According to a 1997 study done by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and Northeastern University, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people and four times more likely to commit property crimes than are individuals without a history of animal abuse.
Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.
If you break it down to its bare essentials:
"Abusing an animal is a way for a human to find power/joy/fulfillment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend itself."
Now break down a human crime, say rape. If we substitute a few pronouns, it's the SAME THING.
"Rape is a way for a human to find power/joy/fulfillment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend themselves."
Now try it with, say, domestic abuse such as child abuse or spousal abuse:
"Child abuse is a way for a human to find power/joy/fulfillment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend themselves."
Do you see the pattern here?
The line separating an animal abuser from someone capable of committing human abuse is much finer than most people care to consider. People abuse animals for the same reasons they abuse people. Some of them will stop with animals, but enough have been proven to continue on to commit violent crimes to people that it's worth paying attention to.
Virtually every serious violent offender has a history of animal abuse in their past, and since there's no way to know which animal abuser is going to continue on to commit violent human crimes, they should ALL be taken that seriously. FBI Supervisory Special Agent Allen Brantley was quoted as saying "Animal cruelty... is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign..." It should be looked at as exactly that. Its a clear indicator of psychological issues that can and often DO lead to more violent human crimes.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, who has a doctorate in psychology and is senior vice president for anti-cruelty initiatives and training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, states "A kid who is abusive to a pet is quite often acting out violence directly experienced or witnessed in the home," Lockwood said, adding that about one-third of children who are exposed to family violence will act out this violence, often against their own pets.
Others either abuse pets or threaten to abuse them as a way to control an individual.
"So much of animal cruelty... is really about power or control," Lockwood said. Often, aggression starts with a real or perceived injustice. The person feels powerless and develops a warped sense of self-respect. Eventually they feel strong only by being able to dominate a person or animal.
Sometimes, young children and those with developmental disabilities who harm animals don't understand what they're doing, Lockwood said. And animal hoarding - the practice of keeping dozens of animals in deplorable conditions - often is a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Just as in situations of other types of abuse, a victim of abuse often becomes a perpetrator. According to Lockwood, when women abuse animals, they "almost always have a history of victimization themselves. That's where a lot of that rage comes from."
In domestic violence situations, women are often afraid to leave the home out of fear the abuser will harm the family pet, which has lead to the creation of Animal Safehouse programs, which provide foster care for the pets of victims in domestic violence situations, empowering them to leave the abusive situation and get help.
Whether a teenager shoots a cat without provocation or an elderly woman is hoarding 200 cats in her home, "both are exhibiting mental health issues... but need very different kinds of attention," Lockwood said.
Those who abuse animals for no obvious reason, Lockwood said, are "budding psychopaths." They have no empathy and only see the world as what it's going to do for them.
History is full of high-profile examples of this connection:
- Patrick Sherrill, who killed 14 coworkers at a post office and then shot himself, had a history of stealing local pets and allowing his own dog to attack and mutilate them.
- Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped, stabbed, and mutilated a 7-year-old boy, had been widely known in his neighborhood as the man who put firecrackers in dogs? rectums and strung up cats.
- Brenda Spencer, who opened fire at a San Diego school, killing two children and injuring nine others, had repeatedly abused cats and dogs, often by setting their tails on fire.
- Albert DeSalvo, the "Boston Strangler" who killed 13 women, trapped dogs and cats in orange crates and shot arrows through the boxes in his youth.
- Carroll Edward Cole, executed for five of the 35 murders of which he was accused, said his first act of violence as a child was to strangle a puppy.
- In 1987, three Missouri high school students were charged with the beating death of a classmate. They had histories of repeated acts of animal mutilation starting several years earlier. One confessed that he had killed so many cats he?d lost count. Two brothers who murdered their parents had previously told classmates that they had decapitated a cat.
- Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had impaled dogs? heads, frogs, and cats on sticks.
More recently, high school killers such as 15-year-old Kip Kinkel in Springfield, Ore., and Luke Woodham, 16, in Pearl, Miss., tortured animals before embarking on shooting sprees. Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot and killed 12 classmates before turning their guns on themselves, bragged about mutilating animals to their friends.
As powerful a statement as the high-profile examples above make, they don't even begin to scratch the surface of the whole truth behind the abuse connection. Learning more about the animal cruelty/interpersonal violence connection is vital for community members and law enforcement alike.