Experts say there is a new trend in the U.S. — police, prosecutors and judges are working harder to put animal abusers behind bars.

They say that’s because repeated studies have shown beyond doubt that the people who hurt animals either have the potential to abuse humans or are already doing so.

District Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm refused last week to accept a deal arranged between prosecutors and a Lincoln County man accused of firing more than 100 BBs into his pet dog.

The agreement on the aggravated animal abuse charge was already stiff: time served (140 days) behind bars and a suspended four-year prison sentence, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Hjelm added another three and a half months behind bars, plus two years of probation.

Armstrong has also been banned for life from owning animals, forbidden from owning firearms and must pay restitution for the wounded dog’s care.

The case started in June when a veterinarian examined an abandoned dog. X-rays showed 109 BBs lodged in the dog’s body.

Waldoboro police traced the dog to Armstrong, who told them he shot at the young black Lab named Lady when he was “extremely intoxicated” and after the dog did not respond to his training commands.

The judge told Armstrong he found the case “extraordinarily heinous” and said he found it “absolute cruelty, nothing short of torture.”

It has long been understood that people who end up harming or killing human beings often begin with pets and other small animals, and often begin as children.

Serial killer Theodore Bundy, implicated in more than 30 murders, later recalled watching his grandfather torture animals. Jeffrey Dahmer, convicted of the murder and dismemberment of 17 men and boys, reportedly impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks as a child.

One of the traits of a psychopath is an inability to empathize with the pain of others, including animals. Now, sophisticated brain-imaging research has shown that watching pain and torture may light up a pleasure center rather than a pain center in their brains.

One researcher found that families in which domestic violence occurs are more likely to have pets, and to have a higher turnover of pets, than average families.

“We discovered that in homes where there was domestic violence or physical abuse of children, the incidence of animal cruelty was close to 90 percent,” a New Jersey investigator told the New York Times in 2010.

Domestic violence and animal abuse are both crimes of power and control. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has reported that 71 percent of women entering shelters say their abuser had harmed, or threatened to harm, a family pet.

Tellingly, 87 percent of the abuse occurred directly in front of women, and 75 percent of the time in front of children.

Between 25 percent and 40 percent of abused women are unwilling to escape an abusive relationship because they fear what would happen to pets or livestock.

Children who witness such abuse are likely to re-enact abuse with siblings or pets.

Investigators report many stories of how investigating the abuse of an animal led to the discovery of other abuse in a family.

They also have examples of how failing to make an arrest or to fully investigate animal abuse has allowed a perpetrator to go on and harm or even kill people.

Most of us understand the importance of reporting signs of child abuse or domestic violence.

But we should be equally vigilant and concerned about animal abuse. It’s all connected.

By the way, Lady survived and has been adopted.

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The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and the editorial board.


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