“Why don’t you care about humans?” is a question that animal advocates hear far too often. There’s an assumption that expressing concern over cruel acts against animals or advocating for laws to better protect them means a person doesn’t care as much about their fellow humans, but that’s not the case. It’s true that people involved in animal welfare want to speak for those who have no voice and hold those who harm animals responsible for their crimes, but they also understand that animal welfare is also a human rights issue.
Countless studies over the past few decades have proven that there’s a connection between animal cruelty and violence against humans. It’s described by many as a “self-perpetuating cycle of violence” that’s linked to domestic abuse as well as abuse against children and the elderly. It’s a connection that can’t be denied — and it’s even resulted in the FBI changing the way animal crimes are tracked.
The National Link Coalition, an organization working to stop violence against animals and humans, calls animal abuse “the tip of the iceberg.” They say that those who investigate cases of animal cruelty “are rarely surprised to see other issues lurking beneath the surface.” As the statistics and research show, it’s an issue we should all be paying attention to.
An Undeniable Link between Animal Abuse and Violent Acts Against Humans
When we talk about the connection between animal abuse and violence against humans, the first things that usually come to mind are stories of serial killers who abused and tortured animals before they began harming humans. But serial killers aren’t the only ones who have been connected to animal abuse.
In domestic violence situations, abusers will often harm companion animals in the home to intimidate or threaten their partners. As many as 71 percent of women have reported that their partners have abused, threatened, or killed their pets. And up to 65 percent of abuse victims delay fleeing a domestic violence situation because they’re afraid of what might happen to their animal companions.
A study conducted in 1983 found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of the homes where child abuse and neglect were also present. And many of the individuals involved in school shootings over the past several years also have a known history of torturing and killing animals. A recent study of 23 school shooters between 1988 and 2012 found that 43 percent had a history of animal cruelty.
Organized blood sports like dog fighting are not only connected to drugs, weapons, and illegal gambling, but also to violence against attendees or those who try to interfere with the activity. It’s also common for people to bring children to the fights, which can result in trauma and eventual desensitization to violence.
The prevalence of this connection has changed the way animal crimes are handled and reported by law enforcement agencies. Domestic violence shelters now work to help those fleeing abusive situations find temporary housing for their pets, and in some cases, even offer temporary animal housing on site so they can be with their companions during a difficult time. It’s also led to organizations creating training for law enforcement officers, veterinarians, and mental health professionals to help them gain a better understanding of animal cruelty and its connection with harm to humans.
Working to Help Both Animals and Humans
Communities, veterinarians, and state and federal agencies have recognized that abuse against animals is an indicator of current or future violent acts against humans. Some states are even taking action by creating animal abuse registries similar to those used for sex offenders, which helps law enforcement track and identify repeat offenders. The databases also make the public aware of animal abusers and hopefully prevent other animals — and humans — from being harmed.
In 2016, the FBI changed the way that law enforcement agencies report animal cruelty crimes through the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) database. “If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human,” said John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “If we see patterns of animal abuse, the odds are that something else is going on.”
Prior to this change, acts of animal cruelty were lumped into an “all other offenses” category, making it more difficult to track what types of animal crimes are occurring, and where. Now, these crimes are grouped into four cruelty categories that the FBI says will “reveal a more complete picture of the nature of cruelty to animals.” The roll-out of the new reporting method is occurring in phases, but the FBI believes that in three to five years they’ll be able to see patterns in the data that can be helpful in crime prevention.
Both national and local animal welfare organizations are also helping these efforts by implementing animal cruelty training programs for law enforcement and veterinarians. The Humane Society of the United States provides anti-cruelty training for law enforcement, and the ASPCA provides professional training in animal cruelty prevention, field investigations, and veterinary forensics.
Training is an important part of cruelty and abuse prevention, as is the prosecution of those who commit the crimes. A veterinarian reporting suspected abuse of an animal to law enforcement could lead to the discovery of abusive conditions in the home. And since proper investigative and forensic procedures can make or break a case, law enforcement training can help aid prosecutors in getting a conviction.
Animal abuse should be taken seriously, as should its connection to violence against humans. Always speak up if you suspect an animal or person is being harmed. Become active in legislative initiatives aimed at improving animal cruelty and protection laws in your state, and help educate lawmakers about the importance of stopping the cycle of abuse.
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