Require that everyone convicted of animal cruelty under the Criminal Code of Canada be obligated to undergo mandatory risk assessment and treatment developed specifically to target animal abuse.

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GETTING ANIMAL ABUSERS TO JAIL IS A START. But we must do something constructive with them while they are there because they will get out eventually. The criminal justice system must understand clearly an animal abuser's risk to reoffend and provide treatment that focuses specifically on animal abuse. Only by doing so will we be able to predict and prevent further violence directed at animals and humans by animal abusers.

Rather than being a minor crime with no relation to other criminal behaviour, studies show that animal cruelty is, in fact, a “red flag indicator” of the potential for other criminality, including violence to humans, to be either co-occurring or occur in the future. There are many animal abusers who have also been convicted of other crimes, including violence toward humans. In one of these cases, Brian Whitlock of Vancouver, British Columbia was convicted on June 12, 2013 of animal cruelty for beating his dog Captain in the head and body with a baseball bat. Whitlock had also been convicted of assault and, despite the fact he was sentenced to 60 days in jail, psychological counselling and 3 years of probation, has subsequently been convicted of killing his mother. How could this happen? Please read on.

It is important to understand the risks animal abusers may pose to both animals and humans.
Animals are easy targets for abuse as they are vulnerable and without legal rights. Although the crime of animal cruelty may be viewed by some people as unimportant or trivial when compared with other crimes, studies show that people who harm animals may also be involved in other criminality, including crimes of violence toward humans, either simultaneously or in the future. Furthermore, according to the National Link Coalition animal abusers often kill and abuse pets to orchestrate fear, violence and retribution in homes marked by domestic violence. They add that animal cruelty rarely occurs in isolation—it’s usually “the tip of the iceberg” and frequently the first opportunity for social services or law enforcement agencies to intervene.

In a speech delivered at the Congressional Informational Briefing on Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence in 1998, Special Agent Brantley of the Federal Bureau of Investigation noted the link between animal abuse and violence toward humans (typically referred to simply as “the link”) and revealed the importance of taking animal cruelty into account when assessing a perpetrator’s behaviour when he stated the following: “Some in our society make too much out of qualitatively distinguishing between violence against humans and violence against animals. Ladies and gentlemen, violence against animals is violence and when it is present, it is considered by the people I work with to be synonymous with a history of violence.” As animal cruelty is not only a crime of violence unto itself but one that is linked with violence against humans, the focus should be placed more on the behaviour demonstrated by someone who inflicts violence than on the species or legal status of the target victim. As psychologist Dr. Lynn Loar states, “the behaviour that harms the animal is the same behaviour that harms the human.”

As a result of recognizing the link between animal cruelty and violence toward humans, animal protection organizations, social services, and law enforcement agencies in the United States have been working together to address the link since the 1990s. Canada has begun to do the same with the recent creation of the National Centre for the Prosecution of Animal Cruelty. This is great news! However, even when someone is convicted of animal cruelty, there is often inadequate recognition by the courts and other criminal justice workers of the potential risk animal abusers may pose to other animals and humans. If someone convicted of animal cruelty does happen to be sentenced to significant time in custody, available risk assessment tools and treatment options are not designed specifically to allow the assessor to expose and gather information about animal abuse and the perpetrator’s motives for it. These deficiencies need to be addressed.

The Colorado LINK Project found that “an animal cruelty offender’s potential risk to public safety may vary from little to none to extreme” and recommends that “animal abuse by adults and children be examined carefully through comprehensive and developmentally sensitive evaluation to help determine the context and seriousness of the abuse, causative factors and the perpetrator’s level of blameworthiness.”

As animal cruelty is a crime of violence that is linked to violence against humans, then animals, people, and communities will be safer if everyone convicted of animal cruelty under the Criminal Code of Canada is required to undergo mandatory risk assessment and treatment developed specifically to target animal abuse. Please sign and share the petition to ask the government to ensure such risk assessment and treatment is required.

~ Charlene Myers, founder, Animal Cruelty Legislation Advocates Canada
~ Carole DeGrood, former Parole Officer (retired), Correctional Service of Canada