A champagne colored Pontiac Grand Am pulls up to a desolate stretch of two-lane California highway. It slows. The driver door opens and a shoebox-size object flies out on to the shoulder and down to the riverbank below. A small dog inside – beaten, killed, mutilated and finally discarded – lies some 30 feet below the highway where the Pontiac has now fled.
It’s a tragic and heinous scene but unfortunately not an uncommon one; certainly not as uncommon as we all wish. And when it does occur one thing stands out. When the shock and awe of the helpless animal’s death fades and eyes clear from the involuntary welling a sight like that inevitably produces, one fact becomes clear; something is very wrong with the person who just did that.
Animal cruelty is something we don’t talk about much. Our society and even our legal and criminal justice systems have failed to pay it the attention it needs or to recognize the rippling effects it has that have ravaged many of our communities. It is time for us all to open our eyes. Animal abuse must be taken seriously because it is serious, more serious than many of us may know.
Ninety percent of mass shooting suspects have abused animals in their lives. Nearly half of all school shooters have animal abuse in their past. Seventy-one percent of domestic violence offenders also abused animals at some point.
Seventy percent of all our violent prison inmates have animal abuse in their history as well. There is a link here that cannot be denied, and it cannot go unaddressed any longer.
That’s why I’ve introduced the Animal Cruelty and Violence Intervention Act of 2018 – Senate Bill 1024 – which will finally bring change to the way we deal with animal abuse offenders.
For the man behind the wheel of our Pontiac, we know something is wrong. “Who does something like that?” one might ask. The answer is painfully clear; someone with a mental health issue. More and more we are seeing those struggling with mental illness committing acts of serious violence and it has made its way in to our societal conversations about how to fix the problems we face.
Early intervention is something that is often promoted. Get to these folks early. Teach them young how to manage their issues. Keep their mental illness from consuming their lives. And it is an effective approach. So much so that it is the basis for the Animal Cruelty and Violence Intervention Act I’ve introduced.
The act will put in place mandatory mental health evaluations for animal abuse offenders like the man in the Pontiac. In California, we recognize that animal abuse crimes are often linked to mental health issues and that they very often lead to escalating violent behavior toward not only other animals, but also ultimately humans. And yet we do nothing to address those mental health issues until much later when they manifest themselves as violence toward women or children or teachers or classmates.
We are missing an opportunity in our current system and this act will seize that opportunity and has the potential to save many, many lives down the road as the link is broken between animal abuse and later acts of violence against humans.
Through early intervention we can funnel animal abusers into much-needed mental health evaluation and treatment; we can educate them on the effects of animal abuse not only for the animal but also the abuser, the family and the community. We can intervene at a point where escalation is potentially imminent. And, we can ensure the man in the Pontiac is not throwing human bodies down that highway shoulder later in life as he tragically did with his helpless K-9.
The link between animal cruelty and future violent acts is well established, but it is not unbreakable. The Animal Cruelty and Violence Intervention Act of 2018 will finally bring a law to California strong enough to begin weakening that link.
As we lean into the last month of the legislative session, I am pleased to report Senate Bill 1024 has been passed by the Senate and has cleared the first policy committee in the Assembly. Working together we will break this horrendous pattern of escalating violence in our communities.
Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District, which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.