How can we halt animal cruelty?
By Don Palermo
I would like to share a few thoughts about animal cruelty from the Humane Society of the United States. From cats to canaries, from Dobermans to dachshunds, our pets often seem to know how we feel.
They comfort us when we hurt and make us happy when we are sad. They share our joy and stay by our sides when times are bad, but sometimes people are mean to animals. How do we explain this?
Mahatma Gandhi said, "The greatness of a nation, and its moral progress, can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
Animals feel pain and fear like we do, but they are often helpless victims, because they cannot say what happened to them. In fact, some people choose to abuse animals instead of people for this very reason. If we wish to create a humane society, we must stop cruelty against those who are most vulnerable - our animals.
Like the death of a canary in a coal mine, violence toward animals can be an indicator that people are also in danger. Someone who commits animal abuse may have serious psychological problems. Studies have found that many people convicted of violent crimes had a history of animal cruelty. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz and Albert "Boston Strangler" DeSalvo were cruel to animals before they started hurting people.
Animals in homes with family violence are also victims of violence. One study showed that animals were abused in 88 percent of the homes in which a child was abused. Another study found that 83 percent of families reporting animal abuse also had children at high risk of abuse or neglect.
Although most of the abuse toward the animals came from the parents, about a quarter of abused children abuse animals. "Animal cruelty is a national problem," said ASPCA supervisory special investigator Annemarie Lucas. "Violence towards animals crosses all racial and socioeconomic lines and reaches from coast to coast." No matter where you live there is a lot you can do to stop animal cruelty.
One of the most powerful tools we have for preventing cruelty to animals is education. It is important to plant the seeds of kindness early in children, and to nurture their development as the child grows. Children not only need to learn what they shouldn't do, but also what they can and should do. When children see that their pets are happy and loving, it will make the child feel good, too. This in turn helps the children care for their pets' feelings.
Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty investigated by humane officers is unintentional neglect that can be resolved through education. Intentional cruelty or abuse is knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter or veterinary care, or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating or killing an animal. All animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to inflict suffering on any living creature.
Remember that all of our furry friends are a part of God's creation. Let's give them the love and respect they deserve.
Dr. Don Palermo is a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs. Questions for this column are encouraged. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach MS 39560 and include a self-addressed stamped envelope.