The Close Link Between Animal Abuse and Child Abuse

Child protection professionals have long recognized the close link between animal abuse and child abuse, as well as domestic violence.

That connection is so strong in fact, that as of January 1, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers animal maltreatment to be a crime against society and now charges it as a Class A Felony.

Michigan State University College of Law published an article about this abuse connection and says more than 80% of families being treated for child abuse were also involved in animal abuse.

Sadly, animals are often a perpetrator’s first victims, as animal abuse is often an entry into violence against people. “It is a matter of escalation: people who want to victimize start with something they can easily control, then they work their way up. A person who only feels powerful and in control while inflicting pain or death must continually sustain that ‘high’ by committing acts that are more heinous or morbid.” (Source: Michigan State University College of Law)

The report also cites some alarming statistics:

  • 100% of sexual homicide offenders examined had a history of cruelty towards animals
  • 70% of all animal abusers have committed at least one (1) other criminal offense
  • Nearly 40% of animal abusers have committed violent crimes against people

Vulnerable Victims

The Michigan State University College of Law report goes on to state, “When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may not be safe.” This article further states that, regarding domestic violence or abuse, the batterer/abuser often targets pets in the home first, then goes after other potential victims in the household (i.e., children, spouses, elderly parents, etc.).

This happens time and time again in cases of child abuse and domestic violence. Perpetrators often threaten to harm, injure or even kill pets in the home as a way of controlling their child or adult victims. The Michigan State University report cites, “In cases of child abuse, perpetrators often abuse animals to exert their power and control over children and other vulnerable family members. In some cases, abusers will force children to sexually abuse, hurt, or kill a pet. Threats of animal abuse may also be used to intimidate children to keep silent about being victims of abuse.” For more, see “10 Reasons Children Don’t Disclose Abuse”.

This isn’t just a problem here in the United States. A study in UK published by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) cites that nearly half (46%) of female domestic violence victims reported their partner had threatened to harm their pets. Over half (53%) of the victims with physically abusive partners said their family pets were actually “hurt or killed” by their abusers. Of those whose pets were harmed, four (4) primary methods were used to inflict injury or death:

  • Kicking (33%)
  • Punching or hitting (15%)
  • Throwing the pet against a wall (10%)
  • Hitting the pet with an object (5%)

15 Signs of Animal Abuse or Neglect     cat

Again, where there is animal abuse, there is often a child or family in danger. In addition to knowing the warning signs of child abuse, it is also important to keep an eye out for animals in your area that are maltreated or neglected. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals notes 15 different signs to look for…

  1. Pets are tied up alone outside for long periods of time without adequate food or water, or with food or water that is unsanitary
  2. Pets are kept outside in inclement weather without access to adequate shelter
  3. Pets are kept in an area littered with feces, garbage, broken glass or other objects that could harm them
  4. Animals are housed in kennels or cages (very often crowded in with other animals) that are too small to allow them to stand, turn around and make normal movements possibly with too many other animals
  5. Collar is so tight that it has caused a neck wound or has become embedded in the pet’s neck
  6. Open wounds, signs of multiple healed wounds or an ongoing injury or illness that isn’t being treated
  7. Untreated skin conditions that have caused loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps or rashes
  8. Extreme thinness or emaciation—bones may be visible
  9. Fur infested with fleas, ticks or other parasites
  10. Patches of bumpy, scaly skin rashes
  11. Signs of inadequate grooming, such as extreme matting of fur, overgrown nails and dirty coat
  12. Weakness, limping or the inability to stand or walk normally
  13. Heavy discharge from eyes or nose
  14. An owner striking or otherwise physically abusing an animal
  15. Visible signs of confusion or extreme drowsiness

Some states and local municipalities have also enacted chaining and tethering laws, setting limits to the method and duration of animal restraint.

Animal Abuse = Indicator of Future Violence

Animal abuse often starts in childhood. If a child is abusive to or harms animals, that behavior is a strong indicator of future violence towards people. The Michigan State University report says that violent criminals are five (5) times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans if they abused animals in childhood. It goes on to state, “There is a further correlation: the most aggressive criminals had committed the most severe acts of animal cruelty in childhood.”

This same report also links animal abuse with school violence and shootings:

“Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot and killed 12 students at Columbine High School, spoke of mutilating animals to their classmates. Luke Woodham, who murdered his mother and two schoolmates, tortured and killed his own pet dog beforehand. He wrote in his journal about setting Sparkle on fire, describing her dying howls as a ‘thing of beauty.’ High-school killer, Kip Kinkel, tortured animals before going on his shooting spree. He was reported to have blown up cows and decapitated cats.  Andrew Golden is said to have shot dogs, even his own pet dog, with a .22 caliber rifle before attacking his classmates.”

Protect Children and Families in Trouble… Report Animal Abuse!

If you know of an animal that is a victim of maltreatment or abuse, contact:

Help for Victims of Domestic Violence

If you are a victim of domestic violence, contact (caution: be aware computer activity may be monitored by your abuser, so take appropriate action):

Chance-and-GK-2013-04-26About Ginger:

Working to improve the world one child at a time, Ginger has made it her life mission to raise awareness of the world-wide epidemic of child abuse. An impassioned child advocate, trainer, speaker and child forensic interviewer, Ginger regularly blogs about child protection issues and has released a report for parents and other caring adults, “10 Scary Apps.” Ginger can be contacted via her website “Ginger Kadlec: BeAKidsHero™” at BeAKidsHero.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/gingergkadlec.

You can also connect with Ginger via other social media at:

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