Confronting Cruel Kids

Animal Rights Articles

Moo-ving people toward compassionate living

Visit our Home Page
Write us with your comments

Confronting Cruel Kids

By Jill Howard-Church, Animals and Society Institute (ASI)
November 2010

Regardless of whether nature or nurture is to blame for violent behavior, it is good to hear that the issue of children harming animals is getting more attention on several fronts.

When we read or hear about local cases of animal cruelty, sometimes the only thing more shocking than what is done to the animals is the age of the individuals doing the harm. Too often, those responsible for beating, torturing or setting animals on fire turn out to be children in their teens or younger.

This shocks me not only as a citizen but also as a parent; having two teens myself, I wonder what kind of home produces a child with such a lack of empathy and such a surplus of violence. I’m not naïve enough to think such behavior happens in a vacuum, but I also know that even good homes can have bad kids, whether in cities, suburbs or countrysides.

Regardless of whether nature or nurture is to blame for violent behavior, it is good to hear that the issue of children harming animals is getting more attention on several fronts.

One such program is happening in Baltimore, where a year’s worth of seemingly endless violent assaults – dogs and cats being hanged, burned and beaten to death – resulted in the formation of a special anti-cruelty task force at the request of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The commission, consisting of law enforcement officers, educators, humane leaders and citizens, aims to both prevent and prosecute animal cruelty cases more vigorously by examining the root of the problem and devoting more specific attention to it.

This is welcome news given the long-established link between animal abuse and other forms of violent behavior. The Animals and Society Institute has made this issue a cornerstone of its programs, and getting psychological counseling mandated by judges (whether the offenders are juveniles or adults) is certainly a big part of addressing the issue.

But communities themselves have to look at what is going on in their midst and address the issue on multiple fronts. They have to have the will and the means to devote resources to what has too often been a back-burner issue, even in tough economic times. Kudos to Baltimore for taking this initiative.

Bravo also to Honolulu, where a group of teenagers is taking it upon themselves to educate others about humane animal care. Their service project involves street rallies, door-to-door education and other attempts to raise awareness among peers and neighbors. Humane teen clubs exist as part of humane society outreach programs in many communities, as well as in some schools.

The teen activism site has a section addressing animal abuse; Web sites such as Kids Against Animal Cruelty, as well as Facebook pages devoted to cruelty awareness and prevention, are becoming a popular way for teens to discuss the issue among themselves.

Whether humane messages reach the kids most likely to commit violent crimes against animals is a key factor, but with a conscious increase in humane education, attentive law enforcement and anti-cruelty peer pressure, the opportunity to reduce the number of perpetrators and victims is well worth the effort.

Jill Howard-Church is a writer and editor who specializes in animal issues. She serves as the part-time communications director for the Animals and Society Institute, and is the volunteer president of the Vegetarian Society of Georgia.