John Thompson: The Game Changer

On March 7, AWI presented the Schweitzer Medal to John Thompson in recognition of his extraordinary efforts to improve law enforcement’s recognition of animal cruelty as a crime of violence and its response to those crimes.

In truth, Thompson was a late bloomer when it comes to animals. He never even had a dog until he brought one home as a gift to his wife. Despite spending 30 years in law enforcement and rising to become the deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Thompson never gave much thought to animal cruelty. He started his career as a military police canine handler; yet, like so many cops, he considered animal cruelty a problem for animal control. An epiphany changed all that.

Thompson’s world transformed when his daughter gave him an article she had written on the link between animal abuse and other violent behavior. Thompson’s immediate reaction was “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He found himself staying up at night reading article after article, wondering, “How did I not know this?” At the same time, his “wife’s dog,” Mr. Po, was quickly becoming “his dog,” snuggling his way into John’s heart. (Mr. Po, who passed away in October, is pictured with Thompson on page 3 of this issue.)

Shortly after his epiphany, Thompson attended a listening session on animal cruelty at the US Department of Justice. Surrounded by national animal welfare organization representatives, Thompson was struck by the lack of law enforcement officials at the table and the lack of coordination among the national groups. Thompson used his clout at the NSA to help create the National Coalition on Violence Against Animals, a multidisciplinary coalition of local, state, and national organizations that seeks to reduce violence against animals and raise awareness of its link to human violence.

Thompson sought as well to provide a resource especially for law enforcement officials. He created the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse, which aims not only to educate officers but also to encourage them to enforce animal cruelty laws. Thompson then helped convince the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as of January 2016, to add animal cruelty crimes to its national crime report—something AWI had long lobbied for. Thompson, an insider who served on the FBI’s Advisory Policy Board, was the tipping point.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Thompson also undertook to reduce the number of officer-involved dog shootings. Working with the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) at the Department of Justice, he has helped procure funding to train officers at police academies. Now, in his latest challenge, Thompson has assumed directorship of the National Animal Care and Control Association, which seeks to strengthen the animal care and control profession through training, networking, and advocacy.

For all he has done for animals, AWI is pleased to present John Thompson with the Schweitzer Medal.