The crimes shock the conscience – and leave us wondering how they could have happened without an authority stepping forward to stop them. A 20-year-old Forsyth County man, Caleb Dewald, was convicted of 10 counts of animal cruelty last week after pleading guilty to the crimes, as reported by Michael Hewlett of the Journal. Acts of torture against captured small wild animals were carried out with joy. Dewald recorded his deeds, with joking comments, in the hope that others would see and enjoy them.
We are grateful that he was finally caught and punished – but it should have happened much sooner.
If anything good can come from this, it’s that we can work to prevent such atrocities in the future.
One step we could take in that direction is to adopt educational programs designed to better teach our children, as the nonprofit group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals suggested last week in a letter to NC Leadership Academy in Kernersville, from which Dewald graduated in 2020.
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Another is to stop talking and start getting our kids the help they need to avoid the current mental health care crisis. All of our legislators agree that it is necessary — so do it.
We won’t go into the more gruesome details of Dewald’s crimes, but they involved torturing opossums, squirrels and rats, all sentient and intelligent animals, in some of the most painful ways imaginable. Dewald recorded these acts while laughingly commenting on the torture.
The criminal investigation began in 2021 following an anonymous denunciation. PETA was also made aware of the case and forwarded videos of the torture to local police.
When sheriff’s deputies first searched Dewald’s home, they found nothing objectionable. But after Dewald went online to brag that the police had taken the wrong USB drive with all his “stuff on it,” they returned for a more productive search.
School administrators cooperated with the investigation. But one of the most frustrating things about this case is that they already knew Dewald had a serious problem. They told investigators that when Dewald was once wanted for drugs and weapons, they found a diary containing “drawings and confessions regarding the murder and torture of different animals.”
But because the diary was considered private property, it was returned to Dewald, according to search warrants.
It is troubling that more comprehensive action was not taken at that time.
Some have noted that Dewald’s sentence appears light: He received four consecutive suspended sentences of six months to 18 months and only four days in active prison. He was placed on supervised probation for 30 months. He must also complete 48 hours of community service, obtain a mental health assessment and continue treatment with a therapist. We appreciate, however, that Dewald’s crimes were likely exacerbated by mental illness and the pain lessened by his attendance at therapy. PETA sent to NC Leadership Academy includes information about its educational program, “Empathy Now,” which offers guidelines for teachers, K-12, to discuss animal cruelty — not just so it can be reported early , but so that it can be avoided.
The material notes that Nikolas Cruz, convicted of murdering 17 people in a school massacre in Parkland, Florida, allegedly tortured animals before turning to people – a pattern that has repeated itself over and over. .
Some probably think that “Empathy Now” echoes a certain level of “awakening” that they find distasteful. But empathy is necessary for the functioning of society – and it can save lives. It could have stopped Dewald.
This is just one aspect of the mental health crisis facing children today, experts say. Lawmakers must make counseling and psychiatric beds more readily available at affordable prices. It means funding mental health programs instead of hoarding resources so they can brag about the surplus. Our leaders must act now.