History is full of stories about people being violent to animals and people. These acts of violence have been increasing throughout the United States. Animal violence, in particular, has been gaining national attention as a precursor to violence toward people.
Animal cruelty involves a wide range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to intentional killing. This cruelty can include knowingly depriving an animal of water, food, shelter or veterinary care or viciously killing, torturing, mutilating or maiming an animal.
These types of cases occur even in our county. The Lawrence Humane Society investigates an average of 750 animal cruelty and neglect calls per year. Most of the time, investigators simply need to educate pet owners and help them to understand appropriate care of companion animals. About 20 percent of the cases result in taking the animals and charging the owners with cruelty or neglect. Ten percent of cases involve the death of an animal and are rarely if ever solved.
Animal abuse, like other forms of abuse, is about power and control. An individual might abuse or threaten to abuse animals to intimidate another person into subservience, silence a victim of abuse from revealing their situation, replicate abuse that a person has witnessed or experienced, exert power over another weaker being or practice future crimes of violence.
Animal abuse indicates that deeper problems exist. Children who abuse animals may be living in an abusive situation. Spouses who are abused are often more comfortable reporting animal abuse.
A recent study by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services examined 53 families under investigation for child abuse. Abuse of family pets was documented in 60 percent of the families. In most cases, the parent killed or injured the animal.
Another study with a women's shelter in northern Utah found that 71 percent of battered women reported that their male partner had threatened to or had actually harmed or killed their pets. Thirty-two percent of the women reported that one of their children had also committed acts of animal cruelty.
The FBI uses animal abuse in profiling violent offenders. This abuse indicates an individual has experienced violence or may be predisposed to committing acts of violence. Over the years social scientists and law enforcement officials have begun to examine cruelty to animals as a serious human problem closely linked to child, spouse and elder abuse and other violent crimes.
So what can we do if we suspect abuse? Talk with school principals, resource officers, psychologists or law enforcement officials. Pay attention to your child's behavior. Most violent offenders show signs of aggression as juveniles by killing or abusing animals. According to the National Research Council, early prevention efforts are more likely to reduce adult crime than criminal sanctions applied later in life.
Cruelty to animals is a crime. It is also a symptom of a disturbed individual. Prevention is the key to helping not only the children and animals in these situations but society as a whole. Report abuse, whether it is against a person or an animal.
Midge Grinstead is executive director of the Lawrence Humane Society. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.