With mass shootings in the news so frequently already in 2018, we’re all wondering how to better recognize the signs that a person is moving in the direction of mass violence. The idea that “it takes a village” might sound like a cliché, but it embodies much truth.
One way to be a good villager is to report when a child – or any other person – abuses an animal. You can report to the police, the Humane Society, the child’s parents, the child’s school, or someone who you know has an influence with the person – and preferably all of these.
When a child behaves cruelly toward animals more than once and is especially cruel, adults should be very concerned. If the child shows no remorse, they should worry even more.
Animal abuse is no small infraction, legally or morally. It matters.
Research shows that a child or teen who is violent or cruel toward animals is showing an early sign of possible psychological problems. Chances are high that he could move on to violence toward humans.
Albert Schweitzer, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952, said, "Anyone who has accustomed himself to regarding the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives."
The late Robert K. Ressler, a former FBI agent, was a pioneer in understanding mass killers. He was an early FBI profiler and coined the term “serial killer.” He said that “murderers . . . very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids."
A 2011 review of the top known studies on this topic, done for the State of Massachusetts, says, “A growing body of research does indicate people who commit acts of cruelty towards animals rarely stop there.” You can read this report (six pages):here: http://www.mass.gov/eopss/docs/doc/research-reports/briefs-stats-bulletins/summaryofanimalabuseliteraturefinal.pdf
With the evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and violence against humans so strong, I hope you won’t hesitate to act if you become aware of animal cruelty. And also, treat any animals in your care with the greatest respect and gentleness. It’s good for them, for you, and for any children who are watching and taking your cues.
Sue Bergin, Clinical Chaplain, has 10 years of experience as a personal coach and hospice chaplain. She coaches adults around issues such as faith transitions, making difficult decisions, perfectionism, caregiver burnout and self-care, relationship clarity, physical illness (serious & chronic), end-of-life decisions and adaptation to unmarried life.