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Addressing Animal Abuse: Notes from the Field

John Thompson

Deputy Executive Director, National Sheriffs’ Association


How did you first get interested in working in the area of animal abuse prevention and/or intervention?

About a year ago my daughter opened my eyes to the scope of animal maltreatment. I started doing research and realized how big a problem animal abuse truly is. Since then I have been on a mission to bring attention to this issue. I want to educate law enforcement about the issue and the critical role they can play in ending animal cruelty.


Tell us about your work.

One of the biggest problems is that we don’t have statistics on animal abuse. The National Sheriffs’ Association is currently working with the FBI Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) to add animal cruelty to the Uniform Crime Report. We have made presentations to a number of working groups and will present to the Advisory Policy Board in June. Following that review, we hope the Board will make a recommendation to the Director of the FBI to add animal cruelty to the Uniform Crime Report.  This would be a major milestone for animal advocates. Although it will take several years to accumulate good data, once we do I’m confident it will be clear that we must take animal abuse seriously. Another piece of my work is the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals (NCOVAA), which under the leadership of the National Sheriffs’ Association held its first meeting this past January. The coalition currently includes more than 100 members representing a wide array of disciplines and local, state and national organizations. Our mission is to use our collective resources to reduce violence against animals and its harmful effects on children, families, and society.
Sometimes there is tension between people whose focus is animal welfare and people whose focus is human welfare. What have you learned about making connections between groups with different priorities?

Actually, I have been on both sides. Prior to getting involved with my current work to end animal abuse, I was on the child side fighting child pornography. Both issues are dear to me. I think part of the problem is that there are limited resources and everyone who is an advocate is fighting for the same dollar. Honestly, though, I don’t think anyone who is truly an advocate would discount another advocate’s priorities. Anyone who would discount the work of another isn’t a true advocate.

What have you learned from the successes and setbacks you have encountered in your work?

I’ve learned that our work is just the tip of the iceberg. There’s so much more to do. Sometimes it’s frustrating that we can’t make more change more quickly. I need to remind myself that we have accomplished something if we can help one animal or if the coalition becomes a force for change or if law enforcement starts to record animal crimes.

This can be a challenging field. What sustains you in your work?

My motivation is my dog, Mr. PO. Not being a lifelong animal lover, I never really connected with the animal world. In the 1970’s I worked as a Military Police Canine Handler, but my relationship with my dog was a working relationship. My connection to Mr. PO opened me up to a completely different relationship with an animal. When I see cases of child pornography or a dog that has frozen to death because he was left outside, that sustains me. I know we have to keep working. I know I can’t save the whole world, but every time I urge someone to become an advocate that keeps me going.