Published in the New York Daily News on August 9, 2017

Animal lovers across the nation are working through our anger and heartbreak over Chester — a 2-year-old cat who was mercilessly tortured on June 29 by Tyrike Richardson, 21, of Staten Island. According to media reports, Chester received multiple blunt force trauma injuries, including a collapsed lung, rib fractures and head trauma. Richardson broadcasted it in a sickening 32-minute video on Facebook Live and was arrested and charged with aggravated cruelty to an animal.

We at Alley Cat Allies attended his hearing on July 28, where a judge denied his request for lower bail.

While it’s a positive sign that Richardson has been charged, the true measure of justice in this case will be a conviction, with the maximum sentence of two years behind bars for aggravated animal cruelty in New York.

But if we’re going to get serious about deterring animal cruelty, we must do more. We should strengthen laws to provide still harsher penalties. We should mandate that police officers and prosecutors receive training to identify and investigate animal abuse, and require animal cruelty offenders to register with the state so they can no longer purchase, adopt or work near animals. Too many animal cruelty cases are never investigated, or result in lenient penalties.

All 50 states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws to criminalize animal cruelty. But often, the way these laws are written result in harsher penalties for cruelty to owned animals versus unowned animals.

That frequently leaves community cats who are unowned and not socialized to people — sometimes referred to as feral cats — essentially unprotected.

All cats deserve to be protected from all acts of cruelty.

Animal abusers aren’t just harming animals. They’re a threat to the health and safety of all members of our communities. Years of research reveal the link between violence toward animals and violence toward partners, children, and the elderly.

“If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human,” said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “If we see patterns of animal abuse, the odds are that something else is going on.” A crime against animals is “a crime against society,” Thompson explained. “By paying attention to (these crimes), we are benefiting all of society.”

According to Frank R. Ascione’s report for the U.S. Department of Justice, research suggests nearly two in three violent adult offenders have a history of abusing animals during childhood. This report also cites several studies that show how adults with certain childhood experiences — corporal punishment (spanking, slapping, hitting), physical abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence — have an increased propensity to abuse animals. Cats are especially vulnerable to abuse because of their biology and behavior — their small size and social independence, for example.

Violence toward animals can also be a strong indicator of domestic violence. In a six-year study conducted across 11 U.S. cities, pet abuse is found to be one of four predictors of domestic partner violence. Furthermore, in a national survey of U.S. shelters for victims of domestic violence and child abuse, 85 percent of women and 63% of children reported incidents of animal abuse in their homes.

Seeking harsher penalties today for animal cruelty offenders may prevent violence against people tomorrow.

Violence against animals is abhorrent in and of itself, and the link between violence against animals and violence against people is well understood. It’s unacceptable, deviant behavior. That’s why we must demand that our legislative and justice systems address animal cruelty in a way that reflects the severity of the crime.

Now is the time to transform our anger and heartbreak over Chester into legislative action.