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The C.A.S.H. Courier

ARTICLE from the Fall 2008 Issue


By Dr. Priscilla Cohn

On September 18, 2007 the Ferrater Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics sponsored a conference entitled “The Relationship between Animal Abuse and Human Violence” at Keble College, Oxford. There is an increasing amount of interest in this topic and more and more publications are appearing including, for example, the very able work of Frank R. Anscione and Phil Arkow, Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse; Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention.

I believe that hunting desensitizes the hunter to pain, suffering and death, and that this lessening of what may be a natural compassion for other living creatures is not limited to non-human animals. I further believe that this inability to empathize is not healthy for members of a society trying to live together in peace and indeed, is not healthy for a society and its relations with other political entities in the world.

As a result of my beliefs, I wanted to write on hunting for the conference but the problem was I could find very little information written on the topic. While I could find articles discussing the relationship between domestic violence, including spousal violence, violence to children or elders, and violence to domestic animals, there was not much mention of wildlife. Furthermore, when the relation between animal abuse and human violence was discussed, the animal abuse or cruelty to animals was almost entirely illegal. Hunting, of course, is legal.

I thought I would start with a definition of cruelty and then show that even if hunting were legal, it would almost certainly fit an objective person’s definition of cruelty. Anscione had defined cruel treatment or abuse of animals as “socially unacceptable behavior that intentionally causes unnecessary pain, suffering or distress to and/or death of an animal” (Anscione, R and P. Arkow , 1999, 51 from the original definition Anscione 1992, 228). He recognized that his definition excluded “socially and culturally sanctioned activities” such a “certain agricultural practices, hunting, trapping, rodeos, and laboratory research.” I borrowed his definition, simply eliminating his initial words, “socially unacceptable.”

Using objective evidence, I then attempted to prove that hunting was cruel. For this I simply copied descriptions from hunting books about the various ways in which a hunter may wound a deer, and how long it might take such a deer to die. Almost every hunting book has a chapter on “retrieving the deer,” discussing whether one should wait or not before attempting to retrieve a wounded animal, and how to follow a blood trail, etc. As far as I am concerned, the longer the deer lives before it dies, the longer he is apt to suffer and thus the more cruelty involved. Most deer, whether shot with guns or bows and arrows do not die instantly and sometimes not even relatively quickly.

Then I came to a dead-end: I could not find discussions of hunters being involved in human violence or anti-social activities. While I was wondering how I might proceed, a shocking murder took place and was widely written up in the press. In one account it was fleetingly mentioned that the murderer was “an avid hunter.” Then another murder occurred and it was said once again that the murderer was “an avid hunter.” I then started investigating other murders that were sensational enough to be written about nationally. In each case the perpetrator was enthusiastic about hunting and in each case hunted deer.

Several points must now be made. First of all, this information is anecdotal. Obviously not all hunters are human murderers. In fact, the percentage must be very small. Is it relevant if a murderer is also a hunter and if so, what is the precise nature of the relationship?

Secondly, as Anne Muller, editor of the C.A.S.H. Courier, and I discovered, sometimes in an early news account of a murder, it was mentioned that the suspect was a hunter and then in subsequent articles or even in a repetition of the original article, the information about hunting was mysteriously absent, although the rest of the information was repeated. In two cases the murderer—one a teenager and one a grown man—had put photographs of himself with his kill on the internet. In both cases, the photographs were quickly removed. The older man, who had shot his estranged wife, had previously posted photographs of himself and the deer he had killed on a hunting site. A hunter wrote that it was absurd to claim any connection between his hunting and his shooting of his wife, although he admitted there was a connection between killing his estranged wife and his training by the army as a sharp shooter.

If the hunters themselves did not suspect that there was a connection between hunting and the subsequent murders or at least if they were not worried that someone might see such a connection, there would be no reason to remove the photographs. One might also ask how it happened that references about hunting disappeared. Was some sort of pressure applied?

I started making lists of recent or sensational murders in the past where the murderer was a deer hunter. Sometimes it seemed obvious that this was the case because of the guns used—often detailed information was given in the articles about the number or types of guns, but sometimes nothing was said about hunting. In order to gather raw data journalists must be educated about the link between animal abuse and human violence. I conclude that this topic needs to be researched in a scholarly fashion and that such research depends upon asking questions concerning hunting. It is clear that most reporters do not make any connection between the violence of hunting and the violence of human abuse and murder.

It must also be noted that murder is a very extreme form of human violence. Does hunting increase the propensity of some people to engage in lesser forms of human violence such as domestic abuse, hitting, battering and so forth? I did not look very thoroughly but I found only one reference, and yet one would think that there would be more instances of hunters as abusers than the more extreme instance of hunters as murderers. Once again it is clear that if there is to be real research, questions concerning hunting must be asked.

Some people might argue that the link between animal abuse and human violence is tied to the fact that in most of the publications where this connection is cited, the abuse of the animals involves illegal behavior and that this is not the case with hunting. For me, it is difficult to see how there is a significant difference between the diminished empathy of the hunter and the diminished empathy of the person who abuses his or her pets, spouse or children. It is the violence that is damaging psychologically - not whether it is legal or illegal - and it is the resultant lack of empathy that in turn is linked to domestic animal abuse and to anti-social behavior.

Finally I’d like to raise a difficult and complicated problem. Most of the literature that I have read, whether written by social scientists, law enforcement officials, or animal care givers, is careful and even cautious in the language used to describe the relationship, the link between animal abuse and anti-social behavior. It is said that animal abuse is a “predictor” of human violence, a “warning signal,” “an early indicator” of further violence, that there is a “continuity” between animal abuse and human abuse, that there is a strong “correlation” between such abuse, and so forth. Clearly animal abuse does not always lead to further human violence. Why does it in some cases and not others? It is not always a predictor or an early warning signal. I believe that there is a strong correlation but we need more raw data in order to make this correlation more precise.

Priscilla Cohn has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Bryn Mawr College and is Professor Emerita from Abington College, Penn State University. She is founder and president of a 501 (c) 3 foundation in Spain and the USA: P.N.C. Inc “Pity not Cruelty” in English or “Piedad no crueldad” in Spanish. It deals with the preservation, needs and care of animals. She is Associate Director of the Ferrater Mora Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (see www.oxfordanimalethics.com ) a think tank in Oxford England named after her late husband. Dr. Cohn is also involved with the Chair (Càtedra), also named after her husband, at the University of Girona in Spain. She has lectured on five continents and has a webpage on animal contraception at www.pzpinfo.org

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