Violent acts towards animals have long been recognised as indicators of a dangerous psychopathology that does not confine itself to animals. “Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives”, wrote humanitarian Dr Albert Schweitzer.
Robert K Ressler, who developed profiles of serial killers for the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), states, “Murderers … very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids”. Studies have now convinced sociologists, lawmakers and the courts that acts of cruelty to animals deserve our attention. They can be the first sign of a dangerous pathology that threatens humans as well.
Animal abuse is not just the result of a minor personality flaw in the abuser but rather a symptom of a deep mental disturbance. Research in psychology and criminology shows that people who commit acts of cruelty to animals don’t stop there; many of them move on to their fellow humans.
The FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals regularly appears in the backgrounds of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals as a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.
A study conducted in the US by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. The majority of inmates on death row in California’s San Quentin State Prison “practiced” their crimes on animals, according to the prison’s warden.
- As a child, serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy – who was convicted of two murders but was suspected of actually killing more than 40 women – witnessed his father’s violence towards animals, and he himself later tortured animals.
- Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped and stabbed a 7-year-old boy, was known in his neighbourhood for hanging cats and torturing dogs.
- David Berkowitz (aka the Son of Sam), who pleaded guilty to 13 murder and attempted murder charges, once shot a neighbour’s Labrador retriever.
- Brenda Spencer, who opened fire at a California school, killing two children and injuring nine others, had repeatedly abused cats and dogs, often setting their tails on fire.
- Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs and cats on sticks.
What You Can Do
- Write to the Minister of Environment and Forests and encourage him to increase the currently meagre and ineffective penalties for cruelty to animals. When the penalties are increased, police, animal protection groups and citizens will have more power to stop the senseless animal abuse that could lead to cruelty to humans:
Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change
Indira Parvayaran Bhawan.
Jor Bagh, New Delhi-110003.
- Encourage your local police to take cruelty-to-animals cases seriously. In order to motivate police to take strong action against unlawful cruelty, PETA has prepared a video for them on the unlawful manner in which some animals are transported and slaughtered. Write to PETA at [email protected] to request a copy to share with your local police department.
- Urge your state government and local school to take cruelty to animals seriously. Laws must send a strong message that violence against any sentient creature – human or non-human – is unacceptable.
- Be aware of signs indicating that children or animals are being abused. Take children seriously when they report that animals are being neglected or mistreated. Some children won’t talk about their own suffering but will talk about an animal’s.
- Don’t ignore even minor acts of cruelty to animals committed by children. Talk to the child and the child’s parents. If necessary, call a social worker.