On Monday, an airman was charged with five counts of animal cruelty at Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota, the latest in a string of alleged animal cruelty incidents at military bases across the country. Other allegations include soldiers using blow darts to kill cats at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, airmen using blow darts to kill prairie dogs at Minot, and reports of mutilated cats appearing at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada.
The airman in question is 21-year-old Airman 1st Class Jim Michael Velez Diaz. Katelynn Marie Mercier, 19, was also charged, despite the fact that she is not a military member. The Minot Daily News broke the story first, reporting that the Ward County Sheriff’s Office searched a house on base on May 26 after receiving a report of animal neglect. Inside, Patrol Deputy Ryan Ostrum discovered two dead, malnourished dogs as well as six other malnourished dogs. According to a sheriff’s department affidavit, the house was “in disarray, with garbage, dried animal urine, and animal feces all around the home.”
One of the dead dogs was kept in a kennel within a closet, along with some food and animal feces. The other was discovered in a bathroom, where Ostrum also discovered garbage, feces, and dried urine. While interacting with the other dogs, the deputy claimed he could see their ribs. Dr. Logan Wood examined the deceased dogs, a three-month-old male boxer mix and a two-month-old golden retriever, and determined that both died of malnourishment. A three-year-old female mixed breed, a six-month-old shepherd husky mix, and a one-year-old female shepherd mix were among the survivors, all of whom had a body condition of “1 out of 9” and were malnourished, according to the veterinarian. Wood described the remaining three dogs as “relatively healthy,” but with low body condition scores. The dogs that were still alive were taken to the Souris Valley Animal Shelter, which now owns them.
According to the Minot Daily News, Diaz and Mercier were each charged with five counts of Class C felony animal cruelty. In North Dakota, the maximum penalty for a Class C felony is five years in prison, a $10,000 fine, or both.
As bad as the Minot report sounds, it is only one of several cases of animal abuse in military communities that have recently made headlines. According to Military.com, four cats have been found cut in half at Nellis Air Force Base since February, prompting security forces airmen, the Air Force equivalent of military police, to launch an investigation.
Just a week before the Nellis story broke, Army officials in Hawaii said they were investigating allegations made by an Oahu animal rescue group that soldiers at Schofield Barracks were shooting stray cats with blow darts, according to Military Times.
The group shared a photo of Katniss Everdeen, a cat who was brought to the vet that morning with a dart protruding from its neck. The dart was removed, but news coverage of the incident continued to grow. In an interview with local TV station KITV4, Dr. Karen Tyson, founder of KAT Charities, accused soldiers from the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division of purchasing blow dart guns while training in Indonesia and using them on cats. KAT Charities also reported finding cats with their stomachs cut open and organs spilling out near the base of Popeyes, according to KITV4.
Several prairie dogs in North Dakota were also hit by blow darts, which were believed to be fired by service members. The Minot Air Force Base family housing office issued a Facebook post in May urging base community members to refrain from using blow darts on prairie dogs and dakrats, a type of prairie dog found in North Dakota and a few neighboring states and Canadian provinces.
In addition to being cruel to animals, such inhumane treatment may pose a threat to human community members. Recent research shows “a well-documented link that [animal cruelty] is a predictive or co-occurring crime with violence against humans (including intimate partners, children, and elders) and is associated with other types of violent offenses,” according to an article published on the FBI website in August.