Animal cruelty a sign of future abuse?

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas. Publicado en News in English.

Animal cruelty a sign of future abuse?
01/10/2005

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I'm not a big fan of frogs. But while reading the story of the horrible vandalism at Coconino High School, the part about Alexander the Frog struck a nerve.

Alexander was a 15 year old bullhorn frog, and had been loved by children in classrooms around Flagstaff for years. Now, he has met an untimely and possibly cruel death at the hands of children.

I don't have any more information on what actually happened to Alexander, or the missing hamster. I don't know anything about the four boys that trashed the school. But because an incident like this is pretty unusual for Flagstaff, it kind of shook me up.

Flagstaff is a nice family community, very animal-friendly, without all the shocking crimes of the big cities. I checked with some folks in the court system, and they report that Flagstaff has very few animal cruelty cases. That is good news, and I hope it is a true representation of our town and not because things just don't get reported.

I know that most of our law enforcement, prosecutors and judges are aware of the strong link between animal cruelty and violence against humans. They are aware that in families experiencing domestic violence, the pets are often the first target and many times are hurt as a threat to family members.

But is the general public aware of this connection? What does the average person think when they see a neighbor hitting or kicking a dog, or children throwing rocks at a kitten?

In 1997 a terrible thing happened in Fairfield, Iowa. Three young men broke into Noah's Ark, a cat shelter, and brutally bludgeoned 27 cats with baseball bats. They left 17 dead and many others maimed for life. Perhaps even more horrifying, many of the residents of the town defended the boys, saying it was just "a boyish prank" and that boys and cats were natural enemies. Because of a lack of animal abuse laws in Iowa at that time, the boys were only charged with misdemeanor breaking and entering.

The cats, because they were strays, had no monetary value. Thanks to animal welfare groups the perpetrators received sentences that included counseling, and Iowa law was changed.

Luckily, Arizona law makes animal abuse a felony. And I know that Flagstaff's citizens would never defend such acts of cruelty. But how do we recognize and prevent such behavior?

Studies show that 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children entering domestic shelters describe incidents of pet abuse in the family. Children who witness domestic violence or have been the victims of abuse become animal abusers themselves, imitating the violence they have seen.

In a chilling article about childhood cruelty to animals, it is noted that serial killers Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy and David Berkowitz all delighted in torturing and killing animals before moving on to human victims. The boys that were responsible for school shootings in Colorado, Oregon, Arkansas and Mississippi all had histories of animal abuse. How many "red flags" were ignored by family and friends that attributed the behavior to "boyish pranks?"

What should parents, friends and teachers know about children and cruelty to animals? First, that it should never be attributed to a stage of development. Kids may accidentally squeeze, hit or drop a pet, but swift and strong intervention is necessary when a child is insensitive to obvious distress of an animal, repeats a harmful behavior, or derives pleasure from causing an animal pain.

Cruel behavior is most commonly seen in adolescence, and is often associated with children who do poorly in school and have low self-esteem and few friends. Kids who are cruel to animals are frequently characterized as bullies, and may have a history of truancy, vandalism, or other anti-social behaviors. Parents who notice this behavior in their children should seek help from their pediatrician or the child's teacher and school counselors. Thinking they will "grow out of it" or that "boys will be boys" is putting the child, other children, and animals at risk.

Parents can teach by example, using everyday situations to instill respect for all life in their children. Feeding the birds and squirrels, gently petting dogs and cats, or watching a video depicting the awesome wildlife in a rainforest will help our kids learn compassion and appreciate what animals contribute to our world.

As a community we can work to eliminate domestic violence and teach our kids to treat others as they want to be treated. Rest in peace, Alexander.

Diane Jarvis is education director for Second Chance Shelter for animals. Reach her at diane@second-chancecenter. org or 714-2202.