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Animal Cruelty and Violence Against People

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Animal cruelty is a difficult thing for many of us to think about. But it unfortunately happens. Cruelty comes in many forms, some unintentional and some on purpose. Unintentional abuse usually occurs when someone is ignorant of the proper way to care for a pet. Neglect, improper food or shelter are common when animals are owned by people who either do not know enough about the pet's requirements or don't care enough to learn.

The most distressing form of cruelty is intentional. Depriving an animal of food, water, socialization, shelter or medical care, as well as torturing, mutilating or killing an animal are all considered forms of intentional cruelty and is illegal throughout the United States. In 31 states, animal cruelty is a felony. Animal cruelty by anyone should be considered a sign of deeper psychological problems.

A lot of research has been done regarding the link between animal cruelty and other violent acts. It has been found that people abusing animals are highly likely to either have been abused themselves and/or are also abusing family members. Many go on to commit even more violent acts such as rape and murder. By reporting and stopping animal abuse, as well as getting psychological help for the abuser, there is the potential to prevent even more violent and pathologic behavior.

Adults & Abuse

Animals are easy prey for people who take out their frustration on other beings. People who feel powerless, ignored by society or controlled by others seek out those less powerful. Animals cannot speak and seem to have an undying trust and love for their owners, despite abuse. Most often, this abuse is caused by men. When their frustrations are not alleviated by abusing animals, these people often progress to abusing family members. In a study of the dynamics involved in domestic violence, it was found that in 71 percent of cases involving spousal abuse, animal abuse was also occurring. In cases of child abuse, over 85 percent of the abusers were also abusing the family pets. Up to 20 percent of battered women delayed leaving their abuser due to threats made against pets.

Another study of animals abusers determined that people that abuse animals were 5 times more likely to commit violent crimes, 4 times more likely to commit property crimes and 3 times more likely to have drug or disorderly conduct offenses than non-abusers. Often, these people have histories of animal abuse beginning in childhood. No one took the abuse seriously and the people became more and more violent.

Children & Abuse

The very worst thing that can happen to a child is to be cruel to an animal and get away with it. - Margaret Mead.

Adults are not the only ones that abuse animals. Children also can be the abusers. Usually, children who abuse animals have been the victim of abuse or neglect themselves or have witnessed abuse. They feel powerless and take out their frustrations on the family pets. In studies of animal abuse by children, at least 88 percent of them were being abused by a parent.

Childhood animal abuse should never be considered "a phase." It is not just a developmental stage the child is going through. Any child found to be torturing, beating, mutilating or killing an animal is in dire need of help. Psychologists are beginning to believe that children who abuse animals and do not receive mental health have a tendency toward domestic violence as an adult.

Finally, law enforcement, community leaders and parents are beginning to understand the importance of animal cruelty and how it can indicate future aggressive and violent behavior. Even some veterinarians that suspect animal abuse have sent social workers to investigate the home environment if children are involved. Laws regarding animal cruelty are becoming harsher and children that abuse are getting psychological counseling. In 1993, California became the first state to require animal control officers to report child abuse if it was suspected while investigating an animal cruelty case. With everyone working together, cruelty to animals, as well as people, can begin to diminish.

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