FGCU researchers study animal abuse in viral videos

FORT MYERS, Fla. A shark dragged behind a boat. A rabbit thrown against a wall. A turtle that had its shell smeared with paint.

Viral videos of animal abuse have been making the rounds online, sparking outrage and questions.

A video posted on social media in July appeared to show three young men laughing as they looked back at a distressed shark violently flopping in and out of the water as it was dragged behind their boat. A separate viral video shared in August showed a man shooting a hammerhead shark off the side of a boat.

Three Jacksonville-area teenage girls faced animal cruelty charges in May 2016 after a video appeared online that appeared to show them throwing a bunny against a wall several times.

“It seems like they’re fundamentally misunderstanding that they’re affecting a living creature in this video,” Florida Gulf Coast University student John Ashman said.

A gopher tortoise was found covered in red paint in July 2016 and was treated by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. It took about a week to get the paint off of its shell, legs and head.

FGCU Assistant Professor Dr. Terence Leary and his team study animal abuse and its connection to serial killers.

While not every abuser is a serial killer, immediate action should be taken to stop the behavior, Leary said.

“These are signals that if we see it, we need to act quickly, a major red flag,” Leary said. “That does not mean that everyone who engages in these behaviors will become a criminal psychopath.”

Leary supports zero-tolerance policies that would quickly address the issue. But laws vary by county around Florida.

Hillsborough County recently created an animal abuser registry that lists anyone convicted of animal abuse. Those on the list are prohibited from having, living or working with animals.

Southwest Florida counties do not yet have an animal abuse program.

Charlotte County is working to have an animal abuse registry within the next two years.

Collier County is reducing animal abuse fines for offenders who take pet ownership classes.

Lee County hasn’t made any recent changes to its animal abuse policy.

Reporter:Lindsey Sablan
Writer:Katherine Viloria