“Suspicious Activity,” Animal Skulls, and the Perils of Sensationalism

“Suspicious Activity,” Animal Skulls, and the Perils of Sensationalism February 22, 2012

Yesterday, local news reporters in Chester County, Pennsylvania covered what law enforcement and animal control officials called a “dark and disturbing” scene. The alleged slaughtered corpses of half-a-dozen dogs, surrounded by occult books and paraphernalia.

“Two people are in custody after police found more than a half dozen dismembered dogs inside a Chester County house Monday night. SPCA officers carried out bags and boxes of evidence from a home in the 2400 block of Wayne Avenue in the city of Coatesville. Officials say the scene inside was dark and disturbing with elements of witchcraft and the occult on vivid display. In the living room, investigators say they found two dog skulls and a dog skeleton that had been gold-leafed. They then walked into the kitchen and found two dog skeletons on the counter and a dog’s head in the freezer.

This seems pretty bad. It’s one thing to tolerate the sacrifice of a livestock animal like a chicken or goat, but dogs? People love dogs, and those who harm and abuse them are usually treated as no better than if they murdered a human being. Plus, “witchcraft and the occult”? You know that local Pagans, not to mention adherents of Santeria or Vodou, will have to do damage control for years because of this. But what if, just what if, those weren’t dog skulls. What if they were something else?

“Since the remains found in Caln Township haven’t been confirmed as canine, [George Bengal, the director of law enforcement for the state’s SPCA] said there may not be cause for alarm. In his experience, goat and dog skulls can be easily confused.

It’s true! If you aren’t an expert in such matters, and if you are full of adrenaline responding to a “suspicious activity” call, it can be quite easy to confuse a goat skull with a dog skull. Here’s a side-by-side comparison with a domestic dog skull and a domestic goat skull.

For the sake of argument, if these were goat skulls, wouldn’t that explain why they were keeping some in a freezer? Why there were charred bone remains in a fire pit? That they were, you know, eating the goats? Now, I don’t eat meat, so goats aren’t on my menu, but I hear that goat is the most-consumed type of meat in the world, and is increasingly trendy here in the United States. So wouldn’t having a decorated goat skull in your house be no more different than the many, many, folks I’ve met who display decorated cow skulls in their homes (particularly in the Southwest)?

Regardless of veracity, because of the “sacrificed dog” angle that all the initial reports have put out, the local occult/metaphysical community is now on the defensive.

“In my 41 years of practicing the occult, I’ve never come across any ritual or activity that involves killing dogs or cats,” [Eric Lee, co-owner of Mystickal Tymes] said. “This person sounds more like a sadistic individual that should be heavily sedated than an occult practitioner.”

Now think of the owners of that house. Even if the remains were goats that they ate, will they ever have peace again? Or will they be forever branded as the “dog sacrifice” family, and be slowly ostracized and exiled from the community? Will the local media do big flashy “exonerated” stories, or will we just get a quiet addendum that nobody pays attention to?

A final question. Why did the local SPCA officials on-scene instantly jump to the conclusion that these were dog remains, comments that were soon walked back after the fact? Could it be that many SPCA officials received training in “occult” matters from biased sources? In fact, state SPCA official George Bengal, who is quoted above, has made odd remarks about animal sacrifice in the past.

“An animal welfare official says a beheaded dog and cat found in Philadelphia appear to be the result of a ritual sacrifice. George Bengal, Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals director of investigations, said the dog and cat were found … near a bike path in Philadelphia’s Olney neighborhood along with three beheaded chickens. He said he believes the animals were killed elsewhere and the remains dumped where a passer-by found them. Mr. Bengal said there is usually an increase in ritual animal sacrifices at this time of year because of “a lot of high holidays that different groups celebrate.” But he said most of those sacrifices involve goats and chickens.”

A different Pennsylvania-based SPCA official in 2009 harassed a Satanist, accusing him of abusing his pets, despite no evidence that this was occurring. He too was the victim of a “suspicious activity” call. Which makes one wonder, why does the Pennsylvania SPCA think occult practitioners are routinely harming dogs and cats? What data or evidence are they basing this on, and why were officials so quick to exclaim “dog” in Chester County, Pennsylvania when it might have been “goat” instead?

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