ATHENS, Ga. — Fraternity brothers have dropped a puppy off a Mississippi River bridge, beaten a goose to death with a golf club and abandoned an unconscious, intoxicated pig in a park.
In December, Phi Kappa Psi members killed, skinned, burned and ate a raccoon at the University of Georgia.
These and other acts on campuses across the country have drawn the fury of animal lovers who say such abuse has grown into a dangerous trend because it is too often treated as innocent college hijinks.
“Animal cruelty is a crime and certainly can’t be accepted. Years ago it had to be made clear that rape is a crime,” said Ann Chynoweth, The Humane Society of the United States’ counsel to investigative services.
She recently wrote to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, asking it to educate its 350,000 undergraduate members about animal cruelty and its connection to human violence.
But Pete Smithhisler, spokesman for the Indianapolis-based conference, dismissed the idea that animals are in any more danger at fraternity houses than anywhere else.
“No, we don’t believe it’s a trend,” he said. “I’m sure it came to light because it was a fraternity. Do we think that incidents like these happen everywhere? Yeah.”
The Humane Society said the puppy’s death at Quincy University in Illinois, the goose beating at Davidson College in North Carolina, and incidents involving pigs at both Wake Forest University in North Carolina and Clarkson University in Massachusetts back up its claims.
Experts on the Greek culture acknowledge that meanness toward animals could be a byproduct of the wild behavior and drinking that have been part of fraternity life for years, despite efforts to change the “Animal House” stereotype.
“With alcohol, they lose all sense of propriety, they just don’t think about what they’re doing. You see some ugly things when that happens,” said Dr. Thomas “Sparky” Reardon, dean of students at the University of Mississippi, which has banned animals at parties to try to avoid instances of cruelty.
Stephen Sweet, a sociology professor at Ithaca College, said the intense loyalty the fraternities require of pledges and members often warps the line between right and wrong.
“It seems absolutely insane but if everybody says, ‘This is what you’ve got to go through,’ then it becomes something where they’ll submit,” said Sweet, author of a book on the fraternity culture.
The Humane Society has asked the North-American Interfraternity Conference to add to its expectations for fraternity members some recognition that the humane treatment of animals is part of living with respect for others. Academic integrity, drug and alcohol use, and abuse of human beings and property are already addressed.
The fraternity group doesn’t plan to add anything about animal cruelty, Smithhisler said.
“It’s really unfortunate that these guys thought that was a really neat thing to do but I was pleased to hear that their fraternity brothers are holding them accountable,” he said.
The individual fraternities have punished members by expelling or suspending them and, in some cases, closing the chapter involved. Some students have faced animal cruelty charges.