Animal abuse also threatens kids
- By JOSEPH ROBERTIA
"One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill
or torture an animal and get away with it." < Margaret Mead,
The recent stabbing death of a sled dog in Teller involving five
teenagers underscores the importance of teaching children compassion for
Abusive and violent acts toward animals have been recognized as
indicators of a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to
Research has shown that many violent criminals abused animals or
practiced their crimes on animals before turning to human victims.
The FBI has stated that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the
traits that regularly appears in their records of rapists and murderers.
Ted Bundy, David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz, Jeffrey Dahmer and numerous
other notorious killers all tortured and killed animals before moving on
This has led to organizations, such as the Humane Society of the United
States (HSUS), which, through its First Strike program, educates
communities about the connection between animal cruelty and human
violence, and what people can do to combat animal cruelty.
First Strike offers several tips that show red flags for parents and
those who work with children to watch for, but the organization also
advises how to respond if signs of animal cruelty are observed.
Harming animals isn't a phase that all children naturally go through.
Animal cruelty should never be attributed to a stage of development.
That's not to say that innocent exploration and simple curiosity may not
result in some children inadvertently killing insects or pets, but few
kids torture pets.
All acts of cruelty should be addressed by parents and those who work
with children, and it is important for kids to recognize that calculated
animal cruelty is motivated by a desire to harm.
As such, it is particularly important to intervene when a child is
insensitive to the obvious distress of an animal, repeats a harmful
behavior or derives pleasure from causing an animal pain.
Those who suspect a child has, or is, deliberately harming animals,
should talk to the child immediately to try and determine the cause of
It also is important to talk with their friends, teachers and parents to
learn more about their activities. School counselors, family counselors
and pediatricians may be able to provide helpful information.
Cruelty often is associated with children who do poorly in school, have
few friends and low self-esteem.
Bullies and kids with a history of truancy, vandalism and other deviant
or antisocial behavior are at risk for developing tendencies of animal
Children as young as 4 have been reported to deliberately harm animals,
although such behavior is much more commonly reported in adolescence.
Also, repeated animal cruelty is seen more often in boys than girls.
It is important to get to the source of the problem for the safety of
animals, but also for the safety of the child, since research has proven
that a child's violence against animals often represents displaced
hostility and aggression stemming from neglect or abuse of the child or
another family member.
Parents can instill a sense of respect for all life by using real-life
situations to teach by example. Young children can be invited to help
feed birds and squirrels or taught to rescue bugs trapped in the house
rather than squashing them.
Older children can be taught by discussing animal cruelty cases that
have been publicized in the news or on the Internet or by visiting local
animal shelters to learn about the harsh reality of pet overpopulation
and what becomes of unwanted pets.
These methods can instill children with a sense of empathy < an
understanding or process of imaginatively entering into another's
feelings < that can guide them toward being kind and respectful in their
relations with animals and people, as well.
Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked
with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a
veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist
for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related
questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas
and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at
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