Make your own free website on
Abuse Files - Abuse link
- Theres no happy endings. No tears of joy.
Only sadness , pain , and anger. Only truth.
The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence
When 15-year old Kip Kinkel opened fire on his Springfield, Oregon classmates last year, killing one classmate and injuring 23 others, it was not the first time he had killed. Kinkel was known for cutting off the heads of cats and mounting them on sticks.
Russell Eugene Weston, Jr., charged with gunning down two policemen at the U.S. Capitol in July, had picked up a shotgun and killed a dozen cats in his hometown the previous day.
Violence in our society is disturbingly common. The news abounds with horror stories like these involving acts of cruelty to both people and animals. Recent studies on the anatomy of cruelty cases show a clear connection between acts of animal cruelty and crimes against people.
Many of the country's most notorious serial killers -- Ted Bundy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz and Jeffrey Dahmer have childhood histories of repeated animal cruelty. Most professionals agree that animal abuse is not just the result of a personality flaw in the abuser, but a symptom of a deeply disturbed family. A person who hurts an animal generally feels powerless and vents their frustration on animals who can't defend themselves.
The FBI began to see a connection between cruelty to animals and other violent behavior in the late 1970s, according to Special Agent Alan Brantley, who works in the bureau's behavioral science unit. They conducted a study of serial killers and found that most had killed or tortured animal as children or adolescents. Agent Brantley reports "This [animal cruelty} is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign that this individual...needs some sort of intervention."
Although the link between cruelty to animals and other forms of violent behavior has been well documented, it hasn't been taken seriously by law enforcement officials, social services agencies and the courts. Generally animals are treated as property, and crimes against them are considered misdemeanors. State anti-cruelty laws are weak and inadequately enforced. But the tide is starting to turn. Twenty-one states now have felony animal cruelty statutes on the books, and more states are likely to add felony provisions in the future. In California, a new law requires psychiatric counseling for offenders.
Study links animal cruelty to violence against humans
Wednesday, September 10, 1997
Knight-Ridder News Service
WASHINGTON -- The man who hurts animals is often well on his way to hurting children, wives and strangers, a new study predicts.
And that is why law-enforcement officials need to treat animal cruelty cases more seriously, says the Humane Society of the United States.
"The guy who burns the neighbor's cat is not otherwise a normal member of society," said Carter Luke, vice president of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "These are dangerous people for whom violence and physical abuse are often a way of life."
The national Humane Society's study found that almost three in 10 animal abusers also hurt people, most often their children or their wives. Nine out of 10 people who commit cruelty to animals are men, the study said.
"Rarely today does violence exist in a vacuum," Paul G. Irwin, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, said Tuesday at a news conference to release the study. Understanding and preventing animal cruelty "could save human lives . . . and break the cycle of violence."
Randall Lockwood, a psychologist who specializes in the relationship between people, animals, and violence, added: "The impulse to commit cruel, abusive, and violent acts is not limited to human victims."
The society is launching the "First Strike" campaign to increase awareness about the connection between violence against animals and people, and to press for stronger penalties for animal cruelty.
The FBI began to see a connection between violence against animals and violence against humans in the late 1970s, according to Special Agent Alan Brantley, who works in the bureau's behavioral science unit.
Brantley said agents asked 36 multiple murderers in prison if they had abused animals. About a third said they killed and tortured animals as children and about half said they did it as adolescents.
The numbers of inmates might have been even higher, Brantley said, but he suspects some killers were reluctant to admit their violent past with animals. It is one thing to be in prison for killing people, he said, but it is another to admit hurting animals.
While animal cruelty carries felony-level penalties in about a third of the states, it is still treated as a minor crime in most places, the Humane Society says. Of the 401 cases reviewed, 15 percent ended with someone going to court; about 8 percent got jail sentences.
"You often hear, 'It's just a dog. I've got murderers and rapists I'm trying to prosecute,' " said Luke. "But we are learning more and more that murderers and rapists are coming in through animal abuse. We need to have zero tolerance for this and the penalties need to be strong."
What animal abuse tells us about humans. By Arnold Arluke
The day before I'm to drive to the youth detention facility, I call my interview subject's caseworker to confirm our meeting and be briefed about the details of the child's violence toward animals, as well as people. Jimmy's caseworker tells me that "two years ago, Jimmy was living with his stepfather in Oklahoma. The police picked him up for slashing a cat's tongue. He also said something about the cat's legs-that it couldn't use them anymore. I don't know what he meant-that they were broken or what. I think more of this stuff might come out when he talks to you." It would.
When I meet Jimmy the next day, he is in the proper "uniform": laceless high-top sneakers, beltless baggy pants, and a colorful T-shirt. For the next ninety minutes, Jimmy's thoughts and feelings become mine, my goal being to capture my subject's perspective toward his cruelty. I hear much more than the story about cutting out the cat's tongue, which he claims was necessary to gain admission to a gang. There is his aunt's toy poodle that he beat, the stray pigeon that he exploded in a microwave, the neighbor's dog that he stabbed, and the squirrel he hit with a baseball bat "to celebrate New Year's Eve."
These interviews are the final phase of my three-part study of cruelty to animals. This phase is lengthy because it has proved very difficult to find subjects to interview, since many deny reports of abuse or have parents or caseworkers who refuse to consent. Over the coming months, I will approach new research sites, some outside Massachusetts, for new subjects so that ultimately twenty-five adolescents will be interviewed.
This project started two years ago when I received a phone call from Carter Luke, vice president of the Humane Services Division of the Massachusetts Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA). The MSPCA was looking for a sociologist who could help them conduct a study of animal abuse and its relationship to subsequent violent behavior toward people. The topic was strongly related to my ongoing research and writing on human-animal interaction, most recently Regarding Animals, a book I coauthored with Clinton R. Sanders (Temple University Press, 1996). Luke explained that the MSPCA had hundreds of records, dating back many years, of animal abusers who had been investigated and prosecuted and who could be tracked in the Massachusetts criminal justice record system to reveal any other crimes they had committed. While not a perfect research design, this prospective approach represented a methodological advance over prior studies that relied on the retrospective self-reports of adult prisoners who admitted or denied harming animals as children. In those studies, researchers started with aggressive subjects and worked backward. In the MSPCA project, the animal abuse would be the starting point.
I was quickly convinced of the merits of such a study and immediately undertook a search for epidemiological statistics about animal cruelty-statistics that I assumed existed because of the importance of the crime and its possible links to other violent behaviors. How often did animal abuse occur? Who did it? Who were their victims? How were these cases handled in court? When it became clear that no such numbers were available, I knew that the first phase of the project was born.
Good science begins with basic description, so I sought to fill in some of the gaping holes in our knowledge of animal abusers. Between 1975 and 1996, the MSPCA investigated approximately 80,000 complaints of abuse and neglect. (These numbers are increasing over time; the number of complaints from 1990 to 1994 jumped by thirty-three percent over the prior five-year period.) Only 268 cases out of these 80,000 were prosecuted by the MSPCA. These were egregious cases of intentional cruelty-such as beatings, burnings, stabbings, or drownings-which served as our study sample. In analyzing the data, I found that dogs were the most common target of cruelty; dogs and cats together accounted for the vast majority of incidents. Almost all of these animals were owned rather than stray. The majority of complainants were female, while suspects were almost always young males. Prosecuted minors were more likely to abuse cats, beat them, and do it with peers present, but prosecuted adults were more likely to abuse dogs, shoot them, and do it alone. In criminal court, less than half of the alleged abusers were found guilty, a third were fined, less than a quarter had to pay restitution, a fifth were put on probation, a tenth were sent to jail, and an even smaller percentage were required to undergo counseling or perform community service. (In Massachusetts, animal abuse is treated as a misdemeanor; the maximum penalty for cruelty to animals is a fine of not more than $1,000 and/or imprisonment for not more than one year.)
Phase two-the core of the study-was far more difficult to complete. Using this group of animal abusers prosecuted by the MSPCA, we wanted to examine two key questions: To what extent, if at all, was there an association between animal abuse and other criminal behavior; and if there were an association, did animal abuse precede subsequent crime, as is so often assumed? What made this phase of the project so challenging was the creation of a suitable control group-a group of subjects from the general population having the same sociodemographic features as the abusers but who were not listed in MSPCA records as animal abusers. Only with such a control group could we compare our findings and have confidence in them. To accomplish this, we obtained municipal voting lists for each abuser's neighborhood from the year that the cruelty incident occurred. We controlled for differences in gender, age, and socioeconomic status by randomly picking an individual of the same sex and age range from each abuser's street. Sociology professor Jack Levin assisted with this phase.
We then tracked both abusers and controls in the state's computerized criminal justice records system. We recorded each subject's adult criminal record in Massachusetts and coded it according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's classification of criminal offenses, including those related to violence, property, drugs, and/or public disorder. We noted the dates of these offenses so that we could examine the sequence of animal abuse versus other criminal acts.
The results were unexpected and very interesting. The common thinking is that animal abuse leads to violence against humans-what I call the graduation assumption. Those who harm animals are expected to work their way up to harming people; violence is generalized from one species to another. In one respect, our findings bore this out and more. Animal abusers were significantly more likely than the control subjects to be involved in violent crime (38 percent versus 7 percent). But they were also significantly more likely than the control subjects to commit property crimes (44 percent versus 11 percent), drug-related crimes (37 percent versus 11 percent), and crimes of public disorder (37 percent versus 12 percent). Rather than a specific association with violent behavior, our experimental subjects' deviance appeared to be generalized to many different types of crime, including but not limited to violent ones. When we examined the chronology of animal cruelty and other violence, our findings were even more surprising. Animal abuse was found to be as likely to follow the other types of crime we studied as it was to precede them.
Although our findings failed to support the graduation assumption, they do call for increased concern about animal abuse in the general population. People who commit a single known act of animal abuse are more likely to commit other criminal offenses than matched subjects who do not abuse animals. As a flag of potential antisocial behavior-including but not limited to violence-isolated acts of cruelty toward animals must not be ignored by judges, psychiatrists, social workers, veterinarians, police, and others who encounter animal abuse in their work.
Arnold Arluke is a professor of sociology.
people for animal welfare & safety rescue department