Explaining Animal Cruelty

Whether you have a cat or dog, a bird or a lizard, our pets often seem to know how we feel. They comfort us when we’re hurt, and make us happy when we’re sad. But, sometimes, some people are mean to animals. How do you explain this to a child?

What Is the Impact of Animal Cruelty?

Animals feel pain and fear like we do, but they are often helpless victims because they can’t speak as humans do. Some people choose to abuse animals over people for this very reason! T create a humane society, we must stop cruelty against those who are most vulnerable–like animals.

Cruelty towards animals does more than cause other living, feeling beings to experience pain and fear. Like the death of a canary in a coal mine, violence towards animals can be a sign that people are also in danger. Someone who commits acts of intentional animal abuse may have serious psychological problems. Studies have found that many people convicted of violent crimes had a history of animal cruelty. Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Andrew Cunanan, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, and Albert “Boston Strangler” DeSalvo were cruel to animals before they started hurting people. Adults are not the only ones whose cruelty to animals can be a sign of deeper troubles. Many murderous children and teenagers–like Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine High School–also had histories of animal cruelty.

Animals in homes with family violence are often also victims of violence. One study found that animals were abused in 88% of the homes in which a child was abused. Another study found that 83% of families reported for animal abuse also had children who are at high risk of abuse or neglect. Although most of the abuse toward the animals came from the parents, a third study found that one-third of abused children abuse animals.

What Can You Do About It?

One of the most power tools for preventing cruelty to animals is education. It is important to plant the seeds of kindness in children early. However, since people don’t always realize they are being cruel, adults need education, too. Even when people witness cruelty and know it’s wrong, they don’t always know what to do about it.

Every child is unique, and adults should use caution and careful thought when discussing cruelty with children. In general, children under four simply should not be exposed to cruelty. Children under two can learn that their actions make others–including animals–happy and sad. With two- and three-year-olds, discuss their own experiences and discuss how they would feel if they were treated the way they treat their pets or other animals in their immediate lives. With all children under two, you may wish to help guide their hands to help them learn how to pet their pets.

With all children–even older teens–keep in mind the importance of modeling appropriate behaviors. Our children do emulate us, even if they wouldn’t admit that they do. If we treat animals cruelly or as unfeeling machines, our children will probably think that this is right. The more a child identifies with an adult, the greater an impact that person will have on the child–in both good and bad ways.

Children who know of animal cruelty should tell an adult about it. Make sure children know who they can trust–such as parents, teachers, police officers, etc.–and nurture their trust so they can tell you.