The U.S. Department of Justice Needs an Animal Cruelty Crimes Unit
Federal laws to protect animals are only useful if enforced.
Animal Wellness Action (AWA) and the Animal Wellness Foundation are promoting the idea that the U.S. Department of Justice should have an Animal Cruelty Crimes section to do that important work. A dedicated Animal Cruelty Crimes section at DOJ would allow for robust and effective enforcement of these crimes by designating personnel focused on these issues. DOJ already has dedicated sections on other important societal concerns, such as environmental protection, wildlife, and organized crime. It’s time to establish a dedicated section on animal cruelty.
Animal fighting, where animals are pitted against each other and forced to fight to their deaths, is an epidemic. Local law enforcement is not always able or willing to act. Failure on the enforcement side leaves animals to suffer tremendously at the hands of dogfighters and cockfighters and puts communities at risk from the brew of other criminal activity — drug trafficking, gang violence, and other human violence — often bound up with these spectacles of cruelty. The Congress has upgraded the federal anti-fighting law five times since 2002, most recently in December 2018, as part of the Farm Bill to ensure that laws against animal fighting are applied equally throughout the U.S., including in the U.S. territories. Now we need to ensure that the agency takes enforcement action.
Congress has passed a number of federal criminal anti-cruelty laws, including the law against animal fighting and, in November 2019, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (Public Law 116-72), expressing the collective approval of U.S. lawmakers to address animal cruelty and the other anti-social behavior often intertwined with it. The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) has the responsibility to prosecute animal welfare crimes as identified in the Justice Manual (Section 3), and several core animal welfare statutes are part of the agency’s charge. But it’s too easy for these cases to fall through the cracks.
At AWA’s urging, in 2019, Congress took a number of actions to encourage DOJ to crackdown on these crimes, including a House floor amendment to provide $2 million in funding for this work. In the FY 2020 spending bill, the Congress directed the DOJ to make enforcement of animal welfare laws a priority. And in March 2020, U.S. Reps. Joe Neguse, D-Colo., and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., — typically at opposite ends of the political spectrum — worked together to send a letter to House Appropriations Committee leadership to urge the DOJ to create this program. More than 50 other lawmakers signed the letter.
More than ever, we understand that animal cruelty is often linked with other bad social outcomes, including the spread of zoonotic diseases. DOJ’s investment in this program will make our communities safer for animal and for people.
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Failure on the enforcement side leaves animals to suffer tremendously at the hands of dogfighters and cockfighters and puts communities at risk from the brew of other criminal activity — drug trafficking, gang violence, and other human violence — often bound up with these spectacles of cruelty.