Our mission: To protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.

Research on the Link

Why do people abuse animals?

Researchers Kellert and Felthous have identified some motivators for cruelty towards animals. The most common are:

  • to control the animal by eliminating undesirable characteristics (punitive training methods);

  • retaliation against a presumed wrong by the animal (punishment for undesirable behaviour);

  • to satisfy a prejudice against a species or breed;

  • to instill violent tendencies in the animal to cause it to attack others (e.g. guard dog).

Other reasons include:

  • to shock people for amusement;

  • to enhance one's own aggressiveness by impressing others with one's capacity for violence;

  • retaliation against another person;

  • displacement of hostility towards a person (abused children abuse animals to get even for their abuse);

  • to derive pleasure from causing suffering (sadism). 

Understanding these motivators is useful when developing an intervention plan for the abusers.1

Killers: The animal connection

Most serial killers and mass murders have a history of animal abuse. They often rehearse their crimes on animals or desensitize themselves to the pain and suffering of animal victims before carrying out violence on humans.

Well-documented cases include: 

  • Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the boys responsibile for the Columbine school shooting, bragged about mutilating animals to their friends;
  • Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, a US convicted serial killer, suffocated a cat as a child; 

  • Jeffrey Dahmer, a notorious serial killer, impaled frogs, decapitated dogs and staked cats to trees before turning the violence toward human victims; 

  • Luke Woodham, before killing his mother and two high school students, beat his dog with a club, doused her with lighter fluid, set her on fire and threw her in a pond;

  • Andrew Golden, 11, told friends he shot dogs with a .22 all the time. He and Mitchell Johnson, 13, killed four students and one teacher ambushed during a fire drill. 

It is important to note that animal abuse and human violence is not a cause and effect issue. However, it is not surprising when there is a link. Very often the first step of violent acts against humans is abuse of animals.

What the research shows

  • 36% of women with animals reported that their abuser threatened or harmed their animals;2
  • 85% of threats against animals were carried out;2
  • 94% of child protection workers reported that they observed evidence of animal neglect during their investigations;3
  • An Ontario study which took place in over 21 shelters throughout the province found that 44% of the women had had a family pet killed or abused;4
  • "Pet abuse was a stronger risk factor for abuse than having fair or poor mental health, having problems with drinking, or drugs, or not completing high school."4

1 Kellert, S.R., & A. R. Felthous (1985) Childhood Cruelty Toward Animals Among Criminals and Non-criminals. Human Relations. 38:1113-29.
2 Bohac, Clarke, V., & D. Crawford (July 2012) Inside the Cruelty Connection: The Role of Animals in Decision Making by Domestic Violence Victims in Rural Alberta. Retrieved from
3 Girardi, A., & J. Pozzulo (2012) The Significance of Animal Cruelty in Child Protection Investigations. Social Work Research. 36.1 (2012): 53-60. Criminal Justice Abstracts with Full Text. Web. 5 Jan 2013
4 Zorza, J. (2010) Dealing with Animal Abuse to Alleviate Family Violence. Family & Intimate Partner Violence Quarterly, 2(4), 345-358.

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