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), retaliating against a presumed wrong by the animal (punishment for undesirable behaviour), to satisfy a prejudice against a species or breed, or 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;
- to retaliate against another person;
- displacement of hostility towards a person (abused children abuse animals to get even for their abuse);
- or 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 the victim in order to carry out the violence.
Well documented cases include:
Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, a US convicted serial killer, who suffocated a cat as a child;
Jeffery Dahmer, a notorious serial killer who impaled frogs, decapitated dogs and staked cats to trees before turning the violence toward human victims;
Luke Woodham who before killing his mother and two high school students, had beaten 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 but it is not surprising when there is a link. Very often the first step of human violent acts is abuse of animals.
What the research shows
There have been several studies on the subject of the violence link. Some of the most revealing work has been done in the last decade.
A study by the Ontario SPCA in 1998 surveyed women leaving abusive relationships. The results showed that 61% had had pets abused or killed by their partner and 48% of the women said they delayed leaving their partner due to concern for the safety of their pets.2
A study done in 1997 by Ascione and Weber of women in a transition house revealed that 52% of them reported their children had witnessed pet abuse in their homes. Only 3% of a matched non-transition house group reported exposure of their children to pet abuse. Children who witness abuse to animals are more likely to commit animal abuse themselves.3
In 1983 Deviney, Dickert and Lockwood studied 53 families in which child abuse occurred and pets were present. Sixty percent of the families reported abuse of the family's pets. Where the child abuse had been physical, 88% reported that their pets had been killed or abused.4
1.Kellert, S.R., and A. R. Felthous, 1985. "Childhood cruelty toward animals among criminals and non-criminals." Human relations. 38:1113-29.
2.Ontario SPCA Survey.
3.Ascione, Weber (1997) "Animal Welfare and Domestic Violence" www.vachss.com/guest_dispatches/ascione_2.html
4.DeViney, E., J.Dickert and R. Lockwood (1983). The care of pets within child abusing famiies. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4, 321-329