I-Team: Animal abuse epidemic - WNEM TV 5

I-Team: Animal abuse epidemic

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

Michigan has an epidemic of animal abuse on its hands.

Horrifying headlines of beloved pets being abused, tortured and killed appear virtually every week.

Most people want to cuddle, protect and love their animals but there are monsters out there who want to bind, torture and kill them. It could be someone in your neighborhood, on your block or even in your home.

As the I-Team discovered, the monsters abusing animals are usually homegrown.

Animals are the most innocent of victims. Their only desires are food, water, companionship and love. However, the experience for millions of animals is pure agony.

The abuse, torture and killing of pets happens every 10 seconds in America. It's a widespread and growing problem that takes many forms.

"Abusing dogs for breeding, abusing dogs to fight, abusing dogs in the context of domestic violence, there are a whole bunch of different ways that you can abuse animals unfortunately," said Wendy Welch, with the Humane Society.

Animals, like Ann who was rescued with 64 other dogs, are abused and used for breeding other combatants in the nauseating activity of hog dog fighting.

"Hog dog fighting is a really cruel spectator sport where they teach dogs and pigs to fight to the death while people watch," Welch said. "It's a horrible thing."

Any Reiser, prosecuting attorney, said too often the abuse of animals crosses with the abuse of people.

Animal advocates, mental health and law enforcement professionals shared information at a conference on how animal abuse is usually connected to other antisocial behavior like criminality and domestic violence. That includes hurting or killing an abuse victim's pet to punish and retaliate, and forcing victims of domestic violence to watch or participate in the abuse of their pet.

Animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to have a record for drug or disorderly conduct offenses.

The abusers, even children as young as 6, often act out as victims or witnesses of domestic violence and sexual assault in their own homes.

"It's harder to do against an adult or maybe even a child your age, so the animal is available. You can act out in those situations," said Beatrice Friedlander, animal advocate.

Infamous serial killed Ted Bundy watched his father torture small animals when he was a child. Bundy repeated his father's behavior and eventually went on to kill 40 people.

Likewise, Jeffrey Dahmer killed his neighbors' pets as a child. He was later known as the Milwaukee cannibal. He raped, murdered and dismembered 17 men and boys.

Experts are divided over what the connection between serial killing and animal abuse means, but most killers killed or tortured animals as children.

"And more evidence that they have a generalized pattern of deviance. So not only are they abusing animals, they're also doing a lot of other really bad antisocial things," said Lisa Lunghofer, psychologist. "Including hurting people potentially."

Possible solutions for helping people and animals are treating them with equity.

House Bill 4478 signed by Gov. Rick Snyder last year allows Michigan victims of domestic violence to include their animals in personal protection orders.

In many states, cross reporting animal care and control personnel also look for and report suspected child abuse. Child Protective Services workers also try to spot and report animal abuse. Veterinarians treating abused animals must also report suspected child abuse as well. Cross reporting is not yet required in Michigan, but prosecutors think it should be.

"We see a lot of domestic violence cases come in and we also see a cross between animal abuse and domestic violence cases," Reiser said.

The epidemic forced the FBI to begin compiling animal abuse statistics for the first time last year.

A bill is currently under consideration in Michigan for mandatory reporting of animal abuse.

Though most animal abuse cases are only misdemeanors, one prosecutor said diversion programs to get the abuser counseling might be more effective than tougher penalties.

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