Often interpreted as signs of moral depravity, acts of animal cruelty disturb the ethical sensibilities of society. Even so, the complex relationship between animals and humans has made the protection of animals a delicate and often conflicting endeavor. This complexity is due in part to the way animals are attributed moral consideration according to the particular animal's given role in society, ranging from pest to product to valued family member. As a result, laws governing the appropriate treatment of animals differ depending on how society views or uses the species. At least one study1 found beliefs about the type of animal abused to be more important to the determination of penalty than the nature of the cruel act inflicted on the animal. Moreover, because animal cruelty is a legal, not a medical determination, whether a case gets prosecuted depends on the law in the state where the event occurs. Laws vary from state to state and differ in many ways.
Currently, no national database or agency responsible for collecting and reporting statistics on the incidence of animal cruelty exists. As a result, available statistics are imprecise owing to small sample sizes, ambiguous definitions of abuse, and underreporting. While one source estimated the total number of animal cruelty charges filed annually in the United States at 20,000,2 an exact count is probably not possible. However, a study3 conducted in Massachusetts reported that the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals investigated 4,942 complaints of animal cruelty in 1996 alone. Although we have no way to accurately summarize the prevalence of animal cruelty in the United States, animal cruelty is not uncommon and is gaining the attention of animal welfare advocates and public safety officials alike.
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Tate Britain. 2007 Hogarth's modern moral series: the four stages of cruelty. Available at: www.tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/hogarth/modernmorals/fourstagesofcruelty.shtm. Accessed May 28, 2010.
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Associated Press. February 15, 2009. Animal cruelty laws among fastest-growing. Available at: www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29180079/ns/health-pet_health. Accessed May 28, 2010.
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AVMA. State legislative resources: required reporting of animal abuse for veterinarians. Available at: www.avma.org/advocacy/state/issues/sr_animal_abuse.asp. Accessed May 28, 2010.
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Reporting cruelty FAQ. Available at: www.aspca.org/fight-animalcruelty/reporting-cruelty-faq.html. Accessed May 28, 2010.
Schultz K. June 1, 2007. Colorado to mandate animal-abuse reporting. Available at: veterinarynews.dvm360.com/dvm/Veterinary+news/Colorado-to-mandate-animal-abusereporting/ArticleStandard/Article/detail/437503. Accessed May 28, 2010.
University of Florida. January 15, 2009. New forensics program to investigate crime against animals. Available at: news.ufl.edu/2009/01/15/csi-animals. Accessed May 28, 2010.