Russellville, Arkansas – Jake Burris, campaign manager for Democratic Congressional candidate Ken Aden, came home with his four children to find their pet cat slaughtered on the front porch. ”LIBERAL” was scrawled in magic marker on the lifeless body. In a clear example of terrorism, the innocent animal had been bashed in the head and left so that it could not be missed by Burris, who is locked in a tight campaign struggle against a right-wing Republican opponent to elect his candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives. But instead of Burris finding the carcass of the family pet before his children, his little boy found their kitty first. Blue Arkansas wrote movingly about this atrocity:
“This is terrorism. There’s no other word for it. A police report has been filed. Jake said the kids seem to be handling it okay. The one that discovered the cat was too young to be able to read and Jake had quickly gotten the others into the house before they saw it. Pope County is an insanely conservative area and the Aden campaign has been shaking things up even there and it looks like another right wing sociopath with a taste for violence has come crawling out of the woodwork in response. I asked Aden for a comment on the record:
‘“This is sickening. To kill a child’s pet…I’m at a loss for words…I’ve seen the best and the worst of humanity, but this is something else.”’
Defenseless, innocent victims pay the price of hate ideology and violence first–our pets. Violence against human victims is underreported, but statistics on this dimension of hate violence are non-existent. The numbers of pets slain in hate killings must be astronomical. Political liberals, progressives, LGBTQ people, women, racial/ethnic minorities have all experienced the terrible shock, anger, and raw fear Jake Burris and his family faced yesterday at the hands of irrational hate groups who send a message of terror by killing cats, dogs, birds and other family pets.
The murder of pet animals is often a prelude to anti-human violence. Gay man Charlie Howard found his cat dead on the front steps of his apartment in Bangor, Maine with its neck broken shortly before a gang of Bangor’s youth threw him off the State Street Bridge. Friends of Charlie’s said that after he found his cat killed, he became depressed and fearful. He had every reason to be, as it turned out. Charlie drowned in Kenduskeag Stream because three boys hated him because of his sexual orientation. The pet killing was a telegraphic message of homophobia, sent from people who warmed up to killing Charlie by taking the life of his companion.
I know the feeling that terrorized Charlie Howard and that the Jake Burris and his family face now. In the early 1990′s, I came home from pastoral hospital visits to parishioners to find my English Bulldog Buck and my Basset Hound Beau butchered, hanging up in a tree in my Eastern NC parsonage yard. Anonymous opponents suspected I was gay, and tried to drive me out of the church I was serving by slaughtering my pets. In those days, I lived a single, closeted life, serving churches with the fear of discovery of my sexual orientation. My dogs were my only companions, and paid the ultimate price because cowards thought I would run. I did not run. I stayed at the church and fought back successfully. But the loss is still with me.
Reuters reports that the campaign of Republican incumbent Steve Womack, Aden’s opponent in the heavily conservative 3rd District of Arkansas, has condemned the killing of Burris’s cat. Candidate Aden and Burris said they do not believe anyone in the Womack campaign perpetrated the crime. The Russellville Police Department is treating this incident as an animal cruelty case, and the investigation is ongoing. But the fact remains that the atmosphere of irrational hatred propounded by unreasoning prejudice is lethal.
Jake Burris told Blue Arkansas, “I’ve got a gun and I know how to use it. If I have to protect my kids I’ll do it without hesitation.”
We have a duty to all life to find a cure for hate. Our pets pay as terrible a price as we do because of hate violence. Perhaps the shock of a story like this can awaken the consciences of our neighbors to work with us to create a world safe for all creatures to live without fear. ~ Stephen V. Sprinkle, Founder and Director of the Unfinished Lives Project, Associate Prof at Brite Divinity School, Fort Worth, Texas