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Our view: We must stop animal cruelty

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The crimes shock the conscience — and leave us wondering how they could have occurred without some authority stepping forward to halt them. A 20-year-old Forsyth County man, Caleb Dewald, was convicted of 10 counts of felony animal cruelty last week after pleading guilty to the crimes, as the Journal’s Michael Hewlett reported. The torturous acts against small captured wild animals were performed gleefully. Dewald recorded his acts, with joking commentary, in hopes that others would see and appreciate them.

We’re grateful that he was finally stopped and punished — but it should have happened much sooner.

If anything good can come from this, it’s that we can work to prevent such atrocities in the future.

One step we could take in that direction is to adopt educational programs designed to teach our children better, as the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggested last week in a letter to the N.C. Leadership Academy in Kernersville, from which Dewald graduated in 2020.

Another is to stop talking and start providing our children with the help they need to avert the current crisis in mental health care. All of our legislators agree that it’s necessary — so do it.

We won’t recount the more gruesome details of Dewald’s crimes, but they involved torturing opossums, squirrels and rats, all sensitive and intelligent animals, in some of the most painful ways imaginable. Dewald recorded these acts while laughingly commenting on the torture.

The criminal investigation began in 2021 following an anonymous tip. PETA was also made aware of the case and forwarded videos of the torture to local police.

When sheriff’s deputies first searched Dewald’s house, they found nothing actionable. But after Dewald went online to brag that police hadn’t taken the right flashdrive with all of his “stuff on it,” they returned for a more productive search.

School administrators cooperated in the investigation. But one of the most frustrating aspects of this case is that they were already aware that Dewald had a serious problem. They told investigators that when Dewald was once searched for drugs and weapons, they found a journal, which contained “drawings and confessions regarding the killing and torturing of different animals.”

But because the journal was considered private property, it was returned to Dewald, the search warrants said.

It’s disturbing that more comprehensive actions weren’t taken at that point.

Some have noted that Dewald’s sentence seems light: He received four consecutive suspended sentences of six months to 18 months and only four days of active jail time. He’s been placed on supervised probation for 30 months. He’s also required to complete 48 hours of community service, get a mental health assessment and continue treatment with a therapist. We appreciate, though, that Dewald’s crimes were likely exacerbated by mental illness and the sentence mitigated by his participation in therapy. PETA sent to the N.C. Leadership Academy includes information about its educational program, “Empathy Now,” which offers guidelines for teachers, K-12, to discuss animal cruelty — not only so that it can be reported early, but so that it can be avoided.

The material notes that Nikolas Cruz, found guilty of murdering 17 people in a school massacre in Parkland, Fla., reportedly tortured animals before turning to people — a pattern that has repeated itself numerous times.

Some likely think “Empathy Now” to echo a certain level of “wokeness” that they find distasteful. But empathy is necessary for society to function — and it can save lives. It might have stopped Dewald.

This is but one aspect of the mental health crisis experts say our children are experiencing today. Legislators need to make counseling and psychiatric beds more readily available at affordable prices. That means funding mental health programs instead of rather than hoarding resources so they can brag about the surplus. Our leaders need to act now.

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