Children abusing animals could indicate deeper problems -


Children abusing animals could indicate deeper problems

Childhood cruelty to animals often leads to violence against people. That's why its important for family members to recognize the signs so an intervention can occur to break the cycle of abuse before it's too late. 

A 6-month-puppy suffered first- and second-degree burns after a 12-year-old Louisiana boy doused the animal with boiling water.

In Arizona, a home surveillance camera captured a group of children throwing a dog over a fence. Ivan Salazar captured the horrific incident on a surveillance camera mounted outside his front door.

"He [child] just grabbed him with all his strength, and threw him like it was little toy or something," Salazar recalled.

These are examples of very disturbing behavior that goes well beyond a child's normal curiosity of animals or pets.

Dr. William Pressly is a veterinarian at Pressly Animal Hospital in Matthews, NC. During his 15-year career, Dr. Pressly and his staff have treated hundreds of abused animals. 

"If you look at a child and you are explaining why they shouldn't do something, and they look at you like -- I don't understand or I'm not comprehending -- but you think they are old enough [that] they should get it, that scares me," Pressly told America Now's Jeff Rivenbark.

Pressly showed us dozens of horrifying pictures he and he veterinary technicians have treated over the years. 

Sometimes, an adult's explanation for a pet's injuries just doesn't add up to what Pressly observes by examining an animal's X-ray, or how the pet interacts with the family.

"We look to see how the parents are acting, how the dog is acting, and how the kids are acting," Pressly said. "Is the dog cowering in the corner away from the child? Is the child picking the dog up by its ear or its tail? Grabbing him by the collar, pulling him around, shaking him? Does the dog hackles up when the child comes closer?"

A dog who yawns a lot could indicate a high level of anxiety at home. 

"They're not tired," Pressly said. "They're anxious about something. We look for any anxiety."

Children as young as four have been known to inflict serious abuse on animals, and more cases involve boys than girls.

An injured pet can indicate a more serious issue is occurring at home.

Psychiatrist David F. Lelio, MD, specializes in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry with Carolinas Healthcare System in Charlotte, NC. For more than 20 years, he has counseled troubled children and adolescents.

"If a child or adolescent abuses a family pet, there is usually some concern about what level of violence that child has been exposed, to bring them to the point of bringing violence to a family member," Dr. Lelio said. "It may be, for instance, domestic violence, it may be abuse or neglect they have experienced at a younger age."

If a child harms a pet and doesn't appear sorry about it, Dr. Lelio recommends parents talk with their child's physician or a professional counselor because early intervention is critical to getting a child the help they need before the abuse worsens.

"If you begin to see some signs and symptoms of more and more disruptive behavior, then I think it's worthwhile talking to teachers, talking to counselors at school, and coming together as a group to see if this a problem," Dr. Lelio advised.

The biggest mistake parents can make is ignoring a child has a problem.

"Instead of just saying they're going to outgrow this, maybe they need some help so they can be successful in the future," Dr. Lelio added.  

If you witness animal abuse, the Humane Society of the United States recommends calling your local animal shelter or humane society.

Document details of the abuse by providing the location, date/time the abuse occurred as well as descriptions of any children involved.

If you have a mobile phone equipped with a camera, remember, a picture is worth a thousand words and it could be useful to law enforcement especially if charges are filed.

Copyright 2013 America Now. All rights reserved.

Additional Information:

The following information is from the Society of the Protection of Cruelty to Animals in an online article entitled "Serial Killers & Animal Abuse" (Source:

  • Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the last 25 years demonstrate that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized this connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research shows consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse and elder abuse.
  • Patrick Sherrill, who killed 14 coworkers at a post office and then shot himself, had a history of stealing local pets and allowing his own dog to attack and mutilate them.
  • Earl Kenneth Shriner, who raped, stabbed, and mutilated a 7-year-old boy, had been widely known in his neighborhood as the man who put firecrackers in dogs' rectums and strung up cats.
  • Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer had impaled dogs' heads, frogs, and cats on sticks.
  • Brenda Spencer, who opened fire at a San Diego school, killing two children and injuring nine others, had repeatedly abused cats and dogs, often by setting their tails on fire.
  • Albert DeSalvo, the "Boston Strangler" who killed 13 women, trapped dogs and cats in orange crates and shot arrows through the boxes in his youth.
  • Carroll Edward Cole, executed for five of the 35 murders of which he was accused, said his first act of violence as a child was to strangle a puppy.
  • In 1987, three Missouri high school students were charged with the beating death of a classmate. They had histories of repeated acts of animal mutilation starting several years earlier. One confessed that he had killed so many cats he'd lost count. Two brothers who murdered their parents had previously told classmates that they had decapitated a cat.
  • High school killers such as 15-year-old Kip Kinkel in Springfield, Ore., and Luke Woodham, 16, in Pearl, Miss., tortured animals before embarking on shooting sprees.
  • Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who shot and killed 12 classmates before turning their guns on themselves, bragged about mutilating animals to their friends.

The following information is from in an online article entitled, "After Columbine-Recognizing Trouble Children" (Source:

  • The shootings at Columbine High School prompted a report by the Boston Globe's April 22,1999 report that both of the perpetrators in the Columbine High School shootings had an interest in mutilating animals. There has been much success since this event in raising the awareness of the fact that the cycle of family and community violence does include acts of cruelty to animals. Research shows that certain types of animal maltreatment (those which are intentional, malicious, and habitual) are strong indicators of pathology in human perpetrators, especially when combined with other symptoms of a troubled history. As FBI Supervisory Special Agent Alan Brantley says: "(Animal cruelty) is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual; this is a warning sign that this individual is not mentally healthy and needs some sort of intervention."

The following information is from the Humane Society of the United States (Source:

  • People with emotional problems may beat, shoot, or stab animals or set them on fire. Those who abuse animals are very likely to be violent to other people—even their own family—too.
  • Neglect is not giving an animal the right food, water, shelter or vet care. Because their misery goes on for so long, animals who die of neglect can suffer just as much as animals who are harmed on purpose.
  • All U.S. states have animal cruelty laws, and 47 states treat some forms of abuse as felonies. Farmers and researchers can do cruel things to animals that other people can't do legally, but all states have some protection for pets like dogs and cats.
  • Animal cruelty is illegal in every state (and a felony in 46). If you make a report of alleged animal cruelty, the responding agency is required to investigate.
  • Make the call: Most large municipalities have a local animal control department, animal shelter or humane society. Do an online search to identify the agency in your area, and program the number into your cell phone so you are prepared.
  • If you're traveling or living in a more rural area or community without an animal control agency, call the local police department (dial 911 to be most quickly connected) to report suspected animal abuse.
  • Document the details: When you make the call, tell the officer as many details of the situation as you can—i.e., the location, date and time, and descriptions of the people and animals involved. Video and photographic documentation (even a cell phone photo) can help bolster your case. It's also useful to give names of others who may have witnessed the incident. 
  • Prepare to testify: While you may remain anonymous, the case will be much stronger if you are willing to identify yourself and testify to what you witnessed. Since animals cannot talk, a human witness is crucial for building a strong, prosecutable case.
  • No reasonable, conscientious person would ignore a child being beaten, hit or kicked. Neither should anyone turn a blind eye to animal abuse!
  • If you witness overt violence against an animal or suspect it, speak up! If you don't feel comfortable directly intervening in a situation, quickly call the authorities. (If you don't have the appropriate number in your cell phone, dial 911.)
  • Knowing that s/he is being watched might startle the abuser into stopping the immediate act of violence, but ultimately, most cases are best left to law enforcement. It is especially important to involve law enforcement when violence is involved because the abuse is likely to be part of an ongoing pattern of violence that may include both animals and people. Don't delay; time is of the essence!  

Click here for information from the Humane Society of the United States in an article entitled "Childhood Cruelty to Animals: Breaking the Cycle of Abuse" (Source:

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