Animal cruelty is a serious social problem for many reasons, starting with the senseless suffering or death of animals. The connection between animal cruelty and family violence, or criminal behavior, is also alarming. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), animal cruelty is often the first indicator of household distress. For this reason, many sociologists choose to study the social ramifications of animal cruelty and its correlation with general antisocial behavior.
Animal cruelty takes many forms. Abuse typically is associated with directly inflicting pain and suffering. Neglect consists of providing minimal care, no care or abandonment altogether. Neglected animals are often discovered in unsanitary conditions and are starving, ill and even injured. Animal hoarding is a type of neglect involving more animals than a person can properly care for. In many of these situations, children and adults also live in these same unhealthy conditions. Children found in these residences are often placed in foster care as a result.
Abusers tend to dominate more vulnerable family members such as children and animals.
According to the HSUS and National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, approximately 88 percent of families suspected of child abuse also abuse or neglect pets in their residence. Typically abusers perpetuate violence by exercising their physical or emotional power over a weaker individual, making children and animals easy targets. Animals are also often used to coerce a child into compliance in situations of sexual abuse, where abusers harm or even kill a family pet to ensure silence and secrecy.
Battered women with pets often fear leaving them behind with an abusive partner.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, animal abuse is one of four predictors of domestic partner, or spousal abuse. As much as 80 percent of women seeking refuge in abuse shelters have witnessed the abuse or death of a family pet at the hand of their partner. For this reason, many women are hesitant to leave abusive situations for fear of repercussions to remaining pets or livestock.
Perpetrators of violent crimes often have a history of animal cruelty.
Acts of cruelty against animals involve a certain detachment from, or lack of empathy and compassion, for the animal victim. This behavior often transfers to human victims, as the perpetrator becomes desensitized to pain and suffering. In a study conducted by the Chicago Police Department, about 65 percent of those arrested for animal crimes also had a criminal history of battery against another person. In the same study, 46 percent of criminals who committed multiple murders admitted to committing acts of animal torture as juveniles. Children who witness violence, or have been victimized themselves, are more likely to becoming abusers themselves, creating a cycle of violence.
All 50 states have some form of anti-cruelty statute on the books as of 2011; however, most of those laws have remained unchanged for several decades. Although some states have felony provisions in place for extreme animal cruelty, most offenses are often considered misdemeanors. Pursuing animal cruelty cases is difficult. One reason is a lack of available funding for animal welfare organizations to investigate allegations. Another is that animals are legally considered property, making many legal professionals reluctant to prosecute such cases due to entanglements with many property rights issues.
Animals, like humans, are not mere property. We are life.
Journal of Social Work; The Linkage of Animal Abuse with Interpersonal Violence; Heather Piper; 2003
University of South Carolina-Society and Animals;
Acknowledging the Zoological Connection-A Sociological Analysis of Animal Cruelty; Clifton P. Flynn; 2001
Stray Pet Advocacy: Cruelty Laws
Humane Society of the United States: Animal Cruelty and Human Violence
American Humane Association: Facts About Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence
Center for Youth Leadership: Social Issues