Recently in Tampa, a pit bull was found dead, chained to a post in a foreclosed home. In Sacramento, a puppy was burned alive. At the same time across America dozens of men, women and children are victims of violent crimes. It is time to take a serious look at the connection between those who torture and kill animals, and perpetrators of violent crimes against people.
The examples are appalling. Mass murderer Jeffrey Dahmer cut off the heads of cats and dogs impaling them on sticks; Albert DeSalvo, the "Boston Strangler, trapped dogs and cats in orange rates and shot arrows through the box, and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz poisoned his mother's parakeet. While these are anecdotal stories about well-known serial killers, there are scientific studies that draw a direct correlation between animal torture and human cruelty.
With their limited resources local law enforcement can't always make animal cruelty incidents a top priority. But perhaps when we look at the connection between animal cruelty and human violence, we would focus more attention on those who abuse animals to prevent them from escalating to crimes against people.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, researchers determined that between 71 percent and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners also abused or killed the family pet. 1 Another study found that in families under supervision for the physical abuse of their children, pet abuse was concurrent in 88 percent of the families. 2 In seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all boys involved had previously committed acts of animal cruelty. 3
Because of this growing evidence of a link between animal cruelty and violent crimes, those who abuse animals are now on the radar of law enforcement agencies, social workers, and veterinarians in states that have cross-reporting laws requiring these professionals to report cases of animal abuse.
In the case of animal abuse by young children, intervention at an early age can stop these tendencies before they escalate to include violence against people. The National School Safety Council, the U.S. Department of Education, the American Psychological Association, and the National Crime Prevention Council all now agree that animal cruelty is a warning sign for at-risk youth.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, a psychologist who has written extensively on the link between animal abuse and human violence, wrote "Those who abuse animals for no obvious reason are budding psychopaths. They have no empathy and only see the world as what it's going to do for them."
What can the public do to stop animal abuse? First and most importantly, all animal abuse should be reported to local law enforcement, who should make arrests in these cases a priority. Only 28 states currently have counseling provisions in their animal cruelty laws. Psychological counseling should be mandated for anyone convicted of animal cruelty with particular emphasis placed on helping children who have abused animals. This is necessary for their own welfare as well as that of their community.
Animal welfare organizations should come together to offer substantial rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who abuses an animal and efforts should be undertaken to push this story in the local media. The Humane Society of the United States offers rewards in cases across the country, oftentimes in partnership with other organizations. Prosecutors should not only demand jail time, but also insist on psychological counseling for those convicted of animal cruelty. In questioning suspects in violent crimes, law enforcement should question them about any abuse of animals in their past.
This is a serious problem. It is also one that will only get worse if left unchecked. The public should demand that anyone who abuses an animal be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. This is not an animal rights issue. It is a way to identify and help those who may one day become a danger to the community at large.
Cathy Kangas, a member of the Board of Directors of The Humane Society of the United States, supports animal welfare causes through Beauty with a Cause.
1. Walton-Moss, B.J. Manganello, J., Frye, V., & Campbell, J.C. (2005) "Risk factors for intimate partner violence and associated injury among urban women." Journal of Community Health, 30(5), 377-389.
2. DeViney, E., Dickert, J., & Lockwood, R (1983) "The care of pets within child abusing families." International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4, 3321-3329
3. Randour, M.L. (2004) "Including animal cruelty as a factor in assessing risk and designing interventions." Conference Proceedings, Persistently Safe Schools The National Conference of the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence, Washington, D.C.