High-profile cases such as the recent burning of a miniature schnauzer in West Haven and the dumping of a caged pit bull in Bethany serve to put a spotlight on animal cruelty but are no more depraved than slowly killing a dog by kicking it every day and not feeding it enough, animal advocates say.

What they do know with more certainty than ever, is that when children practice cruelty against animals it’s a red flag that without intervention, they will likely become violent adults, as did some of history’s most notorious serial killers.

It is well documented and widely recognized the world’s most notorious killers abused animals first — and the concept has recently been officially embraced by the FBI, which is now keeping statistics, in part to flag those who commit crimes against animals for psychological help or early intervention in the case of youngsters.

FBI studies show that serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs, frogs and cats on sticks; David Berkowitz, known as the “Son of Sam,” poisoned his mother’s parakeet; and Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler,” trapped cats and dogs in wooden crates and killed them by shooting arrows through the boxes.

“People are starting to realize this (animal cruelty) is a community problem,” that puts people at risk, said Kristin Rickman, division manager for emergency response team for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. “You’re looking at someone with a deep mental disturbance.”

Connecticut Humane Society Executive Director Gordon G. Willard has seen cruelty cases in which animals were burned, frozen starved, taped at the snout and legs, tied up to die.

In his 37 years in the business, Willard has also seen hoarding cases where dozens of cats were found dead in a house and dozens more were near death – and he’s seen the horrendous impact of dog fighting up close.

These are the obvious animal cruelty cases and when exposed to the public – as in the West Haven and Woodbridge cases, there is outcry, press coverage, pressure on police to find the perpetrators, big rewards for information leading to conviction, Willard said.

Willard said the dog who dies slowly in the backyard from being kicked, undernourished or exposed to the elements has the “same ending” as the dog that was set on fire – and perhaps had even more pain through slow torture.

“When one ugly thing happens, animal cruelty comes to the forefront,” he said. “In these (most recent) cases, they’re going to go for the throat.”

Willard and other animal cruelty experts agree it’s impossible to come up with a statistic for animal cruelty — and hence, data on whether it’s on the rise, decline or stable — because so many go unreported or unrecognized.

“My hope is it’s down because of education,” said Willard, whose agency does a lot of educational outreach in the schools and community. Animal cruelty through abuse and/or neglect is a “social ill,” he said.

Dr. Jeffrey Deitz, a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst with a practice in Fairfield and assistant professor at Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University, said hurting an animal is indicative of lack of connections to empathy that applies to people, as well.

Animal cruelty is “no way in the range of normal human behavior,” he said.

Deitz said there is a clear-cut connection between animal cruelty by children and “psychopathic behavior later in life.”

He said animal cruelty goes beyond the catchall “mentally troubled” category and is aligned with “psychopathic behavior.”

He said each case must be looked at individually, as to whether the behavior is fueled by alienation, anger, illiteracy, alcohol or something else.

Care and treatment are crucial when such behavior is seen in children, because, “You don’t want the next Jeffrey Dahmer.”

Deitz said in both recent animal cruelty cases, the act was pre-meditated and justice should be sought with the same “zeal” as attempted murder.

The link between animal cruelty and violence against people is so solid that these days that when animal control officers in Connecticut get a case of suspected animal abuse or neglect and there are children in the home, they make a referral to the state Department of Children and Families, said an animal control officer who asked not to be identified.

In one such case, an animal control officer in the New Haven region said they had a case where an angry child was dropping a dog off a four-foot deep porch every day.

Animal cruelty is often a part of domestic violence, taking the form of the abuser hurting or killing a romantic partner’s pet for revenge or to show power and control. In some cases, authorities have taken pets from homes where domestic violence is a chronic issue, one animal control officer said.

There is no registry in Connecticut for animal abusers — attempts to get one have failed and some states have them — but there is the unofficial network in which animal control officers are put on alert by probation officers when an abuser is released from custody.

From 2006 to 2016 in Connecticut there were 3,723 offenses brought under the animal cruelty statute, and about 80 percent were either dismissed or not prosecuted, according to the Office of Legislative Research. Animal advocates are hoping that changes.

In the very public and extreme West Haven and Woodbridge cases, investigators are pulling out all the stops to find the perpetrators and it is assumed they are violent people at large in the community.

But investigating animal cruelty cases can be tricky, in large part because the victims can’t talk, said West Haven police Sgt. Mark Gado, who supervises the animal control department.

“You can’t ask who? What? When? Where? Why?” Gado said.

He said with humans you can ask what was done to them, where it hurts physically and about their emotional state. They can look around a room for clues, they can talk to witnesses, but can’t be told by a dog, “No one has fed me for a week.”

Rickman said a case is stronger with visual witnesses and noted a case where people recorded what sounded like abuse of a dog night after night in an apartment, but it wasn’t enough to get a warrant.

She said if a dog is bruised those bruises aren’t visible because of fur.

Rickman said while every scenario of animal cruelty is “depraved,” setting an animal on fire would in court show specific intent to torture.

She, too, said the inability of animals to speak is a hurdle and in a case of a backyard dog treated cruelly, the owner might have more of an “out of sight, out of mind,” defense, indicating a different level of intent and so a lighter penalty.

In West Haven, the reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the perpetrator or perpetrators who committed the crime at Sandy Point Beach and Bird Sanctuary is up to $33,000, with a $20,000 pledge coming from Scott Orsini of Executive Auto Group, according to Facebook.

People are so moved by the dog’s suffering in what they are calling a “depraved” act, that they are holding a naming contest on Facebook – “Angel” is in the lead – and are planning a memorial service for the dog.

The miniature schnauzer was discovered when first responders were called to sanctuary on the beach July 5 on a report of an uncontained fire in the parking lot.

Once the fire was extinguished they found the small dog with cropped ears and tail.

Police Chief Joseph Perno has said that it’s not likely that “even Hell would accept” the person who did it. A necropsy is being done on the dog. West Haven police have identified suspects in the case, but had not made an arrest by late Friday.

In the Woodbridge case, less than a week before the West Haven case, the approximately 65-pound pit bull, posthumously named Stella, was discovered by a public works employee who was mowing property in Bethany. Stella, a gray and white pit, was in a cage in a wooded area where it wasn’t likely she would be easily found. There was no food or water in the cage and weather conditions were extremely hot and humid. Stella was determined through autopsy to be a healthy dog before her death – officials said she looked well-cared for – but they are waiting for toxicology reports to determine cause of death. She was likely left 24-48 hours before being found.

The reward for information leading to arrest and conviction in Stella’s case is more than $5,000.

To secure forensic evidence, the clasp of the new purple collar the dog was wearing was sent to the State Police Crime lab to lift fingerprints and get a DNA sample. Shelter officials are arranging a memorial service, but the details have yet to be set. In an emotional Facebook post after Stella was found, Shelter officials wrote: “Someone did this to a living, breathing animal with more of a soul than they could ever wish to possess.”

Willard said animal cruelty is when any animal is abused or has suffered at the hands of a person and should not be predicated on whether it lives or dies.

He said the recent high-profile cases are perceived to be more violent, but all cases are violent.

The development of forensic tools have been helpful, as are rewards to help, “shake the tree,” for witnesses.

“Each case is unique,” Willard said.

He said there is no stereotypical profile for those who abuse and neglect animals and it crosses all socio-economic lines.

Rickman said PETA pushes during sentencing for psychological evaluation and counseling. She said it’s also important to ban contact with animals, as cruelty isn’t an act people do once.

Animal protection laws are different in every state

Animal protection laws vary from state to state and each state is ranked by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

Connecticut ranks in the middle tier — 27 out of 50, with Illinois at number one, Oregon at 2; at the bottom are Kentucky, at 50 and Mississippi, 49.

Rickman said lower ranking states lack of specificity: some don’t even address a doghouse requirement for dogs chained outside.

In some states fish, reptiles and other animals aren’t covered under cruelty laws. In some states it’s legal to set a deer on fire as long as you haven’t captured it first, she said.

In Connecticut over the last decades, law have improved, experts say, and many measures have been enacted to protect animals.

A person convicted of animal cruelty here on the first offense, gets up to $1,000 fine and year in jail, which Rickman said could translate to a “meager sentence for horrendous crime.”

The first offense is a less serious misdemeanor, although Gado said that can be elevated to a felony in a case of heinous acts.

The second animal cruelty charge, if convicted of a first, in Connecticut becomes a felony.

In October 2016, lawmakers gave a voice to animal victims by becoming the first state to allow courts to appoint an advocate in criminal cases involving cruelty against cats and dogs, according to a Register story from this year.

The advocates monitor a case, investigate facts, attend hearings, and present recommendations to judges — all on a pro bono basis. Both advocates and activists report stiffer penalties since the law’s enactment.

The law is known as “Desmond’s Law” in honor of a dog whose owner, Alex Wullaert, beat and strangled him to death in 2012. Wullaert, a Branford resident at the time, did not have to serve any jail time, and the crime was expunged from his record after he entered a diversionary program aimed at helping the mentally ill.

In one such case where the law helped convict, Brian Casson, was sentenced to 15 months in prison for abusing a cat and throwing it into the Naugatuck River in Waterbury.

In another case, in Fairfield, Ray Neuberger, who was charged with abusing two King Charles Cavalier spaniels, served 41 days of pretrial confinement, and made a $23,500 donation to a Bridgeport animal shelter. Neuberger was accused of scalding one dog with a hot liquid and breaking another dog’s ribs. He also was prohibited from any contact with the dogs for two years, documents show.

Rickman said PETA pushes during sentencing for psychological evaluation and counseling. She said it’s also important to ban contact with animals, as cruelty isn’t an act people do once.

Connecticut Media Group