By Annan Boodram – The Caribbean Voice (TCV)
Years ago, there was a fellow who used to routinely drive his car into every dog wandering on the road or every stray dog on the streets. He was also a known criminal and wife/child abuser. Indeed, the indisputable connection between animal cruelty and other forms of criminal and violent behaviour regularly referred to as “The Link,” has been firmly established. A landmark 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the prevention of cruelty to animals and Northeastern University found that animal abusers are five times as likely to also harm fellow humans. In fact, animal cruelty is linked directly or indirectly with every type of violent crime, and most nonviolent crime.
The American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. Phil Arkow, coordinator of the National Link Coalition — a group focusing on the intersection between violence toward animals and humans — has written often about animal abuse being a “predictor crime.” And research and studies in psychology, sociology and criminology in the past five decades has shown that:
- Most violent criminals (60-70%) and psychiatric patients were abused as children, and a majority (60%) started committing animal cruelty at an early age.
- Numerous bullies in schools and juvenile crime offenders are linked to animal cruelty and many subsequently commit criminal acts. As well high-school killers such as Nikolas Cruz in Parkland, Florida and Luke Woodham, in Pearl, Mississippi, tortured animals before starting their shooting sprees. Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot and killed 12 classmates before turning their guns on themselves, spoke to their classmates about mutilating animals.
- Serial killers and multiple murderers are often linked to animal cruelty, so much so that it is uncommon to find one who did not have a history of animal abuse.
- Domestic violence (child abuse, spouse battering, elder abuse) is closely associated with animal cruelty; when one is going on, the other is likely also. A 1983 study notes that animal abuse was found in 88 percent of homes in which physical child abuse was being investigated. And a 2017 study showed that 89 percent of women who had companion animals during an abusive relationship reported that their animals were threatened, harmed, or killed by their abusive partner. Indeed, more than half of women in domestic violence shelters report that they delayed their escape out of fear for their animals.
So, what should be done? Experts agree that early prevention and treatment of animal cruelty is the key to stopping the cycle of violence because as aggressive children get older, they are less responsive to therapeutic intervention. Reporting, investigating and prosecuting animal cruelty can help take dangerous criminals off the streets. Stopping animal abuse in children can help curb violent tendencies before they escalate to include violence against people.
However, these measures must be institutionalized in legal framework. While many Caribbean nations do possess some form of legislation enshrining cruelty against animals, most don’t go far enough. They are generally observed in the breach, compounded by the fact that there are few. If any, trained, mandated animal protection officers, to ensure implementation on any significant scale.
Thus, consideration needs to be given to improving legislation by including some or all of the following:
- Veterinarians report suspected animal abuse and be offered immunity from civil and criminal liability.
- Animal control officers are trained to give teeth to the legislation, such training to include recognizing and reporting child abuse and neglect. Such officers can comprise units within the police force or better yet, such training can be a component of overall police training at the entry-level.
- Child and adult protection workers receive training on identifying and reporting animal cruelty, abuse and neglect.
- Psychological counseling should be mandated for individuals convicted of animal cruelty.
- Training and continuing education about The Link should be provided to judges and prosecutors.
- Animal-focused violence should be included in standard assessments and intake forms for child protective services, mental health and domestic violence workers.
- Establish community partnerships to respond to animal abuse and educate the public about taking all acts of violence seriously.
- The possibility of animal abuse registries should be considered.
As well, citizens can also take action by:
- Urging local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, judges, and schools to take cruelty to animals seriously. Those charged with protecting our communities and animals must send a strong message that violence against any feeling creature—human or nonhuman—is unacceptable.
- Becoming more aware of signs of neglect or abuse in children and animals, and immediately report suspected crimes to authorities. Take children seriously if they report that animals are being neglected or mistreated. Some children won’t talk about their suffering but will talk about animal abuse.
- Don’t ignore even minor acts of cruelty to animals by children. Instead, talk to the child and the child’s parents. If necessary, call a social worker.
The potent fact is that fighting animal abuse could be a major weapon in the arsenal of the war on crime, as borne out by hundreds of studies and reports, over the years.
Animals make a difference in our lives in more ways than can be counted. They give us companionship, love, loyalty and therapeutic healing. They contribute significantly to the tourism product and create jobs for bird watchers, guides and others in the hospitality industry.
In fact, animals improve the quality of life for humans and add meaning value to our existence, so why don’t we do a better job of improving the quality of life for animals?