Did you know that April was “Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Month”?
Each year, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) “urges supporters across the country to support our efforts and Go Orange for Animals in honor of the signing of the ASPCA’s charter in 1866.”
No other relationship has lasted as long as that between animals and people. It’s amazing to consider how this dates back to prehistoric times, and to consider how it has evolved from an era when people merely used animals to their own advantage – to provide food, labor, and clothing, for example – to one in which companion animals have become increasingly important in contemporary life. Now, we not only rely on animals for companionship, but also regard them as friends and family members.
Yet, despite our increasing personal bond with animals, we seem to remain the cruelest of all animal species.
The topic of animal rights continues to generate extremely diverse viewpoints among people. The mere thought of animal abuse is unfathomable to many, whilst others consider that “they are just animals”. Clearly a disconnect remains, and as many continue to feel that humans are the superior species, they don’t believe that animals deserve any moral consideration.
In 1866, the ASPCA was founded on the premise that “….persons who harmed animals would escalate their violent acts to include vulnerable humans” – interesting that the development of animal abuse legislation back in the 1800s related to concern for people, not animal welfare per se.
Do you have any idea how unprotected animals are, by law? The Animal Welfare Act is the only federal law that deals with animal protection, and it doesn’t even provide for rights for animals – and indeed farm animals and laboratory animals have even less protections than companion animals. Typically, animals are considered as “property” under the law, so in most cases of abuse, perpetrators tend to be punished less harshly than if they’d stolen someone’s expensive painting. Although there have been some pivotal cases reported recently, in which owners have been able to claim for emotional damages due to the loss of their pets. So maybe the legal landscape will slowly change in years to come.
The Link Between Animal Abuse and Interpersonal Violence
The connection between abuse of animals and humans is irrefutable. Some of the data that have emerged in recent decades from studies investigating the link, have been both revealing and chilling:
- 70% of animal abusers also have other criminal records
- People who abuse animals are 5 times more likely to commit violent crimes than those who do not abuse animals
- Domestic partner violence is the most common cause of nonfatal injury in the US
- 36% of emergency room visits by women between 1992 and 1996 were related to domestic abuse
- 60% of domestic violence cases also involve pet abuse
- 48% of battered women don’t escape to protect pets or livestock
- 74% of battered women seeking refuge at a shelter reported that their pet was killed
- More than 80% of families being treated for child abuse involve animal abuse, and in in a quarter of these cases, the victimized child may later go on to abuse their pets
- 31% of teenagers in one survey in Chicago had been to a dog fight
- Men who abuse pets are more dangerous than those who don’t, using more types of violence, such as emotional and sexual violence, marital rape, and stalking
- Most serial killers start out by killing animals
Animal abuse is known to represent part of a triad of behaviors for predicting criminal behavior. And the link between cruelty to animals and interpersonal violence is so well established that many communities now cross-train social service, animal control, and law enforcement agencies in how to recognize signs of animal abuse as possible indicators of other abusive behaviors. And some state laws now even mandate that veterinarians notify police if they suspect animal abuse.
So it’s easy to see how animal welfare plays an integral role in the welfare of humans, demonstrating the need to prevent, and intervene early in, animal cruelty cases. The concept of “animal rights” therefore clearly has implications in areas of society other than animal welfare.
“Every veterinarian has an obligation to protect the health and welfare of animals. Therefore the AVMA considers it the responsibility of every veterinarian to report animal abuse to appropriate authorities even when such reporting is not mandated by law or local ordinance. Such reporting is for the benefit of the animals, but there are often implications for people as well.”
[Dr Ron DeHaven, CEO, American Veterinary Medical Association]