Discussion: Is it a good idea to sentence animal abusers to community service in animal shelters?

From time to time we see reports of judges sentencing animal abusers to work in animal shelters.  A recent example is the case of an Alabama man charged in connection with a dogfighting ring who has been ordered to work 100 hours at the Scottsboro Animal Shelter.

I researched the shelter but found very little information online.  The webpage seems to indicate that the shelter is run by the police department.  There are no statistics posted.  There is a confusing claim that the shelter “receives” 160 dogs during the summer and 130 during the rest of the year.  I don’t know if they mean the shelter takes in that many dogs per month or if that’s the average number of dogs on hand or something else.  At any rate, the place has 9 dogs listed on Petfinder.  Cats are not mentioned at all.

I think the general idea with sentencing animal abusers to work in shelters is to aid in the rehabilitation of offenders by teaching them compassion and respect for animals through hands-on work with those most vulnerable in the community.  But some people are deeply opposed to the practice, likening the sentence to placing pedophiles in day care centers.

What are your thoughts?  Is sentencing animal abusers to community service at a shelter a worthwhile endeavor?  Is it perhaps a good idea in theory but not in practice because most of our public animal shelters in fact kill friendly pets instead of treating them with respect?  Should convicted animal abusers sentenced to work in shelters be supervised at all times and if so, how might shelters shoulder the burden of providing this direct supervision?  Or is this idea just so contrary to common sense that you feel it shouldn’t even be an option for judges?

(Thanks Arlene for the link.)

15 thoughts on “Discussion: Is it a good idea to sentence animal abusers to community service in animal shelters?

  1. Same as assigning

    child abusers to work in a daycare or home for children….I think the rate of rehab would be the same though I have not researched this…if there is any data, etc to be researched…does not seem to be very thoughtful or compassionate on the part of the judge….personally, I prefer seeing rehab done with good hard day of work and retraining in a specific marketable skill when applicable…but not sure abusers of any type have shown a recidivism rate that would or should allow them to be with the general population of people.

  2. I don’t really think the comparison to child care centers is completely valid. Of course I don’t think that child abusers should work at child care centers, but if they did, their continued abuse would not be endorsed/tolerated/encouraged.

    In a shelter where killing is the norm, an animal abuser will find plenty of tolerance for his continued abuse of animals. In places like Memphis, he may even get hearty encouragement with a laugh and a pat on the back for a job well done by a fellow employee.

    Should an abuser be sent to a no kill shelter run by compassionate people? ….


    They’ll have an opportunity to see compassion at work, to see animals valued, to learn how to properly care for animals, sure. But I think it’s safe to say that most abusers have something very wrong with them psychologically, that allows for that lack of empathy or even the enjoyment of causing suffering. And shelters are not psychiatrists. These people need professional mental help (and/or should be locked away for the safety of the world at large, depending on the nature of their crime). It’s not simply a case of “oh, if they see what’s right, they’ll just reform” because no, they won’t. And if they’re not strictly supervised every moment, you are risking the lives/well-being of animals which isn’t just in any light.

    So, no. It should not be permitted. At all. Anywhere. Ever.

  3. No, I do not like this idea at all. In fact, I can see where some – who hate animals to start with – could become more bitter, being forced to work with them. I agree, give them something meaningful away from animals. I like the idea of community service, but not with animals. And your point about so many “shelters” being nothing more than killing factories would only reinforce that animals do not deserve to be treated with love and respect. Feel very strongly about this, and have no hard data to back it up.
    We’ve actually had youthful offenders (never knew the offenses) who did community service at the humane society under supervision. Several of them were surly and only going through the motions. And I don’t believe any of them continued after completing their sentence.

  4. I don’t think it’s a good idea. At all. I tend to agree with the comparison to assigning paedophiles to work with children: not only are these people already convicted of animal cruelty, but given how difficult it is to successfully prosecute cruelty cases, the likelihood is that it serves to weed out all but those most likely to re-offend. On top of which, public animal control facilities are about the worst possible places for lessons in empathy.

    Even the best no-kill shelter, though, wouldn’t be a good place. Even the best shelter tends to wear people down – and in these cases, what you need is to build them up.

    I have read of successful programs in prison, on the other hand, where vetted and supervised prisoners work one-on-one with rescued animals to socialize and train them. Which I think gives an idea of what’s required, assuming that the intent IS to teach empathy and not just free labor.

  5. I do not think it is a good idea for work in a shelter to be part of an animal abuser’s sentence. To me, a “sentence” does not imply any sort of rehabilitation. It just implies punishment.

    Now, I do think it is conceptually a good idea to have prisoners or troubled people in a program where they learn and care about animals. Closely supervised of course, but people can learn a lot from the bonds that can be formed with an animal. It would have to be done under extra-careful supervision if the person in question is an animal abuser.

    If we are concerned with rehabilitating animal abusers, then some sort of interaction with animals seems like it would have to be part of the program. “Sentencing” someone to clean out kennels could potentially dissuade the person from repeating the crime, but I do not consider that to be rehabilitation.

  6. Should Michael Vick be allowed to work in a boarding kennel?

    Such people – like paedophiles and serial killers – are defective. No amount of rehab will change their basic nature in my view. Animal abusers should be kept away from any contact with animals.

  7. I think it’s a horrible idea for a variety of reasons. As you said, too many shelters would just give the abusers additional opportunities to witness and even engage in abuse of animals since that’s what’s going on at the shelter anyway. Even at the best no-kill shelters, I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t think compassion can be taught except to children. Someone who abuses animals isn’t going to magically change their ways after seeing others treat animals well. In addition, it adds a burden to the staff at the shelter since they’ll need to closely monitor the offender to ensure the safety of the pets.

    1. I don’t know if you can teach compassion but you can learn it. I’m more compassionate towards animals today than I was ten years ago.

  8. The reason we don’t sentence pedophiles to daycare centers isn’t so much because of safety…how many people would feel any better about the idea if there were cameras everywhere, and every moment of the day was supervised? It feels wrong because we put the child FIRST.

    When we sentence animal abusers to work with animals in a situation that is frankly NOT well supervised, we’re saying the animal comes second. The person’s right to rehabilitation should never trump the animal’s right to safety and comfort. And, as YesBiscuit points out, the lessons they are likely to learn in the average community shelter may not be the intended ones.

    I’m not sure the pedophile comparison is the right one, though. I would compare it more to a person who has abused their child. We don’t sentence child abusers to work in daycare because again, the children always come FIRST. But it’s also ineffective…merely being AROUND someone does not magically make a person feel empathy for them. Instead, we sentence child abusers in many cases to therapy and parenting classes. Empathy can’t be taught, but techniques for coping with stress, finding healthy outlets for anger, and managing mental disorders can be. I would like to see the same for animal abusers…after they’ve served their time (which should be much more substantial than what they typically get now), make them attend therapy and classes on animal care, even if they are no longer allowed to own pets. Teach them about the cognitive abilities of animals. But no, never send them to work with animals with the vague thought that exposure = empathy.

  9. Personally I believe that dogs can “read” people pretty darn well. If the abusers were to work with them it may only cause the dogs more distress than they already are under just being in the shelter. I do not believe any abusers should ever work with animals.

  10. In general, no.

    Who would want to be in charge of supervising the kitty-burner or the puppy-punter around the shelter animals? Not me.

    In this case, though


    I’m okay with the part of her sentence that involved working in the animal shelter, *provided it was limited to scraping shit* and washing bowls, etc.

    No playing with the goggies.

    And *only* if the shelter director was on-board.

    The last update I was able to find indicated that she had failed to appear for her court-ordered community service.

Leave a Reply