Changing the social and legislative perspective towards animal abuse
What do serial killers such as Charles Manson, Ted Bundy, Charles Cullen (the “New Jersey Nurse”), Jeffrey Dahmer (the “Milwaukee Cannibal”), David Berkowitz, and Alberto DeSalvo (“the Boston Strangler”) have in common besides the number of their murders? All of them began their cruel and violent behavior with animals.
According to Mexico’s Institute of National Statistics and Geography, the country ranks third in the world in animal abuse, and first in Latin America. Other data from this study include: 18 million dogs in Mexico that live on the street, one out of seven suffers from abuse; 69.8% of Mexican households have some type of pet, and more than 600,000 pets die from abuse. Cut, burned, buried alive, poisoned, dragged, chained up without water or food, thrown into garbage dumps, or raped by their owners. These are some forms of animal cruelty in Mexico. Terrifying, but real.
Mexico is among the five most violent countries in the world, according to several reports. In 2021, Domestic violence in Mexico City increased by 46.25% compared to 2020, according to the NGO Citizen Observatory.
It would be wrong and irresponsible of me to suggest and attribute the domestic violence in Mexico to animal abuse, but there is a correlation. I believe that early detection, education, and prohibition of violent conduct towards animals can stop a pattern of violence that will continue with human beings.
In 2012, as a legislator of the State of San Luis Potosí in Mexico I had the honor of promoting one of the country’s first state legislation bills that criminalized animal abuse. Despite the invaluable support of several people involved in the issue, the initiative provoked criticisms that could be summarized in the following question: why do you spend time protecting dogs when there are so many other social problems such as insecurity and violence?
The premise was clear: those who are violent with animals will be violent with partners, children and others.
This premise helped me to focus on the relationship between animal cruelty and violence toward humans instead of explaining the legislative terms of the initiative. To show evidence of this strong relationship between animal cruelty and violence toward humans, I found several studies from psychiatrists, psychologists, academics, and the FBI that confirmed this link (such as “The abuse of animals and domestic violence: A national survey of shelters for women who are battered,” by Wood, S. David, Weber, V. Claudia, Ascione, Frank, 1997).
Having demonstrated that animal abuse is one of the clearest preludes to domestic violence, helped me to the unanimous approval of the bill and place animal protection on the public agenda.
Although in 1978 Mexico committed to compliance with the Universal Declaration of Animal Rights and in 1988 enacted the provisions on animal issues in its federal legislation, talking about animal protection ten years ago was a subject of mockery and underestimation for many people who assumed that the issue depended entirely on whether you like dogs or not.
As a congressman, one of the main issues I would work for would be to achieve an animal protection law. I knew this initiative, like many others, would bring me some criticism. I remember that when I announced this initiative together with others such as the elimination of the vehicle tax, the reduction of the Christmas bonus for members of Congress to be used for academic scholarships, and the creation of a special commission against municipal corruption, a veteran politician advised me, “The key in politics is to act like you work a lot but do nothing, so you don´t expose yourself and you will never be criticized.” In his mediocre mentality, I found one of the reasons why Mexico is one of the most corrupt and violent countries, with half of its population living in poverty.
I presented the initiative thinking that it would take about two months for its approval.
As with every initiative I presented in Congress, I explain the initiative to the members of the legislative commissions where it had been submitted, I organized forums with animal protection associations, activists, authorities, academics, and citizens in general. Likewise, I visited Chambers of Commerce, universities, and high schools.
Despite the strong support for the initiative, the initiative began to stall for several reasons. First, the natural process of the legislative committees to analyze the initiative took longer than I thought, plus I felt that some colleagues had this unconscious bias of considering the animal issue as something less important. Second, many radical activists wanted that the initiative to include all animals such as bulls, roosters, chickens, cows, etc—not just pets. The scope to include all animals is endless and impossible to really and legally accomplish and the problem with making “all-or-nothing types of law” is that in the end, nothing gets done. And when unrealistic laws are approved by harmful populism, the famous law becomes…dead letter, and nothing is achieved either. Third, several citizens complained, saying “I did not vote for you to go around taking care of puppies” or “get to work on serious issues.” However, one complaint helped me formulate my main argument to promote my initiative: “Why do you spend time on animal protection when there are more important problems such as violence?” Precisely, that is one of the main reasons I´m doing it, I replied and asked him: Do you think that a person capable of raping a dog, burning it alive or mutilating it for fun, won´t dare to do the same with a person?” I had not seen it that way, he answered.
Animal abuse is the prelude to domestic violence. This was my main argument to achieve a greater consensus with my fellow members of Congress and above all, to change the mentality and attitude towards animal abuse in society. I had to demonstrate this argument with solid arguments. To do so, I used different research from psychiatrists, academics, specialists in the subject, and even the FBI, which demonstrated the dangerous relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence.
For instance, one study (“Childhood Cruelty to Animals Among Offenders and Non-Offenders” by Stephen R. Kellert and Alan R. Felthous, 1985), found that childhood cruelty to animals occurred much more among aggressive offenders than among non-aggressive offenders or non-delinquents.
In another article published in Child Abuse Review in 2004, Fiona Becker and Lesley French recognized a direct link between child abuse, animal cruelty, and domestic violence, saying that animal abuse is part of the abuse within the family, and pointing to the fact that child abuse and cruelty towards animals has influenced the legislative bodies in some countries to pass laws on animal cruelty.
In 2016, for the first time, the FBI began to include animal cruelty crimes in the same category as murder, rape, and arson. According to the FBI, the triad of 1) being abused as a child, 2) reacting by torturing animals, and 3) becoming violent toward humans is so well established that animal cruelty is used to identify potential suspects of violent crimes and as an indicator of potential future offenders. Another FBI investigation corroborates that most serial killers tortured animals as children.
In May 2013, after eight months, the Animal Protection Law for Domestic Animals was unanimously approved, and San Luis Potosi became the third state in the country to criminalize the abuse of pets. I will always be grateful to many animal protection associations and professional activists who had been working on the subject for decades. Without their support, and that of thousands of citizens throughout the state it would not have been possible.
Although the law had been passed, the real work was about to begin. I spoke with the governor, all municipal presidents, the secretary of public security, the San Luis Potosí state attorney general, and the media owners for promotion, explanation of where and how to denounce, and application of the law. The authorities and society had to take this law seriously and see that it would be enforced. I filed complaints and went personally with the police to investigate several reports.
In recent years, Mexican society and authorities have become more conscious of the importance of the rights, care, and respect for animals. On the one hand, the Mexican Congress and most of the State Congresses have made progress in animal welfare laws. In 2014, Congress approved a reform in the General Wildlife Law. Currently, 28 states out of 32 in the country have legislation that criminalizes animal abuse. A few weeks ago, the Senate of the Republic held the “Animal Welfare Forum” to generate better legal instruments to advance the protection of animals. In addition, social networks have been a very helpful tool to raise awareness, and to witness, denounce and promote a culture of adoption, sterilization and, above all, respect. On the other hand, more and more Mexicans are aware that their pets are not objects but living beings that should be treated with humanity. Social networks have been a very helpful tool to denounce cases of animal abuse and also promote a culture of adoption, sterilization, and, above all, respect. Nevertheless, as the country ranked third in the world in animal cruelty, there is still a lot of work to be done.
Mexico’s alarming domestic and social violence has many roots but accepting that a significant part of it begins and is reinforced by cruelty to animals can help detect and stop this violence from continuing over time. The authorities at all levels of government, legislators, and society need to accept that animal cruelty has a direct relationship with human violence and therefore must be seen as another of the many important issues that we have to solve in Mexico.