Animal Writes
From 4 April 2004 Issue

Childhood Animal Abuse Linked More Strongly Than Ever Before To Adult Criminal Behavior
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The first study to provide detailed analyses of the relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult violent behavior has been completed by a University of South Florida scientist and her associate.

Offenders of violent crimes are significantly more likely to have abused pets and stray animals in their childhood, according to the study by USF professor Kathleen Heide and animal welfare expert Linda Merz-Perez.

The study is the first to provide both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the correlation between childhood animal cruelty and adult violent behavior. The results are published in Heide's recently released third book, Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence Against People, co-authored by Merz-Perez.

"We're not just talking about kicking a dog," Heide said. "The violent offenders were far more likely as children to have committed extreme acts of abuse against a family pet or neighborhood animals -- acts that the average person would find abhorrent and somewhat gruesome."

Heide and Merz-Perez found that violent offenders also showed a tendency toward abuse of wild and farm animals.

"We noticed in some cases that the type of abuse violent offenders inflicted on an animal was similar to the type of act they later committed on people," Heide said. "Also, violent offenders rarely expressed any remorse for their actions or empathy for the animals."

The study underscores that early intervention following an act of animal cruelty is imperative to helping ensure that adolescents do not follow a path of violent behavior.

"In one instance, a non-violent offender related that he had received a rifle as a birthday gift from his grandfather when he was a boy. He wanted to see what the gun would do so he impulsively shot and killed a neighbor's pig. His grandfather broke the gun and made the boy work for a year on his neighbor's farm, feeding and caring for the pigs as punishment," Heide said. "As a result, the participant developed tender feelings and sincere remorse for these animals, and never did anything like this again."

The only instances in which non-violent offenders had a record of abusing domestic animals were in three cases where participants used their animals in competitive dog fighting. These individuals did not view the dogs as victims. Rather they saw their dogs as warriors, according to Merz-Perez.

"These men exhibited pride in their animals, providing them with food, shelter and medical care when necessary," Merz-Perez said. "Given their cultural background and experiences, they thought it would have been cruel not to let their dogs fight."

Heide is professor of criminology, a licensed mental health counselor, and interim dean of arts and sciences at USF. Merz-Perez, a USF alumna, is a certified animal control officer and former executive director of the Humane Society of Shelby County, Alabama.

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