Law Enforcement and The Link

Quick Facts: Why is The Link important for… Law Enforcement?

Animal cruelty is a crime.

  • The U.S. has the world’s oldest laws preventing animal cruelty (dating to the Colonial era of 1641). (Animal Welfare Institute, 1990) All U.S. jurisdictions have prohibitions against animal maltreatment, and 50 states declare some forms of animal abuse to be felonies.
  • In 2016, the FBI added four types of animal abuse to the National Incident Based Reporting System: Physical abuse or torture; Simple or gross neglect (animal hoarding); Animal sexual abuse; and Organized animal abuse (animal fighting).
  • “We must, as prosecutors, recognize that it is unacceptable to excuse and ignore acts of cruelty toward animals. Anyone who can commit such cruelty is in desperate need of incarceration.”  — A. William Ritter, Jr., District Attorney, Denver, Colo. (Ritter, 1996)

Research demonstrates a correlation between acts of animal cruelty and other criminal activities.

  • The National Counterterrorism Center, Department of Homeland Security, and FBI consider animal cruelty, particularly when premeditated in nature, as useful in identifying an accelerated and increased risk of violence which may be thought of as an experimental aggression leading to acts of mass, violent terrorism. (Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, 2018).
  • An important part of the Chicago Police Department’s anti-violence strategy includes strict enforcement of dog fighting statutes: their research found direct connections between the violent world of dog fighters, gangs, drugs and weapons. Research revealed that 35% of search warrants executed for animal abuse or dog fighting resulted in seizures of narcotics and/or weapons: 82% of offenders arrested for animal abuse violations had priors for battery, weapons offenses or drugs, and 23% had subsequent arrests for felony offenses. (Chicago Crime Commission, 2004)
  • 70% of animal abusers in Massachusetts also had records for crimes of violence, drugs or social disorder. (Arluke &  Luke, 1997)
  • Police researchers determined that animal abuse is a better predictor of sexual assault than are previous convictions for homicide, arson or weapons offenses. Animal cruelty offenders average four different types of criminal offenses, and 100% of sexual homicide offenders reported having been cruel to animals. A report concluded that offender profiling for homicide, sexual assault, arson, stalking and child abuse would benefit greatly from law enforcement having more information about animal cruelty. (Gullone &  Clarke, 2005)
  • A police department review of national crime records found that 70% of people charged with cruelty to animals also had other reported incidents of violent behavior – including homicide. (Boat &  Knight, 2000)
  • Ownership of vicious dogs has been linked to increased rates of convictions for domestic violence, narcotics offenses, child abuse, and substance abuse. (Barnes, Boat, Putnam, et al., 2006)
  • 43% of perpetrators of school shootings have histories of animal abuse (Verlinden, Herson & Thomas, 2000).
  • Pet abuse is one of the four most significant risk factors for someone becoming a domestic violence abuser (Walton-Moss, Manganello et al., 2005)
  • Recognizing that animal sexual abuse is often linked with child pornography, 45 states now outlaw bestiality. In most of these states, offenders are placed on the “Megan’s Law” registry of sex offenders.
  • Ten states allow animal fighting to also be charged under RICO racketeering statutes, due to the prevalence of organized crime, human trafficking, narcotics, weapons, and gambling at staged animal combats.

Animal abuse often exposes other forms of family violence.

  • Evidence is mounting that animals are harmed or threatened as pawns in games of power and control exercised by perpetrators of domestic violence, child sexual abuse, and elder abuse. Psychological research has confirmed centuries of conventional wisdom that when children harm animals it is often a “red flag,” a diagnostic marker of a disturbed individual whose acts of violence will escalate in range and severity.
  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police wrote, “Over the last decade, social scientists and law enforcement agencies have begun to examine cruelty to animals as a serious human problem closely linked to domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and other violent crimes. [Link efforts] cannot undo generations of abuse, but they can be an effective means of breaking the cycle of family violence from one generation to the next.”  (Lockwood, 2000)
  • Children who witness animal abuse and cruelty are at a greater risk of becoming abusers themselves and of perpetuating the cycles of family violence. Animal abuse rarely occurs in isolation. Often, it is just one form of family violence occurring in the home.
  • Because neglected or maltreated animals may be exposed in plain view where concerned neighbors may see or hear them and make a report, humane society or SPCA agents, animal control officers, dog wardens or rabies control officers may be the first point of law enforcement or social services contact and intervention for a family in crisis.

What Can You Do?

  • Take reports of animal cruelty seriously. Animal abuse is a crime and animal investigations often uncover other serious crimes. By treating animal abuse as a serious issue, law enforcement officers can stop bad behavior before the perpetrator becomes desensitized to violence and disrespect for the law. Early intervention can prevent others from being at risk.
  • Be familiar with anti-cruelty laws in your jurisdiction.
  • Get to know the animal protection personnel in your region and establish lines of communication with them. Our National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies identifies over 6,500 specific agencies, based on the jurisdiction, charged with investigating animal abuse (in many cases it’s the police or sheriff!).
  • Be aware of the emotional importance of pets in the lives of families.
  • Invite officials from child protection, animal protection, adult protection, and domestic violence agencies to train your staff on how to recognize and report various forms of family violence.
  • Invite animal care and control organizations to serve on community crime prevention commissions and family violence councils.
  • Sponsor a workshop to educate your colleagues, either locally, regionally, statewide or nationally, on The Link.The National Link Coalition has a speakers’ bureau to provide these presentations.
  • Participate in our allied organization, the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals (NCOVAA), a program of the National Sheriff’s Association.


All references cited above are located on the National Link Coalition’s Bibliography.