Animal Abuse And Interpersonal Violence: A Vet Review
The psychiatrist J.M. Macdonald first proposed the “Link” between cruelty toward animals and violence toward people in 1963. He argued that animal abuse, fire-setting, and bed-wetting in childhood are associated with criminal behavior later in life. Since then, governments and researchers have paid increasing attention to this Link. Many note that veterinarians in particular are in a unique position to identify both types of abuse. But, veterinarians’ role in reporting such abuse has been limited.
In Research in Veterinary Science, researchers examined articles published since 1960 in order to review what is known about the Link. They also examined to what extent veterinarians have been involved in this area. 96 articles met the search criteria. Of these, only five—exclusively from the field of veterinary medicine—discussed educating veterinarians about the Link. Such limited interest suggests the need to increase veterinarians’ involvement. And it suggests that greater awareness of this need is required across different fields of study.
24 articles also indicated a connection between animal abuse and domestic violence. Over half of female victims of intimate partner violence reported their partners’ abuse of companion animals. And some women delayed moving to a shelter as they worried about the safety of their companion animals. In fact, 20–50% of companion animals ended up staying with abusive partners because they were not allowed in shelters. These findings stress the importance of greater collaboration between the systems overseeing animal cruelty and domestic violence.
Other articles showed that childhood mistreatment of animals and interpersonal violence are connected in two ways. First, children who often mistreat animals are 2–3 times more likely to be abused themselves or to be exposed to domestic violence. Second, abusing animals in childhood may be a predictor of future criminal behavior. For instance, researchers found a significant association between the abuse of dogs or cats during childhood and crimes such as murder, robbery, assault, and rape. These trends suggest that intervening in animal abuse cases can help to prevent crimes against people. And the reverse is also true.
So far, though, veterinarians have rarely contributed to the prevention of either abuse. As (in some cases) veterinarians may be the only professionals capable of recognizing abuse, they do need be involved more. Fortunately, a survey of veterinarians in Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. revealed that they feel morally obligated to intervene with animal and human abuse. Improved education of veterinarians in this area, whether at veterinary schools or by specialized agencies, could lead to early and more effective interventions. So, this article proposes a novel solution to cruelty against companion animals: identifying both current and potential abusers of any species.