On criminalizing the killing of pets

In New York State, legislators are working on a promising bill which seeks to address a subject which receives far too little attention around the nation. It deals with criminals who engage in acts of violence and even murder, not against human beings, but pets, service animals and livestock. Given all the other issues of crime and mayhem around the country this may sound like a case of playing small ball but for the people who suffer these types of losses it is most certainly not. A recent piece in the Associated Press highlights the case of one woman who was the victim of a robbery but suffered the loss of something far more valuable than any television, laptop or personal trinkets.

When Denise Krohn came home to find her goldendoodle Kirby bleeding on the kitchen floor, she at first thought it was a terrible accident. But she soon realized that her home had been ransacked, and that her other dog, Quigley, was lying dead on his favorite blanket in the living room.

Burglars who tore through her hilltop farmhouse north of Albany made off with several televisions, a laptop, some cheap jewelry and change. And, police say, they apparently shot her friendly, goofy dogs on their way out the door.

“It was just a mean, nasty thing,” Krohn said.

A year later, the crime remains unsolved. But what bothers Krohn is that police told her that if someone is caught, they would likely get 25 years in jail for burglary, but no additional punishment for killing the dogs.

This case truly highlights a blind spot in state legal codes across much of the country. Anyone who owns pets or other animals is well aware of the impact their loss, even through natural causes, can have. When we are robbed of our four-legged friends through acts of criminal violence the pain is very real and even more serious. Unfortunately, too many states provide only a slap on the wrist (or sometimes nothing at all) when violent criminals kill the beloved animals of their victims.

I’m not approaching this question from some notion of “animal rights.” While my wife and I have spent much of our lives volunteering for and supporting various animal welfare causes I still do not ascribe the concept of “rights” to animals in the same fashion that we do for human beings. But when dealing with crime, there is a very human element to these tragic situations. Anyone who would stoop to shooting or maiming a defenseless animal is a twisted and evil creature to begin with, but the nature of their crime against the owner of the pet is compounded by such heinous actions. The legal codes in most states already recognize the damages suffered by victims when they are deprived of the companionship of a loved one. Clearly the same situation applies with our pets.

So how serious should these penalties be? New York is looking at something in the range of a two-year prison sentence, making it quite serious indeed. While debate on the matter still rages, I remain convinced that such penalties act as an effective deterrent in the cases of at least some criminals. Knowing that a simple breaking and entering charge combined with the theft of property small enough to not qualify as grand larceny could turn a few months in the county jail to several years in prison for shooting a dog or cat might make some of these criminals think twice.

I would encourage New York State to pass this legislation and set an example for other states around the nation. In too many of these locations the penalties for murdering pets, service animals and livestock are either too small to be effective or nonexistent. That needs to change.