A call for a National Animal Cruelty Offenders’ Register will be made later this month by Professor Andrew Linzey, director of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, in an address at St Albans Cathedral.
“For a long time, animal protectionists have been calling for stricter penalties for those convicted of animal abuse. And the usual measures, including fines and community orders, seem a pretty weak-kneed response to those who deliberately inflict cruelty. That is why some are now calling for automatic prison sentences for cruelty and long ones at that. But prison, it seems to me, is not the answer. We know that around 40% of prisoners reoffend and prison frequently dehumanises people. We have to find a way in which the seriousness of animal cruelty can be registered, offenders effectively treated, and animals saved from cruelty. This requires a radical rethink”, argues Linzey.
“Compulsory empathy training for offenders would not be a soft option. Over a period of months, even years, people who are cruel would need to attend classes that require them to confront their own proclivities toward violence and learn to empathise with the suffering of animals.”
“Animal protectionists should step up to the plate and embrace this opportunity to lead empathy training courses. They should help fund them, run them, and staff them with professionals. It is too easy just to condemn; animal protectionists need to invest in the change they want to see in the world.”
“For those who cannot or will not undergo empathy training, or those who do not successfully complete the course, or those who reoffend, then their name needs to be placed on a national register. Those on the register would be forbidden from keeping an animal, or working with them. This register could be consulted by individuals and employers and it would become an offence to sell an animal to such a person or employ them in animal-related work.”
Professor Linzey argues that the low priority given to animal cruelty in the criminal justice system is reflective of a much deeper blindness: “Our society hasn’t yet appreciated what is at stake for human beings. Cruelty is not just a vice; it is a social vice. There is a well-established link between animal abuse and human violence supported by hundreds of psychological, medical, sociological, and statistical studies. A world in which animal cruelty goes unchecked is bound to be a less morally safe world for human beings.”
OneKind agrees wholeheartedly that “it is too easy just to condemn”. Sharing information is one practical way of improving enforcement and prevention, and a database of offences was proposed at the time of the Animal Welfare Acts in England and Scotland. Providing empathy training for offenders, to help them understand the sentience and the moral value of animals and change their behaviour towards them, would certainly be another.
Arguably, however – and we are sure Professor Linzey would agree – this is too late. OneKind believes that more programmes should be available to show even the youngest children that hurting animals is wrong. Lifelong behaviours are established in the early years and giving young children a positive message about kindness to animals is one of the best things we can do to help humans and animals together. As animal protectionists, that is another opportunity we should embrace.