Animal abuse also threatens kids

Posted: Sunday, November 21, 2004

"One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." Margaret Mead, anthropologist

The recent stabbing death of a sled dog in Teller involving five teenagers underscores the importance of teaching children compassion for animals.

Abusive and violent acts toward animals have been recognized as indicators of a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animals.

Research has shown that many violent criminals abused animals or practiced their crimes on animals before turning to human victims.

The FBI has stated that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in their records of rapists and murderers.

Ted Bundy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer and numerous other notorious killers all tortured and killed animals before moving on to humans.

This has led to organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), which, through its First Strike program, educates communities about the connection between animal cruelty and human violence, and what people can do to combat animal cruelty.

First Strike offers several tips that show red flags for parents and those who work with children to watch for, but the organization also advises how to respond if signs of animal cruelty are observed.

Harming animals isn't a phase that all children naturally go through. Animal cruelty should never be attributed to a stage of development.

That's not to say that innocent exploration and simple curiosity may not result in some children inadvertently killing insects or pets, but few kids torture pets.

All acts of cruelty should be addressed by parents and those who work with children, and it is important for kids to recognize that calculated animal cruelty is motivated by a desire to harm.

As such, it is particularly important to intervene when a child is insensitive to the obvious distress of an animal, repeats a harmful behavior or derives pleasure from causing an animal pain.

Those who suspect a child has, or is, deliberately harming animals, should talk to the child immediately to try and determine the cause of the behavior.

It also is important to talk with their friends, teachers and parents to learn more about their activities. School counselors, family counselors and pediatricians may be able to provide helpful information.

Cruelty often is associated with children who do poorly in school, have few friends and low self-esteem.

Bullies and kids with a history of truancy, vandalism and other deviant or antisocial behavior are at risk for developing tendencies of animal abuse.

Children as young as 4 have been reported to deliberately harm animals, although such behavior is much more commonly reported in adolescence. Also, repeated animal cruelty is seen more often in boys than girls.

It is important to get to the source of the problem for the safety of animals, but also for the safety of the child, since research has proven that a child's violence against animals often represents displaced hostility and aggression stemming from neglect or abuse of the child or another family member.

Parents can instill a sense of respect for all life by using real-life situations to teach by example. Young children can be invited to help feed birds and squirrels or taught to rescue bugs trapped in the house rather than squashing them.

Older children can be taught by discussing animal cruelty cases that have been publicized in the news or on the Internet or by visiting local animal shelters to learn about the harsh reality of pet overpopulation and what becomes of unwanted pets.

These methods can instill children with a sense of empathy an understanding or process of imaginatively entering into another's feelings that can guide them toward being kind and respectful in their relations with animals and people, as well.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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