Origins of Animal Abuse
Animal abuse occurs throughout the world and the facts and statistics surrounding this abuse are devastating. Aleksander Hrubenja, in his article, “37 Deeply Disturbing Animal Abuse Statistics and Facts,” says, “Every day, thousands of animal abuse cases are reported. However, animal abuse statistics reveal that the majority of animal and pet abuse cases are never brought to light. Cruelty to animals is a very real issue that happens in all parts of the world, no matter the social or economic status of the abuser. There are various types of animal cruelty: organized cruelty (like dogfighting and cockfighting), neglect, and intentional cruelty.” Statistically, Hrubenja reports that every sixty seconds an animal suffers abuse; 65% of all abused animals are dogs; and each year more than 10 million animals die of animal abuse in the US alone. These are staggering numbers that continue to grow as this problem continues to get worse.
There is a lot of research to support that the root cause of animal abuse begins in the home environment. According to the Humane Society, “all animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to inflict suffering on any living creature. Intentional cruelty is a particular concern because it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates that an individual either has already been a victim of violence or might be predisposed to committing acts of violence.” Domestic violence and/or a dysfunctional home environment significantly impacts the occurrence of animal abuse. Some major questions surrounding the issue of animal abuse are “What are the main reasons that it occurs?” and, “Is there a particular cause?” There may be a variety of things impacting poor treatment of animals, but one of the causes may be domestic violence and/or a poor home environment that includes parents being negative role models for their children regarding animal treatment. Children will observe their parents’ treatment of pets and if it is negative or abusive, they learn that this is the way you handle pets in their home. This in turn causes a lack of education to children on how to properly care for pets or animals in their home.
To take this idea a little further, research indicates that violence within families and animal abuse are linked to each other. Many people think of their pets as family members and if an abuser feels that way, there is nothing to stop them from abusing their family members or pets. According to the author of “Animal Abuse, Family Violence, and Child Well-being: A Review,” Sarah McPhedran, “Animals may become victims of violence in troubled homes because they are thought of as property.” She also comments that other people believe violence extends to pets because they are thought of as family members. It seems there are two kinds of people that can be abusers. The first are those who think of their pets as property and the second are those abusers who consider pets to be part of their family. If they abuse their family members, that automatically could mean they become abusers of their pets as well.
Desiring the ability to have dominance or control over others can also contribute to animal abuse. By abusing an animal, the abuser believes they are showing dominance and control to intimidate or control other people. It can also be present in relationships as well. In the same article, McPhedran continues, “It is common for women in shelters to talk about companion animal abuse , and suggest that women may delay leaving abusive relationships out of fear for the wellbeing of their pets.” Many domestic violence victims get stuck in this cycle due to fear regarding abusers threats to harm the victim or other family members and pets. McPhedran also states in the article that “In the United States, Ascione’s (1998) widely cited research found that 71% of 38 women in a Utah shelter, who owned a pet, reported that their partner had threatened to, or had actually harmed, that pet.” The fact that abusive partners threaten to abuse family pets significantly impacts the occurrence of animal abuse. According to Hrubenj in his article “37 Deeply Disturbing Animal Abuse Statistics and Facts,” he states, “The animal abuse and domestic violence statistics show a clear correlation between domestic violence and animal abuse. Victims of domestic violence have reported that in the great majority of cases their abuser has also maltreated their pet.” Research indicates that an abusive home environment can increase the chance that an abuser would mistreat a family pet.
Home environment and how family pets are treated in the home also impacts the occurrence of animal abuse. Poor treatment of family pets can be a learned behavior. So a child in this type of home environment, can learn to treat animals poorly if their parents were abusive to family pets. In his article, Hrubenj states, “Animal abuse is very common in families with child abuse. Unfortunately, abuse leads to more abuse, so statistics show that 26% of the people who abuse animals were abused in their childhood. Children who witness domestic violence are three times more likely to abuse animals.” Children observe how their parents treat each other and learn from that relationship as well. If that relationship is abusive then the children grow up believing that this is the way you treat other living things. That can significantly impact an occurrence of animal abuse. According to McPhedran in the same article, she states that “In the Utah shelter study, 22 women had children, and 32% (or 7 women) reported that one or more of their children had abused or killed companion animals.” Children are learning these behaviors in their home environment from their parents, which can continue the cycle of abuse through to the next generation.
Animal abuse also continues to occur because some veterinarians are failing to report suspected abuse. Some veterinarians choose to report it while others don’t. According to Georgina Mills, who wrote the article, “Reporting cases of animal abuse,” she states that “A study carried out by psychologists at the University of Kent, found that almost a third of the vets had suspected at least one incident of animal abuse in the past year, but only half of those had reported cases to authorities.” Based on this information it seems that veterinarians are not getting enough training and therefore are lacking the confidence and skills to make the authorities aware of the suspected animal abuse. Mills also states in her article that ” Those with self-belief were more likely to report cases of suspected abuse; this self-belief tended to come from training and experience.” Mills also stated that in the United Kingdom, Vets only receive two hours of training on this subject when in school. Vets should receive more training on this subject just because animal abuse happens more frequently than one would think.
Animal Abuse has been linked to other poor behaviors as well. According to Thomas J. Mowen and John H. Boman, they state in their article “Animal Abuse among High-Risk Youth: A Test of Agnew’s Theory,” that “Animal abuse has been tied to other deviant behaviors including interpersonal violence, illegal gun possession, substance use, and antisocial behaviors later on in life.” Unfortunately, a negative home environment where abuse or domestic violence is present, seems to indicate a higher risk of animal abuse in future generations. According to Dr. Hovel, child abuse, woman battering, elder abuse, sibling abuse, and pet abuse are all types of “domestic violence.”
Imagine a household where there is significant violence occurring toward both family members and family pets. Results of this violence could create a scene in this home that includes smashed items and belongings, injuries amongst family members, and beloved pets cowering in the corner, unable to stand out of fear and terror. This could all be the result of a violent family member expressing his anger in inappropriate and destructional ways. Society has demonstrated in a number of different ways how often mistreatment of animals is a growing problem in the world today. Awareness of animal abuse can be an issue. Research indicates that animal abuse appears to be more common in dysfunctional homes in which people are less knowledgeable about anger management and/or caring for animals properly.
Dysfunctional homes are the main cause of animal abuse. The children within the house observe parents’ abuse toward other family members and they learn that this is the way a “healthy” family operates. In her article “Animal Abuse, Family Violence, and Child Wellbeing: Review,” McPhedran states that “Indeed, childhood incidents of witnessing and/or perpetrating animal cruelty are by no means distinct from violent or abusive home environments.” This may be carried to the next generation when these children grow up and have families of their own. This can result in family abuse which can lead to animal abuse.
Children will not only see other family members being abused, but the pets in the house being abused as well. McPhedran continues in her article, “Consequently, in families where any given form of family violence exists, animal abuse may also be more likely to exist.” This becomes a never ending cycle of animal abuse living in each generational family which then just continues to spread the problem.
Some abusers or family members of these abusers will take their pets to the veterinarian following an abusive incident involving their pet. These families may not always be forthcoming with the cause of the pet’s injury due to fear of retaliation from the abuser. People become veterinarians for their love of animals. Some veterinarians may suspect animal abuse but may not report it. According to Rebecca Wisch, she states in her article, “Table of Veterinary Reporting Requirement and Immunity Laws,” that “About 20 states place a mandatory duty upon state-licensed veterinarians (and sometimes vet techs) to report suspected animal cruelty to the proper authorities including California, Colorado, Illinois, Minnesota, Oklahoma, and West Virginia. Usually, this consists of reporting the abuse to local law enforcement agencies. A couple states limit mandatory reporting to aggravated cruelty or suspected instances of dogfighting. Pennsylvania is unique in that it requires certain reporting of cruelty by other veterinarians.” As you can see, this is a handful of states that are regulating reporting but in several states it still appears to be underreported. This is another thing that causes an extension and increase in the spread of animal abuse. If more states attempted regulation, this could help to reduce the spread.
Many animals continue to suffer because of the abuse they endure and some are even killed. However, it is speculated that the abuser commits this abuse because it is learned from growing up in a dysfunctional home. The nature versus nurture debate has a place here. Dr. Hovel conveys that some psychologists and geneticists might argue that there are “bad genes” and that a newborn may be predisposed to violence. Other genetics may play some role, but the “nurture,” or a child’s treatment, is argued to be a far more significant influence. A child’s parents are the biggest role models in his or her life. Children brought up in a home with love, understanding, respect, and pro-social values are likely to become adults who are valued and responsible members of society. It is expected that they will repeat such a positive upbringing with their own children and create a positive, loving and nurturing home environment. Dr. Hovel goes on to describe an opposing view of a child brought up in an abusive home, who suffers neglect, abandonment, sexual, or physical abuse, and/or witnesses abuse of his or her mother. This child learns that violence is a “normal way of life.” It is very likely that they would repeat that cycle when they become an adult. In his article, “The Connection Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence,” Dr. Hovel states that “Along the way, the child may take out his or her anger and frustration on others weaker than he or she is, likely starting with animals and often becoming a school bully and a future child or spouse abuser. As statistics from federal and state prisons and criminal psychiatric facilities show, a high percentage of violent individuals were abused as children, and over 60% of them began their violent careers with animal cruelty.” Some would argue the abuse of an animal is caused from a number of different other things such as an abuser’s negative attitude towards animals, an abuser involved in an organization having to do with animal abuse, or an abuser could even suffer from mental disorders that causes them to abuse the animal.
One argument is that an abuser commits animal abuse simply because of their negative attitude toward animals. Some would argue that an abuser doesn’t care what happens to an animal and believe animals don’t experience pain the same way humans do. According to Robert Agnew in his article, “The Causes of Animal Abuse: A Social-Psychological Analysis,” he states that “Many individuals believe that animals do not experience pain or, in less extreme forms, that animals have a higher threshold of pain or do not experience pain in response to the same stimuli as humans.” Abusers in this situation don’t think animals experience pain as other living things do and use them as an outlet for their anger. From this viewpoint, their attitude toward animals causes them to lash out against animals. However a conflicting argument comes from research in the article, “Animal Cruelty and Neglect FAQ,” from the Humane Society,“Animal cruelty, like any other form of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, unnoticed or under the control of others. The motive may be to shock, threaten, intimidate or offend others or to demonstrate rejection of society’s rules. Some who are cruel to animals copy acts they have seen or that have been done to them. Others see harming an animal as a safe way to get revenge against—or threaten—someone who cares about that animal.” This research supports that animal cruelty could be committed from a person who may feel powerless as a result of an abusive or dysfunctional home environment. Many victims of abuse feel powerless, unnoticed or under the control of others.
Others would argue that animal abuse is also caused by an abuser being involved in some sort of organization that involves animal abuse or cruelty. Hunters and cockfighters would be some examples of this. Agnew has stated in his article, “The Causes of Animal Abuse: A Social-Psychological Analysis,” that “Cockfighters, for example, often claim that it is in the animals’ nature to fight and die: God placed them on earth for this reason and the birds are voluntary and enthusiastic participants in the fighting activity.” The abusers involved in cockfighting believe the birds are on this earth to fight. According to some alternative research in his article, Dr. Hovel writes, “The cruelty involved in animal fighting for human “entertainment” is almost unimaginable. Cockfighting and dogfighting have become epidemic in the U.S. and are common in many parts of the world. In the United States, both are felonies in all 50 states. In cockfighting, roosters are fitted out with razors or small knives attached to their feet, or alternately 3-inch-long spike-like“gaffs.” In fights they slash each other or stab each other until the blood loss and torn flesh render one or both unable to continue.” Dr. Hovel goes on to say, “Children are born with a love of animals, but the home environment plays a major role in determining a child’s prosocial or antisocial personality and behavior. Child abuse, neglect, abandonment, and witnessing domestic violence are major factors in creating violent individuals, along with poverty, alcoholism, and toxic neighborhoods.” This article supports the argument that a violent or dysfunctional home environment significantly increases the likelihood of animal abuse or cruelty.
Suffering from a mental disorder is also argued to be a reason for the abuse of an animal. Antisocial behavior is the main disorder that causes the abuse. According to Elleonora Gullone, in her article “Conceptualising Animal Abuse with an Antisocial Behaviour Framework,” she states, “Further, both animal abuse and bullying have been related to later antisocial behaviours and antisocial personality disorder.” People being antisocial has also increased as well with all the technology we have now in today’s age. The more antisocial people the more there is a chance for those people to become animal abusers. Antisocial behavior is proven to almost always be in relation to animal abuse and continues to further increase the problem. Alternately, in his article Dr. Hovel writes, “Stopping domestic violence is a key to reducing our violent culture. Most violent criminals (60-70%) and violent psychiatric patients were abused as children, and a majority (>60%) started committing animal cruelty at an early age.” According to Dr. Hovel, one could come to the conclusion that the abuse precedes the antisocial behavior which in turn increases the likelihood of animal abuse. This article proves that a dysfunctional or abusive home environment significantly impacts the occurrence of animal abuse.
The number of cases of the abuse of animals continues to grow and it is a problem that continues to be ignored throughout the world. There are a number of different causes being presented as stated earlier but abusive and dysfunctional home environments seem to remain at the root of this issue. Research supports that abusive home environments continue to spread the problem around the world. Animal abuse is frequently linked to a dysfunctional home where domestic violence is present. In his article, Dr. Hovel states, “Animal cruelty is linked directly or indirectly with every type of violent crime, and, what is not as well known, also with most nonviolent crime. Human beings would benefit enormously if fighting animal cruelty (investigating, prosecuting) were taken seriously. Many human lives would be saved and much human suffering would be prevented.” The statistics surrounding animal abuse are staggering and the effect it leaves on the animals includes fear, pain, and desperation. This problem can no longer be ignored.
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