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Along With Assault And Arson, FBI Starts To Track Animal Abuse

These pit bull puppies in St. Louis were among the hundreds seized across seven states in 2009 in the largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history.
Jeff Roberson
These pit bull puppies in St. Louis were among the hundreds seized across seven states in 2009 in the largest dogfighting raid in U.S. history.

The FBI will now track animal abuse the way it tracks arson or assault.

This could help save more animals — and, perhaps, people: Research has shown that animal abuse is often a precursor to other acts of violence. And tracking acts of violence against animals may help law enforcement intervene before that develops into violence against people.

John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs' Association, has been instrumental in moving this idea forward.

"It's data that gives that police chief and the sheriff valuable information to help them set up the way they police their community," he tells NPR's Scott Simon.

Interview Highlights

On how police might use the data

Let's say you have a specific area where ... they're finding dogs that are mutilated or something in one specific area. That's a good indication we maybe have a dogfighting gang, or a dogfighting incident in that area. So now we can focus more law enforcement in that area to get it, whereas in the past, maybe, we didn't do that.

On the link between animal abuse and crimes against people

The research is very clear, and it's been there for a long time, as I said earlier. Law enforcement just hasn't got it yet. ...

If you look back at the Son of Sam and [Jeffrey] Dahmer and Ted Bundy in Florida, if you look at the serial killers, the majority of them that abused animals prior to turning on humans and even one admitted, "I did it to see how the animal would die before I killed a human."

It's amazing. The school shooters — Pearl, Miss., and Columbine — they all abused animals and killed animals prior to their shooting spree. The data's there, and it's not just guesswork, it's actual documented data.

On changing law enforcement attitudes

Law enforcement really hasn't grasped this problem yet. If you look back in the early '70s when domestic violence came up and how the laws changed and then law enforcement would go say, "Well, if the woman's getting beat, why is it she won't leave the house?" Well, we didn't understand. We didn't understand the dynamics of domestic violence. And as that whole thing changed, it got better.

And if you look at animal abuse right now, it's going to follow the same timeline. You can always betcha it's within years that it's going to be the same timeline. ...

In order for this problem to be solved, you're going to have to get the legislators to create the laws, you're going to have to get law enforcement to enforce the laws, you're going to have to get prosecutors to prosecute, and judges to convict.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.