From The Humane Society of the United States

Animal Cruelty/Human Violence


What is animal cruelty?
Animal cruelty includes many behaviors that are harmful to animals, from unintentional neglect to intentional killing. Most cruelty cases investigated by humane officers are cases of unintentional neglect that can be stopped through education—an owner may have to be told what kind of doghouse a dog needs to be protected from bad weather. Acts of intentional cruelty, or abuse, are refusing an animal food, water, shelter, socialization, or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal. Stabbing or beating an animal, throwing an animal out of a window or a moving car, setting an animal on fire, and giving an animal illegal drugs are all acts of intentional animal cruelty.

Why would anyone be intentionally cruel to animals?
There can be many reasons. Animal cruelty, like other types of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, angry, unnoticed, and controlled by others. That person may abuse animals to shock, threaten, frighten, or offend other people or to rebel against society's rules. Some who are cruel to animals are reenacting things that they have seen or that have been done to them. Others may hurt an animal to get revenge on someone who cares about that animal.

Why should I care?
All animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to cause another living creature to suffer. Intentional cruelty is a particular concern because of what it signals about the person inflicting it: he or she needs help. People who are cruel to animals may well have suffered violence themselves, and they may well behave violently in the future.

Research shows that young people who are cruel to animals are more likely to become aggressive or violent toward humans. Some young people may abuse animals because they see violence in their homes; perhaps they are themselves victims of violence within their families. They may be taking their anger out on animals or copying what they have seen or what was done to them.

Hurting or killing animals can also be a warning sign that someone may be thinking about suicide. By reporting the animal cruelty, you not only help the animal victims but also help the person abusing animals.

Why should I report animal cruelty?
For one thing, you may save lives. Cases of teen violence at schools in Springfield, Oregon; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Pearl, Mississippi included reports of animal cruelty before the shootings. Animal cruelty is a warning sign that should be taken seriously. If the animal cruelty in these cases had been reported, the teens may have been given the help they needed.

Is animal cruelty a crime?
Animal cruelty is a crime in all fifty states. By criminalizing animal cruelty, states actually have set up a system for helping the abuser. In many cases, the court can make sure the person abusing animals takes responsibility for the abuse and gets the help necessary to prevent more violence. Often it is only when the court intervenes that the abuser (who will often say that he or she doesn't want or need help) can be made to attend individual or family counseling.

Is there a documented connection between animal cruelty and human violence?
Absolutely. Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last twenty-five years have shown that violent criminals often have childhood and teen histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its review of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals during childhood. Research has also found patterns of animal cruelty among people who abuse their spouses, children, and elders.

What should I do if a friend, neighbor, or classmate abuses animals?
First, talk to someone else. Something as serious as animal cruelty should not be handled alone. Ask for help from your parents, a school counselor, a teacher, or any other adult you trust. And if you cannot find anyone willing to help you, don't give up—report the abuse yourself.

Go to your local animal-welfare organization or police department. Give as much specific information about the abuse as possible. Try to write down everything you remember about the abuse, including who abused the animal, when and where it happened, what was done to the animal, and a description of the animal. It may be difficult for the authorities to take action if they don't have enough evidence of the abuse, so give them as much information as you can.

If you didn't see the act of cruelty yourself, let the authorities know the names of anyone who did see the abuse. If you are concerned about others knowing that you reported the abuse, ask if you can make an anonymous complaint.

If someone you know talks about wanting to hurt animals or people you should take it seriously, especially if the person has been violent toward people or animals in the past. Don't let anyone tell you that animal cruelty isn't serious. It is always serious.

How can I help prevent animal cruelty?
There is a lot you can do. Be a good example for your friends and young children by being kind to animals and letting others
Read More About Our
First Strike Campaigns
to End Animal Abuse
  • Read More...."Making the Connection: A Campaign Against Violence"
  • Youth Violence and Animal Cruelty -Recent Examples
  • What Concerned Citizens Need To Know
  • The Role of the Community in Reducing Violence
  • Animal Sexual Abuse Information Packet
  • know that hurting animals is not OK. Write articles for your school newspaper. Volunteer at your local animal shelter or humane society. Learn about animals by visiting your library, talking to humane educators, or renting educational videos and documentaries. Report animal cruelty. Start a club to educate others about animal cruelty.

    Speak up for the animals and encourage your friends to speak up for the animals too. You can make a difference—for animals and people! Copyright © 1999 The Humane Society of the United States. All rights reserved. 1