How can anyone intentionally abuse an animal? To be clear, I’m not including animal hoarders in this conversation. They have an illness, but their intentions are honorable. I formerly worked in the pet industry and saw only a small fraction of the animals in need of rescue; it’s overwhelming. No, this is about people committing heinous acts of torture and violence against victims who cannot defend themselves.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, who has a doctorate in psychology and is senior vice president for anti-cruelty initiatives and training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals observes that whether an adolescent shoots a cat without aggravation or an elderly woman is hoarding 200 cats in her home, “both are exhibiting mental health issues… but need very different kinds of attention.” Disturbingly, research has repeatedly shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. In Lockwood’s words, those who abuse animals for no obvious reason are “budding psychopaths.” The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children.
The line separating an animal abuser from someone capable of committing human abuse is much finer than most people care to consider. People abuse animals for the same reasons they abuse people. Some of them will stop with animals, but enough have continued to commit violent crimes against people that it’s worth paying attention. In domestic violence situations, women are often afraid to leave the home out of fear the abuser will harm the family pet, which has lead to the creation of Animal Safehouse programs. These programs provide foster care for the pets of victims in domestic violence situations, enabling them to leave the abusive situation and get help. Learning more about the animal cruelty/interpersonal violence connection is vital for community members and law enforcement alike.
It is so sad that these individuals are incapable of enjoying the beauty and devotion that comes only from giving your unconditional love, whether to people or pets. I feel compassion and sympathy for them, but wouldn’t lose sleep if they were subjected to whatever disgusting acts they perpetrated against an innocent and trusting animal. To my mind, they are truly the animals; even if they are acting purely on instinct and, in fact, have no control over their actions, we would all be better without them.