Animal Writes
16 April 2000 Issue
The Cycle of Violence

By Karen Stevens, Founder/President



[email protected] 

The links between cruelty to animals and human brutality.

"He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men.

We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals."

--Immanuel Kant

Lock the doors. Install metal detectors. Ban guns. Restrict the media. All of this has been suggested as solutions to the rampant violence occurring in our schools and other public buildings. Each may sound like the ideal solution, but what we must first do is look at the roots of violence and address those issues. Violent tendencies can most often be traced to a person's childhood.

Consider these facts:

-- Most serial killers such as Ted Bundy, David Berkowitz ("Son of Sam"), and Jeffrey Dahmer begin their path of destruction as children or young adolescents by abusing and killing animals.

-- Most serial killers have a history of parental neglect, brutality, and rejection.

-- Most serial killers are men.

While this certainly doesn't mean that every person with these characteristics will become a serial killer, it does mean we should become aware of the early warning signs and take appropriate action where necessary.

Just what starts these young boys on the road to animal cruelty and later violence against people? Some have suggested that these children lack the capacity to love and to form close ties to either animals or people. Or, perhaps, they feel helpless and use animals as victims to demonstrate their power and authority or as scapegoats for the anger they feel against parents or society as a whole.

Research strongly suggests that animal abuse is not just the result of some personality flaw in the abuser, but a symptom of a deeply disturbed family. Cruelty to animals can be one of many signs of a family in need of professional help.

The U.S. Department of Education lists animal cruelty as a warning sign of a troubled and potentially dangerous child. And, the FBI uses reports of animal cruelty to analyze the potential threat of suspected and known violent criminals.

There are several programs aimed at addressing the problem of animal abuse and human violence. In California, for instance, Senator Jack O'Connell introduced SB 1991, an amendment to Section 597 of the Penal Code, requiring persons convicted of animal cruelty to pay for, and successfully complete, appropriate counseling designed to evaluate and treat behavior or conduct disorders.

We must also impose harsher penalties for animal abusers. Did you know that if someone destroys a valuable portrait of your companion animal, it's a felony, but if someone inflicts bodily harm on your dog or cat, it's often considered only a misdemeanor? [27 states, including California, now have some form of felony animal abuse laws in effect.]


a) PREVENT the problem. Some acts of cruelty take place because adults fail to discipline children who are abusing an animal. Without proper intervention, children may graduate to more serious abuses including violence against people. Do not ignore even minor acts of cruelty! Correct the child and express your concerns to his/her parents.

b) REPORT anyone you suspect of abusing an animal or person to law enforcement officials. You may also seek assistance by looking in the "social services" section of the telephone book.

c) EDUCATE yourself by visiting the following web sites:

"The Cruelty Connection"

Links to several web sites exploring this issue. 

"Feminists for Animal Rights"

Dedicated to ending all forms of abuse against women and animals. 

"First Strike", a program of the Humane Society of the United States. "First Strike" is spreading the word that childhood cruelty toward animals is often just the beginning in an escalating pattern of violence. 

"The Latham Foundation"

Produces videos on the links between animal abuse and other forms of family violence. 

d) READ the following books:

*Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention, Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow (editors)

*Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application; Randall Lockwood and Frank R. Ascione (editors)

*Both books available through 

e) INCREASE AWARENESS of the problem by:

- Writing a letter to the editor of the local newspaper.

- Making a contribution of your time or money to existing human and animal protection programs.

- Campaigning for stricter laws against animal abuse by writing to elected officials.

- Purchasing a video on animal abuse and giving it to the local public access TV station for airing.

People around the world are just beginning to understand that the connection between animal cruelty and human violence is part of a complex net of disturbed relationships. As Anthropologist Margaret Mead said: "One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." By working together on this problem, we can make a positive difference in the lives of both animals and people!

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