The Animal Abuse-Human Violence Connection

"One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." -Anthropologist Margaret Mead

Until the past 20 years, the connection between violence against animals and violence against humans went unrecognized. Now a growing body of research has shown that people who abuse animals rarely stop there.

Increasingly, child protection and social service agencies, mental health professionals, and educators recognize that animal abuse is aggressive and antisocial behavior. It is also a reliable predictor of violence against people after a young abuser grows up.

Children learn about abuse by being its victim. They often fail to develop empathy, and without this key quality they cannot recognize their victims' pain. When they begin to "act out" their abuse trauma, children first target animals. As adults, they find new victims among the most vulnerable--children, partners, and the elderly.

Consider the following facts:

  • The FBI sees animal cruelty as a predictor of violence against people and considers past animal abuse when profiling serial killers.
  • National and state studies have established that from 54 to 71 percent of women seeking shelter from abuse reported that their partners had threatened, injured or killed one or more family pets (Anicare Model workshop, Tacoma, 2004. Created in 1999, the AniCare Model of Treatment for Animal Abuse treats people over 17 by bringing abusers and animals together. A companion program treats children.)
  • In assessing youth at risk of becoming violent, the U.S. Department of Justice stresses a history of animal abuse.
  • More than 80 percent of family members being treated for child abuse also had abused animals. In two-thirds of these cases, an abusive parent had killed or injured a pet. In one-third of the cases, a child victim continued the cycle of violence by abusing a pet.

A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University found that 70 percent of animal abusers had committed at least one other crime. Almost 40 percent had committed violent crimes against people.

The researchers also compared matched groups of abusers and non-abusers over a 20-year period. They found the abusers were five times more likely to commit violent crimes than the non-abusers.

Responding to and reporting animal abuse

Many adults, including teachers, camp counselors, family friends and parents have a bond of trust with children. If you are a trusted adult, you may hear children talk about animal abuse they have seen or even committed. When children reveal violence against animals, rely on the trusting relationship to talk to them and learn more.

By getting as much information from the child as possible and reporting the suspected animal cruelty, you can help break the cycle of violence in your community. You may also need to seek guidance from other professionals or agencies if you learn of other kinds of abuse, such as domestic violence. In cases where a report of animal abuse would put the complainant at risk, contact a social services agency first. Animal control officers are also trained to look for signs of other kinds of violence and are required to report what they've seen to social service agencies.

Get tips on identifying and reporting animal cruelty and neglect.

At PAWS, we work to combat violence toward animals and people through our Humane Education Program by nurturing the compassion in every child.

Information and resources

Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

Their First Strike campaign offers investigative support, rewards, expert testimony, and information on the animal-human cruelty connection to law enforcement and prosecutors in high-profile animal cruelty cases. HSUS also conducts an annual study of animal cruelty cases.

1255 23rd Street NW, Suite 450, Washington D.C. 20037
202.452.1100 or 866.720.2676

The Latham Foundation

This organization offers "Breaking the Cycles of Violence: A Practical Guide," a 26-minute video and 64-page training manual developed to help human service and animal care professionals recognize, report, investigate, and treat their interrelated forms of family violence.

1320 Harbor Bay Pkwy, Suite 200, Alameda, CA 94502 

Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)

A national non-profit of attorneys, law students, professors, and other legal professionals who work to ensure enforcement of state and federal animal protection laws.

National Headquarters: 525 East Cotati Avenue, Cotati, CA 94931
707.795.2533, fax: 707.795.7280

American Humane Association's The Link

American Humane works to protect children and animals through public education, advocacy, and training for animal control officers and humane professionals.

National Headquarters: 1400 16th Street NW, Suite 360, Washington D.C. 20036 

Animals and Society Institute

ASI is an independent research and educational organization that advances the status of animals in public policy and promotes the study of human-animal relationships.

2512 Carpenter Rd, Suite 201-A2 Ann Arbor, MI 48108-1188
734. 677.9240

Articles and books

"Animal Abuse and Youth Violence"
Juvenile Justice Bulletin. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program. September, 2001. Frank R. Ascione.

"Another Weapon for Combating Family Violence: Prevention of Animal Abuse." Animal Law. Volume 4, 1998, pp. 1-31.

Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention, Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow

Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence: Readings in Research and Application, Frank R. Ascione, author and Randall Lockwood, editor

AniCare Model of Treatment for Animal Abuse, Animals and Society Institute