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Animal Abuse and Human Aggression






Roots of Cruelty & Kindness




With their companionship and love, animals enrich our lives and enhance our mental and physical well-being. But the need to care about how animals are treated goes beyond our pleasure, companionship, and health.


Studies from Yale University and other respected institutions reveal that animal abuse and child abuse, as well as other forms of violence in society, are inextricably linked. Children who are cruel to animals are often, themselves, the victims of abuse. Unable to strike back at their adult abusers, they vent their rage and need for control on beings who are smaller and weaker. A large percentage of violent criminals began by abusing animals as children. When society's response was "boys will be boys," "it's only an animal," or "they'll grow out of it," neither the children nor the animals were helped, and as soon as they were old enough, they turned their violence on people.


Abuse of animals may be the first clue we have to identifying a future rapist or killer. The human-animal violence link has increasingly led police and child welfare authorities in the U.S. to cooperate, and it is saving lives. In Atlanta, when a law school graduate, frustrated at not finding a job, began to mutilate cats and kittens, animal welfare authorities notified police. The police obtained a warrant to search his apartment, where they found photos of six women in his apartment complex whom he had been stalking, along with detailed plans to do to the women what he had done to the cats and kittens. Those women are alive today because the police understood that violence is violence, no matter who the victim, and they took the animal abuse seriously.


In one case widely reported in the media, Brian David Williams was arrested for kidnapping Elizabeth Smart. It was later learned that he had killed his children's pet rabbit, in front of them, and forced them to eat it. It is likely he had abused animals from childhood. If someone had taken action the first time the abuse occurred, Elizabeth and others would have remained unharmed. When will we realize the truth of Chief Seattle's vision — that the fate of animals is the fate of people?





The connection between animal, child, elder, and spousal abuse is so strong that in an increasing number of states it is now the law that if an animal welfare officer enters a home to investigate animal abuse and finds a child in the home, even if the child appears happy and healthy, the officer is required to report the incident to child welfare authorities. These authorities, by law, must then investigate.


Studies have also shown that humane education — education that helps children develop empathy, respect, and compassion for animals — later generalizes into humane attitudes toward people. Whether or not we like animals, if we want to live in a healthy, non-violent society, one of the most important things we can do is to respect animals and to teach young people to respect them. As Jewish scholars since the time of Maimonides have recognized, fostering positive attitudes and behavior toward animals contributes to the development of a more humane society and an improved quality of life for all living beings.


The conference Preventing Violence in Society Through Education, which presented the link between child abuse and animal abuse, was sponsored by CHAI together with Israel's Ministry of Education, in 1994. A very powerful address was delivered at this conference by Dr. Frank Ascione:

The Roots of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals and Others