Why the Wild Things Are

Animals and nature in the lives of children.

Do Mass Killers Start Out by Harming Pets?

The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School joins a long list of mass shootings. In a now familiar scenario, a troubled teenage boy unleashes mayhem, taking down children, adults, and ultimately himself in a hail of bullets. After the shock, we are left to puzzle over the clues missed. While there are no easy answers, animal abuse may be an important early warning sign. Read More

Spot-on observation and assessment

I agree with the points you make in your article, and I too think that its way past due that more of our society's time and resources be funneled into mental health studies and services.

Having the personnel in animal cruelty prevention departments and child cruelty prevention departments training together and assessing situations/making reports in tandem with each other, sharing information as you describe, is a brilliant solution.

More inter-agency cooperation and more funding for mental health care hopefully will help develop some kind of "violence assessment/violence management tool", or "red flag" warning signs. A "checklist", so to speak. Parents, teachers, employers, and simply the general public need to be more aware that *a certain type and number* of these "red flag" factors indicate an increasing probability that an individual (whether they are a child, a teen or an adult) is reaching a point at which they are likely to add to the growing number of mass murders, spree killings, and murder/suicides.

Inter-agency coordination

An excellent resource for issues related to abuse against animals AND people is www.nationallinkcoalition.org. Their monthly newsletter documents many efforts around the country to coordinate prevention and treatment services. Their director, Phil Arkow, is a prominent national expert on these issues.

unhelpful photo

Yikes! That's a bad photo for so many reasons. That is not animal abuse; it's irresponsible parenting. I

Photo shows a teachable moment, not animal cruelty

I quite agree that the photo is an example of inadvertent animal mistreatment that is quite different from intentional (and repeated) animal cruelty. Close parental supervision might have prevented this baby from grabbing the cat's tail, but even the most attentive parent might face such a situation. If so, it may become a 'teachable moment' to begin to build empathy and kindness.

Links known since the Middle Ages

A link between animal cruelty and violence towards people was discussed in "The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome", an article in "The New York Times" that is well worth a read. We need to get animal abuse investigations funded properly and not leave it up to whether charities happen to have enough funding or not.

I want to actively encourage my local police to take this seriously as I'm also concerned some abandoned pets may belong to women being abused by their partners. This also speaks to the need for safe sheltering (in a no-kill facility or foster home) for pets for these families so the women and any children can leave their bad situation without fear that their pets will be abused.

Anytime animal abuse is suspected or documented and there are children in the home, proper investigations need to be conducted into child abuse as well.

Animal abuse and domestic violence linked

I want to underscore several important points made by the comment from Pets R Family. The first relates to pets and domestic violence against women. Ascione (2006) found that a quarter of abused women reported that fear for their pets' welfare prevented them from seeking shelter. Women and children may be endangering their safety because of well-founded concern for the safety of their animals. The second point relates to animal abuse investigations. Animal welfare should be a priority for its own sake. In addition, the link to violence against human family members is well substantiated by research. With budget cutbacks, localities face challenges in devoting sufficient resources to this issue. Raising public awareness may help.

Cruelty is a CRIME - not a marketing tool

Animal abuse is often tied to serious spousal abuse and child abuse/neglect. Dogfighting busts often result in other criminal charges being brought, especially drugs and gambling. When the culprits turn out to have long rap sheets, convictions and meaningful sentences are more likely. Local shelters' cruelty investigators can play a worthy supporting role in this. On the other hand, large national groups interested in publicity and profiteering from animal abuse do more harm than good. Crime is primarily the responsibility of law enforcement. Public and media pressure can increase required police training, funding, and arrests.

In 2007, just after the Vick case helped publicized the dogfighting issue, John Keene, former Chicago police officer and leader of that city's Animal Cruelty Task Force, created the blog "Cruelty is a Crime - Only Law Enforcement Should Enforce." Many posts blasted the Humane Society of the United States, the biggest offender, but the ASPCA has recently jumped on the pseudo-law enforcement bandwagon, inappropriately inserting themselves in raids and prosecutions and pretending to be doing more than they are.

While garnering publicity and donations, HSUS's approach hasn't made a dent in the actual problems of cruelty and abuse. They make up numbers and "accomplishments," creating the impression that something is being done to keep the money rolling in. The true numbers are available if you know where to look, and they are dismal. The ASPCA touts it's Law Enforcement division in every fundraising mailing. Local TV in New York investigated and found it their investigative unit in disarray. I encourage everyone to read John Keene's insightful writings.

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Gail F. Melson, Ph.D., is Professor of Child Development and Family Studies at Purdue University.

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