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The first study to provide detailed analyses of the relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult violent behavior has been completed by a University of South Florida scientist and her associate. MORE...
Notorious killers who first harmed animals:
• As a child, serial killer and rapist Ted Bundy—ultimately convicted of two killings but suspected of murdering more than 40 women—witnessed his father’s violence toward animals, and he himself subsequently tortured animals.
• Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped and stabbed a 7-year-old boy, was known in his neighborhood for hanging cats and torturing dogs.
• David Berkowitz (a.k.a. “Son of Sam”), who pleaded guilty to 13 murder and attempted murder charges, shot a neighbor’s Labrador retriever.
• Brenda Spencer, who opened fire at a California school, killing two children and injuring nine others, had repeatedly abused cats and dogs, often setting their tails on fire.
• Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of dogs and cats on sticks.
Young school shooters who first “practiced” on animals:
• April 1999/Littleton, Colo. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot to death 12 fellow students and a teacher and injured more than 20 others. Both teens had reportedly boasted about mutilating animals.
• May 1998/Springfield, Ore. Kip Kinkel, 15, killed his parents and opened fire in his high school cafeteria, killing two and injuring 22 others. He had a history of animal abuse and torture, having boasted about blowing up a cow and killing cats, chipmunks, and squirrels by putting lit firecrackers in their mouths.
• March 1998/Jonesboro, Ark. Mitchell Johnson, 13, and Andrew Golden, 11, pulled their school’s fire alarm and then shot and killed four classmates and a teacher. Golden reportedly used to shoot dogs “all the time with a .22.”
• December 1997/West Paducah, Ky. Michael Carneal, 14, shot and killed three students during a school prayer meeting. Carneal had been heard talking about throwing a cat into a bonfire.
• October 1997/Pearl, Miss. Luke Woodham, 16, shot and killed two of his classmates and injured seven others after stabbing his mother to death. Woodham’s journal revealed that, in a moment of “true beauty,” he and a friend had beaten, burned, and tortured his own dog, Sparkle, to death.
The Human Violence-Animal Abuse Link:
A 1997 study by the MSPA and Northeastern University found that 70% of animal abusers had committed at least one other criminal offense, and almost 40% had committed violent crimes against people.
A 1986 study reported that 48% of convicted rapists and 30% of convicted child molesters admitted perpetrating acts of animal cruelty in their childhood or adolescence (Tingle et al., 1986).
A history of animal abuse was found in 25% of aggressive male criminals, 30% of convicted child molesters, 36% of those who assaulted women and 46% of those convicted of sexual homicide. (Petrovoski, 1997)
The Domestic Violence-Animal Abuse Link:
In 3 surveys in women's shelters in WI and UT in the late 1990's an average of 74% of women with companion animals reported that the animal(s) had been threatened, injured or killed by their abuser (Ascione 1995 & 1997 and Quinlisk, 1995).
The Buffalo, NY police department and the SPCA of Erie County found that 1/3 of the residences with animal abuse complaints also had domestic violence complaints (1998).
A survey of women in a safe house in UT found that 20% delayed leaving the abusive situation out of fear that their companion animal would be harmed. Data currently being collected in Canada found almost 50% delayed leaving for the same reason. (Ascione, 1997).
The Child Abuse-Animal Abuse Link:
A 1983 survey in NJ of families reported for child abuse found that in 83% of the families, at least one person had abused animals (Devinne, Dickered & Lockwood, 1983).
The NJ study also found that in 2/3 of these cases, the abusive parent had injured or killed a companion animal and in 1/3 of the cases, children had abused animals.
A study by the Royal SPCA in Great Britain found that 83% of families with a history of animal abuse had also been identified by social service agencies as at-risk for child abuse or neglect (Hutton, 1981).
Convicted Animal Abusers Were Found Violent Toward People:
A 1999 Canadian study of 63 suspects who were charged with animal cruelty—ranging from severe animal neglect to intentional killing—found that 78 percent of them had also been charged with offenses involving violence, or the threat of violence, against people. A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found that all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well.
Childhood Animal Abuse Linked More Strongly Than Ever Before
To Adult Criminal Behavior
The first study to provide detailed analyses of the relationship between childhood animal cruelty and adult violent behavior has been completed by a University of South Florida scientist and her associate.
Offenders of violent crimes are significantly more likely to have abused pets and stray animals in their childhood, according to the study by USF professor Kathleen Heide and animal welfare expert Linda Merz-Perez.
The study is the first to provide both quantitative and qualitative analyses of the correlation between childhood animal cruelty and adult violent behavior. The results are published in Heide's recently released third book, Animal Cruelty: Pathway to Violence Against People, co-authored by Merz-Perez.
"We're not just talking about kicking a dog," Heide said. "The violent offenders were far more likely as children to have committed extreme acts of abuse against a family pet or neighborhood animals -- acts that the average person would find abhorrent and somewhat gruesome."
Heide and Merz-Perez found that violent offenders also showed a tendency toward abuse of wild and farm animals.
"We noticed in some cases that the type of abuse violent offenders inflicted on an animal was similar to the type of act they later committed on people," Heide said. "Also, violent offenders rarely expressed any remorse for their actions or empathy for the animals."
The study underscores that early intervention following an act of animal cruelty is imperative to helping ensure that adolescents do not follow a path of violent behavior.
"In one instance, a non-violent offender related that he had received a rifle as a birthday gift from his grandfather when he was a boy. He wanted to see what the gun would do so he impulsively shot and killed a neighbor's pig. His grandfather broke the gun and made the boy work for a year on his neighbor's farm, feeding and caring for the pigs as punishment," Heide said. "As a result, the participant developed tender feelings and sincere remorse for these animals, and never did anything like this again."
The only instances in which non-violent offenders had a record of abusing domestic animals were in three cases where participants used their animals in competitive dog fighting. These individuals did not view the dogs as victims. Rather they saw their dogs as warriors, according to Merz-Perez.
"These men exhibited pride in their animals, providing them with food, shelter and medical care when necessary," Merz-Perez said. "Given their cultural background and experiences, they thought it would have been cruel not to let their dogs fight."
Heide is professor of criminology, a licensed mental health counselor, and interim dean of arts and sciences at USF. Merz-Perez, a USF alumna, is a certified animal control officer and former executive director of the Humane Society of Shelby County, Alabama.