The tragic killings in Central Texas this past weekend have sparked yet another round of tireless debates about gun laws and mental health issues.
While these are debates worth having, they don’t fully address a national epidemic worsened by the distorted scales of criminal justice in America when it comes to animal cruelty. Turns out, abusing animals (often family pets) is among the most troubling indications of serious trouble to come later in life. And — we don’t take this issue nearly as seriously as we should.
The deranged Texas gunman wasn’t just a military reject, a mental patient, and wife beater. He was also a viciously cruel man who was charged with animal abuse. In 2014, the mass murderer was cited for animal cruelty after neighbors told police he viciously punched his dog outside his trailer home in El Paso. Court records show the case was dismissed after he paid a small fine.
A small fine.
So punching a defenseless animal in the face so brutally that witnesses living in a trailer park felt compelled to call the local police gets taken about as seriously as a parking citation.
Most animal abusers aren’t caught. Most aren’t charged with criminal offenses. The vast majority of animal abuse goes unreported. And most people who abuse animals don’t do it just one time. They are habitual offenders, mindlessly cruel sadists who do awful things to animals for some sick perverted satisfaction, even joy.
There’s a terribly disturbing pattern linking animal abuse in childhood (and sometimes later on, even as adults) to the monstrous acts they commit which brings them into the public consciousness. Consider the most high-profile killers in history, most of whom have tortured animals, and then gone on to commit viciously wicked crimes:
- Albert DeSalvo, a.k.a. “The Boston Stranger” murdered 13 women. As a child, he trapped dogs and cats in boxes and would then shoot arrows at them.
- David Berkowitz, a.k.a. “Son of Sam” murdered at least six people. Before he began his mass killing spree, he shot his neighbor’s dog.
- Brenda Spencer shot a gun into a crowd of children. Eleven were hit by bullets and two died. During her childhood, Spencer liked to light the tails of stray cats and dogs on fire. Not as many women commit these horrendous acts. Most childhood animal abusers tend to be men.
- Jeffrey Dahmer was a sexual sadist who murdered 17 young men. As a kid, his hobby was to kill neighbor’s pets. He even impaled a dog’s head on a stick, which he proudly displayed.
- Ted Bundy killed 40 people. He learned cruelty early in life, often watching as his father tortured small animals. As a teenager, Bundy later did the same acts to animals, and eventually people as an adult.
- Edmund Emil Kemper murdered eight women (including his mother) during the 1970s. As a child, he found cats around the neighborhood, killed them, and then displayed their heads on poles. He even killed his own cat and sliced it into pieces.
- Andrew Cunanan murdered five people, including fashion icon Gianni Versace. As a kid, he often went to beaches and tortured crabs by gouging out their eyes.
- Lee Boyd Malvo was the impressionable teenager in a duo of snipers who terrorized the Washington, DC area during the early 2000s. As a child, he used to torture small animals.
- Dennis Rader, who would become the infamous “BTK Killer,” discovered a grotesque thrill as a kid when started binding, torturing, and killing animals. He cruelly experimented on several types of animals, even going so far as to prolong their lives during torture sessions so they would experience more pain.
- Now, add the name Devin Kelly to this list, who murdered 26 people on Sunday.
It’s excruciating for me to point out this short list is by no means complete, nor is it comprehensive. Indeed, there are innumerable cases — thousands, hundreds of thousands — of kids who torture animals who later go on to commit even worse crimes as adults when empowered with greater means and opportunity to inflict more pain and destruction upon innocents.
So, what is to be done? And, how do we stop this?
I don’t have all the answers, but this is a question we should be asking. While gun debates and how we administer mental health treatment is a vital issue right now, so to must be animal rights and mindless cruelty.
A good start might be each of us taking an interest in what we observe. Neighborhood kids throwing rocks at ducks might not seem like such a big deal. Chasing defenseless animals seems innocent enough. Shooting a pellet gun at birds isn’t illegal. But engaging in these inexplicable childish acts not only exhibits a complete lack of empathy for other creatures. These common acts of adolescent violence often become an early foundation for horrors to come later. They are an affirmation that is okay to amuse oneself at the expense of animals. It’s fucking sick.
We need more teaching. We need more respect for animals and the environment. We need to instill goodness in the hearts and minds of children. We need more counseling. We need greater access to mental health professionals. We need more severe punishment for those who harm animals.
Not small fines.
It’s time to take animal cruelty much more seriously. Too often, it’s the secret and silent beast within which incubates for years and later mutates into mass murder.