Mahatma Gandhi, liberator of India from the British, said "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." Recent research has shown a strong connection between animal abusers and those who abuse others as well.
Jeffrey Dahmer, mass murderer and cannibal, killed neighbors' pets and impaled a dog's head on a stick as a youngster.
Boston Strangler Albert DeSalvo shot arrows into boxes of trapped dogs and cats.
Kip Kinkel walked into his high school cafeteria and fired on his classmates, killing two and injuring 22. Later that day, police found his parents shot to death in their home. Friends reported that he often boasted of torturing and killing small animals, especially cats.
Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, and David "Son of Sam" Berkowitz are further examples of criminally violent people who abused animals as youngsters.
This illustrates the fact that animal cruelty must be taken seriously. It is a sign of a psychological disorder, which may translate into psychopathic behavior later. Abused children often show a lack of empathy when they grow up.
Spousal and child abuse are often found in the same family where animal abuse occurs. One study found that animals were abused in 88 percent of homes in which children were abused. Another study of families reported for animal abuse also had children at high risk of abuse or neglect 83 percent of the time.
Most of the abuse toward animals came from parents, but about a quarter of abused children abuse animals.
"Animal abuse is a national problem. Violence toward animals crosses all racial and socioeconomic lines and reaches from coast to coast," said ASPCA Supervisory Special Investigator Annemarie Lucas.
Wherever you live, you can and should be observant for animal abuse and report any suspected cases to the animal control officer, police or sheriff in your jurisdiction.
Abusers batter animals and indulge in domestic violence for many of the same reasons. They want to:
* Demonstrate power and control over the family.
* Isolate the victim and children.
* Enforce submission.
* Perpetuate an environment of fear.
* Prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her/him to return.
* Punish for leaving or showing independence.
It is important that friends, family and first responders understand that animal, elder and spousal abuse are interconnected. They should be observant of any signs of abuse and report these observations to the proper authority. That might be the animal control officer, police or sheriff. Without phone calls from concerned citizens reporting cruelty in their neighborhood, most instances of abuse would not be found.
When reporting possible cruelty, you should give as many details as possible. These details go a long way toward assisting the investigating officer.
You should know your state, county and city cruelty laws. If, as in many jurisdictions, the laws are weak or nonexistent, fight to pass strong anti-cruelty laws on the federal, state and local levels. Investigators are frustrated and discouraged when their work to build a strong case against perpetrators of abuse is wasted due to weak laws or judges who don't take cruelty cases seriously.
Children should be taught kindness toward others as soon as they start interacting with pets or other children. They should be taught not only what they should not do but what they should do. Inappropriate behavior should be stopped immediately and appropriate behavior strongly rewarded. When they are old enough, they should be shown by precept and example to treat all animals and people they interact with as they wish to be treated.
More detailed information on these topics can be found on the Web site of the Humane Society of the High Plains, www.hshponline.org. Other sources of information are www.aspca.org/fight-animal-cruelty, www.hsus.org and www.pet-abuse.com.
Delbert Marshall, Hays, is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.