The fact is, most violent criminals started off causing harm to animals. As Dr. Randall Lockwood has said, "While not everyone who abuses animals will become a serial killer, virtually every serial killer first abused animals..."

And yet, not all states currently have laws making certain types of animal cruelty a felony offense - the remaining states allow for a misdemeanor only.

You can get involved by emailing, writing, or calling your representative and senators on legislation or issues that concern you. You can email your representative by going to www.house.gov, and for your senators, go to www.senate.gov. Or you can call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-3121.

While there is still a long way to go, animal welfare law has made great strides in the past few years. Remember that it wasn't until 1974 that Federal legislation addressing child abuse and neglect (the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act) was enacted. Changes to the law rarely come as quickly as we would like, but they do happen.

To view a list of states that currently provide felony statues for animal cruelty crimes, compare maximum jail time and fines, find out which states allow mandatory counseling and animal bans - and more - visit the Pet-Abuse.Com Animal Cruelty Law Matrix.

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Avoid Sending or Forwarding E-Mail Petitions

E-mail petitions are quite often viewed as SPAM, and could get your e-mail account revoked if enough people complain - but perhaps more importantly, they simply are not effective and often do more harm than good.

While your intentions are undoubtable good, e-mail petitions are simply too convoluted for anyone to make sense of. Additionally, petitions that do not have a meaningful expiration date, which e-mail petitions rarely have, are meaningless to lawmakers.

Several sophisticated online petition websites are available, if you wish to run a petition about a specific issue or cruelty case, however personal letters do tend to carry more weight with elected officials. They realize that it takes time and thought to write a letter, whereas it takes only a second to sign a petition. Writing a letter demonstrates to officials that you feel strongly enough about the subject to sit down and write a letter expressing how you feel.

Even well-addressed, well-thought-out petitions have their problems, chief among them the lack of a guarantee that anyone is collecting and collating the signatures or will deliver the completed documents to the right parties. The mere existence of a petition doesn't warrant that anyone will do anything with it once it is completed.

Moreover, petitions aren't the instruments of social change we'd so dearly love to believe they are. Yes, a petition festooned with a zillion signatures can have some influence, but only as a tangible proof of a subset of public opinion, and only upon those whose welfare is dependent upon public opinion (eg. politicians). Those signatures aren't votes, and they aren't treated as such by the governing bodies that have to decide on the tough questions of our times. At best, they're seen as an indication of the public's will, no more.

If you have the ability to do so, it is recommended that you take a moment to write a brief letter to the person in question - and you can always create or sign an online petition as well, that way your bases are covered.

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