The catch phrase, “boys will be boys’ is often used to express the view that mischievous or childish behavior is typical and should be excused. An incident occurred last Sunday in our community and a casual bystander remarked, “ Well, they shouldn’t have done that , but boys will be boys, you know.”

I agree that “they shouldn’t have done that,” but I hope that their behavior is not typical, and am certain that it should not be excused, especially not the two freshmen ringleaders who inflicted deliberate acts of blatant abuse to a defenseless little kitten. ‘What’s the big deal?’ you ask ‘It’s just a cat…..and cats are a dime a dozen…besides they carry disease….farmers eliminate cats all the time.’ I understand and accept the necessity to sometimes eliminate the cat population on a farm where they might spread disease to the farm animals, but locking a kitten in a closed space, poking and prodding it until an eye is damaged, stepping it and throwing it from one to another cannot be excused as adolescent mischief. The cat was hardly moving by the time two brave young girls intervened. Even though it was a Sunday, our vet cared enough to get fluids and food into his tiny body, and treat the injuries as best he could. Treatment continued until Thursday, when the decision was made that the kindest option was to euthanize the kitten.

Recent studies have determined that the connection between animal abuse and violence directed against humans is well documented, and is much broader than previously thought—not only to violent crime, but to anti-social crimes of all types. Animal abuse, like many other forms of abuse, is about power and control. In Sunday’s incident, it is likely that the two freshmen were “showing off” for the three younger participants in this act of violence, and middle school kids long to be part of the action, so are usually reluctant to challenge the actions of older peers .

It is true that many young children go through a developmental stage of “innocent cruelty” during which they may hurt insects or other small creatures in the process of exploring their world. However, a child who persists in this behavior or who intentionally injures or kills cats, dogs, birds or other animals must be considered at risk of future violent or criminal activity. Documentation shows that childhood animal abuse increases the likelihood of continued physical violence as well as other nonviolent forms of delinquency during adolescence. Experts agree that early prevention and treatment of animal cruelty is the key to stopping the cycle of violence because as aggressive children get older, a variety of other crimes, including violence against people, property crimes, and drug or disorderly conduct offenses emerge. Animal abuse is not just “boys being boys,” and it is important to curb violent tendencies before they escalate to include violence against people.

Father’s Day is approaching soon, and this offers an excellent opportunity for dads (and moms) to discuss the helplessness of animals, and the importance of treating them with kindness and respect. Encourage the kids to share any incidents of animal mistreatment that they have witnessed where they may have felt uncomfortable, but didn’t know what to do. They might welcome some nonjudgmental suggestions to help them avoid future involvement in any questionable animal activities. Middle school children are impressionable, and I would hope that the three six graders involved in this specific incident will be courageous enough next time to refuse to participate. If you have a child who abuses animals, he needs help…not punishment, but professional counseling. With everyone working together, cruelty to animals, as well as to people, can begin to diminish, and boys can be boys in productive ways.

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child
is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.”
—Margaret Mead