In the past few weeks, with dozens of cat carcasses littering South Dade, there have been several illogical leaps of logic. That's understandable. Nobody likes to find her pet mutilated on the front lawn. Still, it seems a bit unfair that the jury of public opinion has been quick to not only convict accused cat killer Tyler Weinman of animal cruelty, but also leap to the conclusion that this 18-year-old is destined to become a serial killer because he allegedly abused animals – and that he got this way because he dissected a cat in a high school anatomy class last year.
Now everybody from PETA to teenagers with queasy stomachs are using Weinman as the poster boy for banning animal dissections in school.
Which brings me to this question: Am I raising a serial killer if I allow my daughter to dissect a cat in high school? (Told you we were leaping.)
It is true that, starting in the late 1970s, the FBI began considering animal cruelty a possible indicator of future serial murder. This information is widely touted by the Humane Society. I don't fault them for that. Their job is to protect animals and that's a noble cause. But this old-fashioned assumption was based on a very small study of 35 imprisoned serial killers, half of whom admitted torturing or killing animals as children. That's hardly a scientific cause-and-effect.
Since then, the FBI has become a bit more sophisticated. The bureau now points out that less than 1 percent of all murders involve serial killers and that there really isn't a generic template for those few murderers. Despite the sensational cases you've read about in the news or watched at the movies, serial killers are males and females, their race and ethnicity mirrors the general population, and most of them are not social misfits – unless you consider that one teensy weensy problem of wanting to kill people. (Some of them do seem to have abusive, domineering mothers, but let's not get sidetracked here.)
If you want to keep yourself up at night, you can read all about it on the FBI's website, http://www.fbi.gov/publications/serial_murder.htm. But I'll boil it down for you here: Whoever killed those cats in South Florida is unlikely to start littering our lawns with human carcasses.
Even more unlikely: The connection between dissecting kitty or piggy in science class and wanting to go home and practice on Mittens.
I remember the pig fetus I dissected in biology my sophomore year in high school. Actually, I'm still trying to get that formaldehyde smell out of my nostrils. It wasn't an experience I wanted to repeat – especially because the goggles messed up my big hair and left rings on my face. (Give me a break, it was 1981.)
PETA, who I also hold in high esteem, likes to mention a 1997 report from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine on a study of seventh graders that found that fetal pig dissections fostered callousness toward animals and dissuaded students from pursuing science careers. But, more recently, a 2002 poll by (surprisingly) the Humane Society shows that a majority of biology teachers believe the real thing is a better educational experience than the virtual alternative. The National Association of Biology Teachers supports the practice of dissection when done for legitimate educational purposes, as does the National Science Teachers Association.
Sorry guys, I've got to go with the teachers on this one. It's called hands-on education, remember? How many students have gone on to become doctors or scientists after being inspired in science class? Most of these dissections occur only in higher-level science classes. If a student is morally opposed, he or she can opt out. It's that simple. It's the law here in Florida and many other states, which all offer dissection kits and computer programs with simulated dissections as an alternative for kids who refuse to cut.
With thousands of abandoned and feral cats euthanized annually in Miami, isn't it wiser to make those lost lives meaningful by giving them a higher purpose of educating young minds? Sorry, but I see more of a moral dilemma with that chicken or cow on your plate tonight. At least that animal would have lived if you hadn't been so hungry.
If my daughter is ethically destroyed by the thought of dissecting a cat when she's in high school then I'll honor that decision and let her go for the virtual experience. (Then I'll weep over my squashed hopes for med school.) If she opts to wield that knife, I certainly won't worry about her turning into a serial killer ... but, if she does, please don't blame it on her abusive, domineering mother.