Saturday, June 25, 2011

Animal abuse - the critical connection

Jun 25, 2011

Animal abuse - the critical connection

THE animal welfare forum held over last weekend was a good first step towards raising awareness of animal cruelty and welfare issues in Singapore.

While focusing on animal welfare issues in isolation, the forum may have overlooked a pertinent yet critical point - the strong association between animal cruelty and human violence. This has serious implications for the effective development of animal welfare policies and practices going forward.

Over the past 40 years, there have been numerous research studies showing the connection between animal abuse and human violence. This connection was first documented in the 1970s when the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation found that many serial killers had tortured or killed animals when they were children.

A 1997 study by the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Northeastern University quantified that animal abusers were five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people than those without a history of animal abuse.

In fact, the American Psychiatric Association lists animal cruelty as a symptom of a serious psychological condition.

According to Dr Randall Lockwood of Washington University, it has become widely accepted that the mistreatment of animals can be an indicator of many other forms of family violence and ongoing abuse and neglect, including child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence and mistreatment of the disabled.

Dr Lockwood points out that a child's cruelty to animals can also indicate that he is at high risk of becoming a perpetrator of violence in society later, perpetuating the cruelties that he has experienced.

Therefore, we need to be especially attentive when a child tortures an animal or complains of his father mistreating his pet. These incidents can signal a higher risk of violence - within the child's household currently, and/or by the child when he becomes an adult.

Clearly, there are significant benefits to be reaped from early identification and intervention. Another positive is that animal abusers can be rehabilitated.

In line with this, Singaporean authorities urgently need to develop policies and practices that are collaborative and multi-disciplinary. Critical are cross-reporting and the attendant cooperation between a range of professionals, such as the police, child protection agencies, animal welfare agencies and veterinarians.

Equally, the police, the judiciary, the Government and schools need to regularly send out strong messages that the abuse of animals or humans will not be tolerated because any abuse endangers society as a whole.

Daisy Chee (Ms)