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The Animal Abuse / Human Violence Connection
"One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." – Anthropologist Margaret Mead

Man holding dog by leashUntil recently, violence toward children, domestic violence, and elder violence were considered unrelated to violent acts toward animals. A growing body of research and evidence demonstrates that individuals who perpetrate acts of cruelty against animals rarely stop there.

Animal abuse can be a warning sign of future serious violent behavior, especially among young offenders. Increasingly, child protection and social service agencies, mental health professionals and educators regard animal abuse as a significant form of aggressive and antisocial behavior, and consider it an important red flag in identifying other violent behavior.

Consider the Following Facts

  • The FBI considers animal cruelty to be one of the predictors of violence and considers past animal abuse when profiling serial killers.
  • National and state studies determined that from 54 to 71 percent of women seeking shelter reported that their partners had threatened, injured or killed one or more family pets. If children are victims of domestic violence they may in turn represent that abuse with an animal, the only being they feel they can control.

In assessing youth who are at risk of committing interpersonal violence, the U.S. Department of Justice emphasizes the importance of including information about past animal abuse.

  • More than 80 percent of families being treated for child abuse were also involved in animal abuse. In 2/3 of the cases, the abusive parent killed or injured the pet. Sadly, in 1/3 of the cases, a child victim continued the cycle of violence by abusing a pet.
  • A study in 1997 by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that 70 percent of all animal abusers have committed at least one other criminal offense and that almost 40 percent had committed violent crimes against people.
  • They also found that over a 20-year period, a group of individuals who had abused animals as youths were five times more likely to commit violent crimes, four times more likely to commit property crimes and three times more likely to have drug or disorderly conduct offenses than a matched group of non animal abusers.

Responding to Animal Abuse

If you live or work closely with children as a teacher, camp counselor, or parent, you come into daily contact with children who look to you as someone they can trust. Consequently, you may hear children talk about animal abuse they have witnessed or even committed. When a child speaks of violence toward an animal, engage him or her in a conversation to find all the information related to the incident. Foster any sense of empathy the child has for the animal, as this is a healthy response.

cat getting pettedIf you believe a child has hurt an animal, or witnessed animal abuse, please gather all the information available from the child and contact a professional for further guidance. Counselors and mental health workers are often aware of the human/animal violence link and can be very helpful in these situations. Social Services may also need to be called if abuse is taking place in the home. By getting as much information from the child as possible and reporting the situation to animal control, you can help break the cycle of violence in your community.

Why is Reporting Animal Cruelty Important?

Some people do not want to report animal cruelty because they do not realize that the action is a crime or they are afraid to report cruelty committed by a friend or neighbor. However, reports can be made anonymously.

Here are just a few reasons why reporting animal cruelty is important:

  • To help an animal at risk
  • To alert law enforcement agencies to crimes that may otherwise go uninvestigated
  • To document a pattern of behavior for repeat offenders
  • To prevent future violence to animals and to people
  • Animal abuse is a crime

Studies have shown strong links between animal cruelty and domestic violence, child abuse and violent crimes.

Report Animal Cruelty and Neglect

If anyone witnesses animal cruelty he or she should report the abuse to the police unless the report would put the complainant at risk. In this case, social services should be contacted. To minimize the risk, the identity of people who report animal abuse to the police remains anonymous to the offender. In addition, animal control officers are trained to look for signs of other kinds of domestic violence and are required to report their suspicions to social services.

What to Look For:
Physical Observations

  1. Does the animal have access to food, water and shelter?
  2. Is his/her area clean?
  3. Does the animal have apparent injuries that have not been treated?
  4. Does the animal appear to be overly aggressive or timid?
  5. Does the animal appear to be neglected? (Neglect is vaguely defined as failure to provide an animal with necessary food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation, ventilation, space, or medical attention.)


Documenting the incident with photographs and videotape can be very helpful in prosecution. If such cruelty is not witnessed directly but is suspected, animal control authorities should be notified. Reports of animal cruelty should be as detailed as possible. Dates, times and circumstances should be noted and related to animal control authorities, who should also be made aware of any physical evidence (photos, video, etc.).

Reporting Cruelty

A person reporting animal cruelty should ask for the name of the animal control officer and ask what action is planned. Follow up, and report any change observed in the animal's condition and situation. A person reporting animal cruelty need not be concerned with confidentiality. An investigating officer is not likely to identify the source of the complaint.