People who harm defenseless animals need help

We watched the videos in horror. We wish we hadn’t.

The worst was a cat in a cage being scalded in Moss Point. The people the video depicts carry out their horrific act with shocking indifference.

“How horrible and upsetting that people can be this way,” a Facebook commenter said.

Indeed. Most people find that level of cruelty hard to fathom.

But people who torture pets aren’t most people.

In several states, people convicted of animal abuse must undergo mental-health evaluation and counseling.

But not in Mississippi.

If the people who scalded that cat, which later died, are convicted, they “could receive a psychiatric or psychological evaluation and counseling or treatment for a length of time as prescribed by the court” under Mississippi law. But that is at the judge’s discretion.

Mississippi’s penalties

Under the law, someone who a second time intentionally tortures, mutilates, maims, burns, starves or disfigures any domesticated dog or cat is guilty of a felony and the punishment increases from a fine of up to $2,500 and up to six months in jail to a fine of $5,000 and one to five years in prison. But it still does not mandate mental-health evaluation or treatment.

Promote a dog fight, bet on a dog fight, train dogs for commercial fighting or even watch a dog fight and you could be convicted of a felony.

Kill, maim or injure any livestock — “either out of a spirit of revenge or wanton cruelty” — and you could be convicted of a felony.

But beat a dog or cage and scald a cat? That’s a misdemeanor. At least the first time.

Why can’t we get tougher laws, laws that require help for these troubled people?

Ask the Farm Bureau. It lobbies against them every year.

“With the help of Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Speaker Philip Gunn, Senate Agriculture Chairman Billy Hudson and House Agriculture Chairman Bill Pigott, the Farm Bureau policy team was able to defeat any changes to the current animal welfare laws,” the bureau wrote in its 2016 legislative recap. “No organization cares for and loves animals more than Farm Bureau, and we will continue to protect our membership’s policy on this matter.”

We’re all at risk

But it’s not just our pets who are in danger.

“Animal abuse is often the first manifestation of serious emotional turmoil that may escalate into extreme violence, such as mass killing,” wrote Gail F. Melson, professor of child development and family studies at Purdue University.

She recommends better reporting of animal abuse and mandatory evaluation and counseling for people convicted of animal abuse.

“Predicting the next mass shooter is complex and imprecise,” Melson said. “No single factor, including animal abuse, is definitive. We should be appropriately cautious about retrospective accounts of childhood misdeeds that can’t be independently verified. Nevertheless, there is enough evidence to consider cruelty toward animals a red flag warning that a child or adolescent needs immediate help.”

We agree. And we wish the Farm Bureau shared our concern.

The editorial represents the views of the Sun Herald editorial board. Opinions of columnists and cartoonists are their own.