We are appalled at almost daily reports of violence and abuse, and cannot comprehend how these horrendous things can happen in “nice neighborhoods” and to “nice people” and; although we don’t have factual evidence that animal abuse was involved in the recent horror stories, we do know that Intentional abuse and unintentional abuse are both hurtful, and indifference often allows violence to go unchecked. It is important to recognize that there is a definite violence connection , a link among animal abuse, family violence, and other forms of community violence.

Animal abuse often indicates the existence of a deeper problem. The line separating an animal abuser from someone capable of committing human abuse is much finer than most of us care to consider. It can be viewed as an excellent predictor of other abusive behaviors, and children who abuse animals often live in abusive situations, and may be at risk of “graduating” to violence directed at humans. Serial killers almost all have histories of abusing animals. Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo, the Boston Stranger all committed heinous acts of animal cruelty prior to killing their human victims. The Columbine school killings were carried out by teenagers who “graduated” from torturing small animals to slaughtering humans.

For families suffering from domestic abuse, the threat of abuse against companion animals is often used to keep the victims silent. Research by Frank Ascione, a psychologist at Utah University, indicates that more than two-thirds of women who sought safety at shelters reported that their pets had been threatened, injured, or killed by their abusers, and that about 88 percent of pets living in households with domestic abuse were eventually either abused or killed. There is legitimate evidence that individuals involved in violent acts against animals present a danger to the public that must be addressed. Intentional animal cruelty is often seen in association with other serious crimes including drug offenses, gang activity, weapons violations, sexual assault, and domestic violence, and can be one of the most visible parts of a history of aggressive or antisocial behavior.

We need to realize that shrugging off cruelty to animals as a minor offense is like ignoring a ticking time bomb. Certainly not all children who hurt animals go on to commit major crimes; some young children go through a stage which they may hurt small creatures, but experts stress that educators, parents, and other adults should firmly intervene at these times, teaching the child about boundaries and the importance of respecting animals. Early implementation of prevention and treatment strategies may break the cycle of violence , and needs to be addressed by the entire community—churches, schools, law enforcement, and the judicial system, to make sure that children don’t grow up thinking violence is okay. Anthropologist Margaret Mead insisted that, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to torture or kill an animal and get away with it.” It is important to recognize that abuse to animals is unacceptable and endangers everyone. Children (and adults ) should be taught to care for and respect animals.

What can you do?

  • Urge your law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, and schools to take cruelty to animals seriously. Those charged with protecting our communities and animals need to send a strong message that violence against animal is unacceptable. Learn more about Iowa’s animal abuse laws and advocate for appropriate legislation.
  • Be aware of signs of neglect or abuse in children and animals, and report suspected crimes to authorities. Take children seriously if they report that animals are being neglected or mistreated. Often children won’t talk about their own suffering, but will talk about an animal’s.
  • Never ignore even minor acts of cruelty. The cycle of abuse can be broken IF caring and concerned people have the courage and intelligence to act.

While it is sadly true that there is a frightening violence connection, it is equally true that there is a compassion connection. A kind person is a kind person is a kind person—kind to children, kind to the elderly, kind to animals. If we concentrate on a cycle of compassion rather than violence, we can make a difference.

Never doubt that a small group of concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has!— by Margaret Mead.