm’s way through a donation to a shelter or by adopting a pet yourself. Rescuers find it redemptive, frequently saying that their animal saved them, rather than the other way around. Animals remind us of our humanity, and we owe them our protection.

The PACT Act seems to be that rare piece of legislation on which we can all agree: Animal abuse and torture should be a federal crime. Now, we just need Congress to pass this legislation and the president to sign it into law. The policy makes sense, and the politics are obvious for members of both parties. I mean, are there really any politicians out there who want to be for animal cruelty?

Lea Berman is with Creatures Great and Small, a privately-funded non-profit organization created to help pass federal anti-animal cruelty legislation. She recently wrote “Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life” with Jeremy Bernard, and served as White House Social Secretary during the George W. Bush administration.