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Why is animal cruelty a concern?

All animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to inflict suffering on any living creature. Intentional cruelty is a particular concern because it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates that an individual either has already experienced violence or may be predisposed to committing acts of violence.

Is there any evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and human violence?

Absolutely. Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. To learn more about the animal cruelty/human violence connection, go to the HSUS First Strike website or our resources page.

Why would anyone be cruel to animals?

There can be many reasons-from simple ignorance to malicious intent. Animal cruelty, like any other form of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, unnoticed, and under the control of others. The motive may be to shock, threaten, intimidate, or offend others or to demonstrate rejection of society's rules. Some who are cruel to animals copy things they have seen or that have been done to them. Others see harming an animal as a safe way to get revenge on someone who cares about that animal.

What should I do if I witness animal cruelty or neglect in my local area?

Unless you feel comfortable and safe speaking to the pet owner directly about your concerns, you should contact your local animal shelter, law enforcement agency, or municipality. Humane society agents, law enforcement officers and board of health officers all have the authority to investigate animal cruelty complaints, but their level of involvement will vary depending on the location and nature of the complaint.

The law enforcement authority in your town could be your local constable, dog officer or animal control officer, a police department, the state police or the county sheriff. Contact your town office to find out who provides law enforcement services for your town. In addition, you may or may not have a private animal shelter that provides animal care and control services to your town. You may download a list of animal shelters and rescue organizations in Vermont, along with the counties they serve. At the very least, one of these agencies should be able to tell you whether your complaint warrants further investigation, or refer you to the appropriate enforcement authority in each case.

How will my complaint be handled?

There is no one formula for handling animal cruelty complaints. The response you get may vary greatly depending on each situation and the available resources in your community. Typically, an investigation will start with a visit to the pet owner who is the subject of the complaint. In most cases, the humane agent will first try to rectify the situation by educating the pet owner about how to provide better care for their animal. If the situation does not improve, and there is enough evidence to warrant it, the animals may be seized as part of a criminal investigation.

Can I remain anonymous?

Your anonymous complaint may be used to gather further information relevant to the case. Although cases may not always proceed to court, signed statements from witnesses who are willing to testify are always more reliable and useful if no further leads can be found.

What is the penalty for animal cruelty in Vermont?

Most first-time animal cruelty offenses qualify as misdemeanors in Vermont. If a person intentionally kills an animal by means causing the animal undue pain or suffering, it can qualify as a felony offense. Participating in animal fighting events and activities is also a felony. Click here to find out more about the penalties associated with crimes against animals in Vermont.

In addition, if animal cruelty offenses are included in your town's municipal ordinance, there may be civil penalties, along with an accompanying fine.

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