Child and dogWhat is going on with the youth of Baltimore? The city is experiencing a spate of violence and cruelty against animals perpetrated by its youth. Now that school’s out and these kids have a lot more time on their hands, officials and animal advocates in the city are on high alert.

Back in May, three children attacked and killed an 8-week-old puppy with belts and sticks near a golf course. According to the local ABC affiliate, golfers “heard the screams of the puppy and the children taunting.” Adults chased the children away, but were too late to save the puppy.

Two of the suspected attackers, aged 10 and 11, were just arrested. “It is really alarming to see this kind of behavior in kids that are so young,” said Caroline Griffin, the head of the mayor’s Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force. “I think it is an enormous wake-up call to take these crimes more seriously.”

The puppy killed near a golf course was just one incident of animal cruelty in the Maryland town sometimes referred to as Charm City. A few days ago, a 13-year-old was arrested in connection with the stoning of a pit bull. Last year, a two-year-old female pit bull terrier was doused in gasoline and set on fire. On Easter Sunday, some kids thought it might be fun to throw rocks and bricks at a tied-up dog. When an adult tried to intervene, the sadistic brats threw rocks and bricks at him. The ages of these pint-size perps? Twelve to thirteen. And just this week, a dead dog was found hanging from a fence in West Baltimore. It is suspected that the dog was killed for losing a dogfight.

Baltimore officials are justifiably worried about this disturbing trend of wanton barbarism. After all, as Caroline Griffin explains, “Some studies indicate that these kinds of kids are 5 times more likely to commit violent crime in the next 10 years, so this is one of the most effective crime fighting tools available, you stop animal abuse.”

A recent article in the New York Times Magazine highlighted the “mounting body of evidence” about the link between acts of cruelty towards animals and crimes such as “illegal firearms possession, drug trafficking, gambling, spousal and child abuse, rape, and homicide.” Those committing crimes against animals as kids have a good chance of committing crimes against people as adults, which is surely worrying to the citizens of Baltimore as they see middle-school children tormenting and killing dogs.

Efforts to stem the tide are under way. The Anti-Animal Abuse Task Force was established last  year by then-mayor Sheila Dixon. According to WBAL-TV, the task force is currently working to “incorporate education about animal abuse into school and faith-based programs.” The task force also recommends three city officers be assigned exclusively to animal cruelty cases. Since animal abuse tends to spike in the summer, the city launched a web site to match kids with free summer camps and other programs.

The city of Baltimore should be commended for taking cases of animal abuse seriously. Officials are doing the right thing in working to educate children about humane treatment of animals. They are also doing the right thing in arresting and punishing kids who commit these horrific acts. According to Caroline Griffin, children need to see the consequences of their actions. “I think they do need to be punished regardless of their age, and I do think they need psychological counseling,” she said.

On both counts, I couldn’t agree more.

Photo Credit: Tatiana Sapateiro