A Deadly Progression
by Representative Connie Morella (R-8th District, Maryland)
Animal Guardian, Vol. 11, No. 3, 1998 - Doris Day Animal League
A 15-year-old Oregon student slaughtered his parents and a classmate and left 23 students injured in a shoot-out at his high school. He had a history of abusing and torturing animals.
A 16 year-old from Mississippi stabbed his mother to death, then shot and killed two classmates and injured seven others. In his diary, he confessed to burning and torturing his dog, Sparkle, to death. Two Arkansas elementary school boys shot and killed four fellow students and a teacher during a faked fire drill at their school. Classmates reported that one of the boys shot dogs with a .22 all the time.
Increasingly, women in battered women's shelters report that their abusers victimize the family pet in order to control their behavior or their children's behavior. The abusers either threaten to harm or kill the animals. Not surprisingly, children raised in such homes often learn that cruelty to animals is acceptable behavior. In turn, this behavior becomes the first step in repeating a legacy of violence toward family members.
These are all reasons why I joined with Congressman Tom Lantos in introducing a resolution in the House of Representatives to raise awareness of the link between cruelty to animals and domestic violence, child abuse, and other forms of violent behavior. The bill urges social workers, teachers, mental health professionals, and others to be aware of the connection between animal cruelty, and the evaluate and closely monitor individuals who have a history of animal abuse.
The legislation also urges federal research concerning the connection between animal and human violence in order that appropriate intervention methods be developed and that local law enforcement officials take seriously all incidences of animal cruelty.
The legislation reflects growing awareness -- and growing concern -- that violence perpetrated on animals is a symptom of violence that will escalate in time to violence against humans. This spring, at a congressional briefing, Kim Roberts, who is with The Humane Society of the United States' "First Strike Campaign," so called because that violent first strike is frequently against the family pet, spoke about how such violence is "often used to control, manipulate, or terrorize family members. It is a 'warning sign' that the violence is escalating. Taking animal cruelty seriously offers an opportunity to intervene in violent households and with violent individuals. Cross-reporting and cross-training of humane investigators and those charged with investigating child abuse and domestic violence are also valuable tools in the identification of current and possible victims of violence, both human and animal."
But there are some in our society who dismiss animal cruelty as inconsequential or as "boys being boys." FBI Special Agent Allan Brantley, who also spoke at the briefing, strongly disagrees. "Violence against animals is violence and when it is present it is considered by the people I work with to be synonymous with a history of violence. In many cases we have seen examples whereby violence against animals is a prelude to violence against humans. Some offenders kill animals as a rehearsal for targeting human victims and may kill or torture animals because to them the animals symbolically represent people."
Agent Brantley continued, "Animal violence does not occur in a vacuum. It is highly predictive in identifying children at risk for committing future acts of violence but also in identifying children being abused and cases of spousal abuse."
Whether we live in cities, small towns, suburbs or in rural areas, whether we are parents, teachers, neighbors, whether we are young or old, we must all work together to confront such violence in our homes, in our schools, and in our communities.
But what can the average person do to help?
Become an advocate for strong, anti-cruelty to animal laws and for strong enforcement of these laws in your state. These laws
should include stiff penalties, fines, and jail sentences, require restitution and reimbursement, and provide for
psychological examination and counseling, and offer intervention strategies for offenders.
Always report incidents of animal cruelty to your local humane society or to your local police department. Intentional cruelty to
animals is always serious. If the perpetrator is a child, contact the child's parents, school teacher or principal as well.
Contact the ASPCA's Family VISION Program (Violence, Information Sharing, Intervention, and Observation Network), the
Humane Society of the United States First Strike Campaign for information about these programs.
There are many ways you can contribute your time and talent to raise awareness about the connection between animal cruelty to animals and violence against humans.