Abuse of animals affects us all

A recent animal abuse story from southwestern Ontario is noteworthy.

A recent animal abuse story from southwestern Ontario is noteworthy, not only because of the severity of the abuse but also because of the sentencing.

Earlier this month, in a Windsor, Ont. courtroom, Michael Earl Hill, 32, entered a guilty plea to a charge of causing unnecessary suffering to an animal.

In December, a dog had its muzzle taped shut and its legs bound as it was left to die in a field.

The dog was later found by a passer-by and is now recovering at the Windsor/Essex Humane Society. Staff at the facility renamed the dog Justice.

The dog’s owners had asked Hill to surrender it to the humane society, as their newborn daughter was allergic to the seven-year-old Patterdale terrier.

Hill was sentenced to two years in a federal penitentiary. When he is released, he will be on probation for three years and will be banned from having a pet for 25 years. Since his arrest, Hill has been in solitary confinement, segregated from the rest of the prison population for his own protection.

I don’t understand why Hill chose to treat the dog in this way. Whatever his motivations, his actions that day raise an uncomfortable question.

If one is willing to cause suffering to a domestic companion animal, what other forms of violence may follow?

“People who become serial killers begin with small animals,” Ontario court justice Micheline Rawlins said during Hill’s sentencing.

The link between the abuse of animals and human violence has been documented.

Notable examples include American serial killer and sex offender Jeffrey Dahmer, who dismembered animals when he was a boy and Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Strangler, who tortured animals when he was a child.

A 2012 study of domestic violence victims in rural Alberta shows a strong connection between cruelty to animals and cruelty to people.

According to that report, available online through the Alberta SPCA, 36 per cent of abused women with animals reported that their abuser had threatened or harmed their animals, with 85 per cent of the threats carried out.

A statement on the organization’s website reads, “Deliberate cruelty to animals is a form of violence. Besides being harmful to a living creature capable of suffering and feeling pain, intentional animal cruelty can be one of the earliest and most dramatic predictors that an individual is developing a pattern of seeking power and control by inflicting suffering on others. It can also be an indicator of other kinds of violence being perpetrated on family members or others.”

The torture of any living creature is cause for concern and the stories of animal abuse happen far too often.

At least once a week, I hear of a story of a companion animal like Justice, usually a dog or a cat, which had been tortured or brutally killed. Those who are involved with animal shelters will see far more of these stories.

If an animal survives torture, it may have lifelong phobias or problems interacting with people.

The animal pays the price for the cruelty it suffers at human hands.

While such stories are heartbreaking, the connection between animal cruelty and human violence is something I find chilling. This link must be taken seriously.

How our society chooses to deal with incidents of animal cruelty speaks volumes about how we respond to violence against other people.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.