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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
A photo is displayed during the Humane Society of Northern Utah organized vigil for Sage at Kiwanis Park in Clearfield on Sunday, March 12, 2017. Sage is a cat that was tortured and died.

The reward for the arrest and conviction of the person who tortured Sage, a Clearfield cat that couldn't survive its injuries, is close to $50,000 as I write this. I wouldn't be surprised if it jumped some by the time this column is published.

I hope by then someone will have qualified to collect the money by identifying who did such a terrible thing. It's not often I hear of an act so despicable it leaves me nearly speechless.

The sheer size of the reward — which keeps growing as people hear about injuries inflicted upon the cat — has prompted some discussion on whether we value animals more than we value humans. In the comments on a Deseret News story, for instance, one reader hinted that rewards for crimes against humans should always be bigger than that for an animal. Another wondered why a story about a dead cat is front-page news. There are variations on social media feeds, as well.

I see things differently than I did a few years ago when I'd have asked those questions myself, even though I have always loved animals — especially cats — and find animal abuse appalling.

People first, no matter what, right?

Truth is, it needn't be a competition: Who do we love more? Babies or cats and dogs? That's an injustice to the issue of justice itself. It's about harming something simply because you can, which is an assault on decency. People and animals deserve to be treated well. Finding the person who killed Sage is of grave importance for both people and animals.

The issue is that someone deliberately inflicted such horror on another living creature — human or not. Someone held the cat, who I suspect was a loving creature used to being picked up and petted and treated affectionately by humans, so it had no reason to fear, and deliberately broke its paws. That person broke the cat's ribs. And lest anyone think the injuries were the result of some bizarre accident, whoever it was used a hot glue gun to inflict unspeakable pain. I hope with every ounce of my being that Sage managed to scratch its torturer severely; perhaps that will help identify the human or humans (although "human" seems like a poor word choice for such a creature). Scratches from cats, those loveliest of creatures, can leave a nasty infection. One can hope. …

I think the outrage that generated such a large reward and even a sympathetic vigil is not solely for love of a tortured cat; it's a statement against the abuser. Animal abuse is not usually a one-time event. It is often part of a progression that includes violence against other animals and people, too. Abuse is a cowardly act that seems to seek out vulnerable or trusting creatures, including babies, children and old people. It rewards innocence with pain.

The Deseret News quoted psychologist Frank Ascione regarding this case of animal cruelty: "… The severe nature of (Sage's) injuries while the animal was still alive suggests the person was extremely calloused and lacks empathy." Ascione, from the University of Denver, said research shows animal abusers are five times more apt than others to hurt people, too, or to have drug problems.

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The reward says clearly that the individual who would do such a thing is in dire need of corrective action. Nothing on earth justifies what was done to that cat — or the future harm possible if someone who would do that is not identified and stopped.

Is the reward heart-stoppingly big? You bet. I hope its sheer size creates terror in the heart of the abuser. Might it prevent future torture of animals or people? Probably. If it prevents more abuse, we may not be able to measure it, but still. …

Good.