animal cruelty legislationBy Marianne Mansfield and Laurie Nelson-Barker

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” —Mahatma Gandhi

“Thus it is that no cruelty whatsoever passes without impact.” —Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Marianne Mansfield: Laurie Nelson-Barker and I have chosen to write together about the impact of cruelty in our society. Laurie’s passion is animal welfare. I care about that, too. Deeply. But for the purpose of today’s offering, I will be extending Laurie’s research into the domain of human treatment of one another. Laurie cares about this as well. Deeply.

We will discuss legislative bills proposed to address animal cruelty. Consider them not only in light of the impact on animals but also the impact on us: your friends and neighbors.

Statistics indicate the strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. Perhaps if we address these issues at the root cause, we may be able to help more families in crisis and prevent tragedy on several levels. Consider these alarming statistics as reported by the Humane Society of the United States. Intentional cruelty to animals is strongly correlated with other crimes, including violence against people.

Laurie Nelson-Barker: I had personal experience with this in my own life several years ago, and still cannot openly discuss it. There was no domestic shelter in St. George at the time, but I refused to leave because I couldn’t leave my pets in jeopardy. Two cats and a rabbit died as the result, and my loving dog refused to enter the house.

MM: The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that one in three women in Utah will experience domestic violence, compared to one in four nationwide. Utah Department of Health estimates that 32 percent of the state’s homicides are related to domestic violence.

PAWS Act (Pets and Domestic Violence)-H.R. 128

The intent of this act is to make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by allowing pets to be protected across state lines and authorizing grant money so that domestic shelters can accommodate pets.

The animals whose abuse is most often reported are dogs, cats, horses, and livestock.

LNB: Many people are traumatized from witnessing animal abuse but feel helpless to prevent it. This is especially the case in regard to factory farming and animal transport. Recently, a transport truck with pigs in it overturned in the Virgin River Gorge, leaving dead and injured pigs scattered across the highway. Some witnesses were upset, but others made jokes about “free bacon.” The pigs were already headed to slaughter, but laws pertaining to factory farming and livestock are few and seldom utilized. Utah legislators do not protect farm animals and, worse, don’t provide an avenue for reporting abuse (ag-gag).

MM: New research by Shelby McDonald of Virginia Commonwealth University et al (2016) looks at the effects of seeing animal abuse on children’s psychological health in a context where they already witness intimate partner violence. A study by McDonald et al (2015) that found a quarter of children whose mothers experience domestic violence also see their pet threatened or abused, and that most often the child says the motivation is to control the mother. Since pets are often sources of social support for children, this may be especially traumatic; the effects of this are the focus of the new study.

Dogfighting, cockfighting, and other forms of animal cruelty are strongly connected to other crimes and continue in many areas of the United States due to public corruption.

LNB: Consider the fairly recent case of Michael Vick’s dogfighting ring. Some of the pit bulls involved were rescued by Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. Not all the dogs survived, and some could not be rehabilitated and will remain at the sanctuary for the remainder of their lives. This was a huge cost to society in terms of humans that were prosecuted but not necessarily rehabilitated, and animals that were severely abused for entertainment and profit.

MM: Lest there be any doubt, Both People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and the Humane Society of the United States have labeled dogfighting and cockfighting as extreme forms of animal abuse.

PACT Act (animal cruelty)-H.R. 2293

This legislation would complement states’ anti-cruelty laws in the same way that the federal animal fighting statute complements state animal fighting laws, providing an additional tool to be employed when extreme animal cruelty occurs in interstate commerce.

LNB: In the recent case of a St. George pet store, dogs from an out-of-state puppy mill were being transported through a broker across state lines and shipped to Utah. Even though there was sufficient documentation, there were no laws to prevent it. Many unsuspecting customers of the pet store unknowingly bought traumatized and/or ill animals. Some ended up in local shelters, which further burdened overcrowded facilities.

No Utah legislators took a position on either of the legislations mentioned, and all took an anti-animal position on the ivory/elephants vote and endangered species vote.

Following are Utah Legislator’s scores on a scale from 0 to 100:

Orin Hatch:      0
Mike Lee:       14
Rob Bishop:     7
Jason Chaffetz  7
Mia Love          7
Chris Stewart  15

These scores are calculated by the Humane Society of the United States. They are based on a wide range of criteria in relation to priority animal welfare bills along with voice votes. Scores are given as percentages of the number of items counted. To further explore Utah’s position on animal-related legislation, you can check the Humane Society Legislative Fund page at

MM: This much is clear. Animal abuse not only impacts beings who have no voice to protest their treatment; it also dramatically impacts the lives of those of us who should know better. If you don’t care about it for the first reason, consider the second.

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