It's how some of the nation's most infamous killers got their start. But still, animal cruelty was seldom treated as a gateway violent crime, until the Michael Vick dog fighting case seized the nation's attention.
"Usually it does require a high profile case. You know, a very sad case, either of an individual animal that's been killed, or a dog fight raid, to get the public aware that animal cruelty is an issue in their community," says Dr. Randall Lockwood, the ASPCA's senior vice president of Anti Cruelty Initiatives and Legislative Services.
Improving local enforcement of animal cruelty laws is why the Gulfport Police Department has enlisted the help of Dr. Lockwood.
"I think more and more the public wants to see animal cruelty cases taken more seriously," says Lockwood. "More prosecutors are moving these cases through the courts. So it's important to have the first responders, mainly the cop on the beat, know what to look for and how to deal with it."
Patrol Lieutenant Greg Herman says the department is committed to tough enforcement. He believes the ASPCA training will help them do a better job of recognizing signs of abuse and neglect.
"Officers encounter animals every day," says Herman. "And the more educated you are about it, the safer you can be about it."
Lockwood says history shows that early intervention could eventually save innocent human lives, as well as the lives of innocent animals.
"Taking those cases seriously is a good opportunity for getting people into the system at an age, or a stage where that response might do some good," says Lockwood.
Dr. Lockwood has testified in numerous high profile trials involving animal cruelty in the context of other crimes, including child abuse, domestic violence and homicide.