Two young boys who admitted stoning and then hanging a 4-month-old kitten are too young to be charged with a crime and will instead be sent through a diversion program, authorities say.
Arizona State University associate Professor Christina Risley-Curtiss has worked with children who abuse animals and has been asked by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to help counsel the boys, ages 6 and 7, through ASU’s new Children and Animals Together Assessment and Diversion program, which specializes in treating children 6 to 17 years old who abuse animals.
“Our issue is to get them young,” said Risley-Curtiss, the program’s founder. “Research does show this kind of activity is a marker. What it says is these kids are troubled and they need help.”
A neighbor contacted the Sheriff’s Office after finding the cat’s body at a trailer park in Mesa. It was hanging by its neck from a backyard tree at one boy’s home.
The boys used a piece of wire from a video-game controller to string up the kitten, which appeared to have been beaten with a rock, authorities said. The boys told deputies they were playing the video game Grand Theft Auto, which has been condemned by some as promoting criminal behavior.
Deputies contacted state Child Protective Services, which declined to get involved, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Elizabeth Barker, a CPS spokeswoman, said Friday the agency was investigating the incident to determine whether the family could benefit from a range of programs, including counseling and parenting classes.
Further complicating the case, the Sheriff’s Office said, is that the 7-year-old’s mother is an illegal immigrant. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio said Tuesday that if the law would have allowed it, he would have arrested the boys on animal cruelty charges.
“I’d love to prosecute them, but I can’t,” he said.
Arpaio said the boy’s mother has been turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Vincent Picard, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman, said that without the woman’s name, which was not released, he was unable to determine whether she was detained, deported or simply told to appear in court.
A Sheriff’s Office child forensic specialist interviewed the boys with their parents and persuaded them to pursue counseling for the children.
Arpaio and Risley-Curtiss agree that animal abuse, especially at the hands of young children, could be a precursor to future crime and/or physical abuse later in life.
Risley-Curtiss has yet to be contacted by the boys’ parents, but said those in the program undergo an in-depth social-work assessment followed by a nine-hour diversion intervention.
“We try to get at what are the reasons and what’s behind this behavior,” she said, noting that studies have shown that 90 percent of animal physical-cruelty cases are done by males. The majority of animal neglect and abuse cases are by women, she said.
The children’s program has teamed with the Arizona Animal Welfare League to work with children on accountability and behavior issues, as well teach how to properly handle and care for animals.
Short of the family seeking help from the program, Arpaio is asking any a qualified child counselor interested in volunteering their services to the boys to call 602-876-1681.