[San Francisco Chronicle - opinion]
Pampered more than ever and largely defenseless, critters subject to
cruelty at hands of humans draw more sympathy than, well, people
The ancient Greeks may have revolutionized the very notion of what it
meant to be civilized, but even they had in their midst some young,
sadistic jerks. Their exploits led the poet Bion to scold, "Though
boys throw stones at frogs in sport, the frogs do not die in sport,
but in earnest."
Two millennia later, the world continues to be bedeviled by senseless
acts of animal cruelty. What's changed is how the rest of us react to
On Thursday, football star Michael Vick pleaded not guilty to criminal
charges after authorities raiding his home found 66 angry dogs, a
dog-fighting pit and bloodstained carpets. An indictment claims that
losing dogs were drowned, hanged and shot, or soaked and electrocuted.
Also last week, an 8-week-old rescued kitten named Adam underwent skin
grafting at a Sonoma County animal hospital after having been caged
and deliberately set on fire. Two 15-year-old girls stand charged with
felony animal cruelty.
In both cases, as in other notorious incidents of animal cruelty,
public outrage has been fierce -- so much so that it almost seems to
outpace our empathy for human affliction.
These days, almost nothing so rankles people as does animal abuse. The
cable channel Animal Planet has a hit with its reality series "Animal
Precinct,'' which chronicles New York City's ASPCA police unit as it
ferrets out repellant incidents of animal mistreatment. Purdue
University has created the first class in animal forensics, training
veterinary students in how to spot and document abuse of pets and
livestock. Earlier this month, 104 animal lovers nationwide donned
collars and staged a "chain off," tethering themselves to doghouses in
heat and rain to demonstrate against the practice of chaining up dogs.
And Luke Woodham, who stabbed his mother and went on a murderous
shooting rampage at his high school in Mississippi, made notebook
entries detailing how he helped break the bones of his pet dog Sparkle
-- laughing as it tried to escape from a flaming bag. "It was true
beauty" he wrote of his "first kill."
The Chicago Police Department analyzed statistics from July 2001 to
July 2004 on criminals charged in Chicago with animal abuses such as
dog-fighting and discovered that 13 percent had also been arrested for
sexual assault and 65 percent had been arrested for beating humans.
The findings echoed similar research done on Massachusetts prisoners
by Northeastern University, which concluded that people who abuse
animals tend to be devoid of empathy for humans as well.
Experts say the red flags of such a disorder can show up as early as
in a 2-year-old but more commonly shows up around the age of 7. While
many children briefly misuse their control over animals -- pulling the
legs off a granddaddy long legs or pinching a puppy -- their brains
typically evolve to register a sense of empathy and then remorse.
And if not? By late adolescence, they start aiming their aggression at people.
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