Cruelty to animals

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A man in Shanghai asks for money, holding a monkey with a rope around its neck and missing a limb.

Cruelty to animals is the infliction of unnecessary suffering or harm to animals

Broadly speaking, there are two approaches to the issue. The animal welfare position holds that there is nothing inherently wrong with using animals for human purposes, such as food, clothing, entertainment, and research, but that it should be done in a humane way that reduces unnecessary suffering. Animal rights theorists criticize this position, arguing that the words "unnecessary" and "humane" are subject to widely differing interpretations, and that the only way to ensure protection for animals is to end their status as property, and to ensure that they are never used as commodities.

In law

Many jurisdictions around the world have enacted statutes which forbid cruelty to some animals; for example, see Animal Protection Laws of the USA & Canada (Third Edition), Cruelty to Animals Acts in the United States (2001) and Cruelty to Animals Acts in the United Kingdom 1835, 1949 and 1876.

These statutes provide minimum requirements for care and treatment of animals, but do not require optimal treatment or address issues of confinement, lack of environmental enrichments, or stress. They require that animals be provided shelter, food, water and medical treatment and that animals not be tortured, or killed in an inhumane manner. Some practices, even if controversial (such as treatment of rodeo and circus animals or medical research or animals deemed pests, including geese), are usually exempted from the enforcement of laws against cruelty.

By country


In Australia, many states have enacted legislation outlawing cruelty to animals. Whilst police maintain an overall jurisdiction in prosecution of criminal matters, in many states officers of the RSPCA and other animal welfare charities are accorded authority to investigate and prosecute animal cruelty offences.

Most jurisdictions simply depend on law enforcement officers who may not be knowledgeable in the area or assign it a high priority. Spectacular stories about grave atrocities and animal hoarders are mainstays of local TV news reporting, but most offences concern lack of adequate shelter or food and similar mundane deficiencies in animal care.


In Mexico, animal cruelty laws are slowly being implemented. The Law of Animal Protection of the Federal District is wide-ranging, based on banning 'unnecessary suffering'. The law prohibits conducts from dissection for students in high school or earlier years, to negligence of the owner in providing medical attention to an animal that needs it. Similar laws now exist in most states. However, this is blatantly disregarded by much of the public and authorities; animal protection legislation is gaining relevance very slowly.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, cruelty to animals is a criminal offence and one may be fined or jailed for it for up to five years, under the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835, 1949 or 1876. One notable case occurred when a group of students placed a hedgehog in a microwave in the late 1990s.[1] Bestiality is also a criminal offense. One may also be prosecuted for running over an animal.[citation needed] The RSPCA, founded in 1824 as the SPCA, was the first animal welfare society in the world.

United States

In the United States a few jurisdictions, notably Massachusetts and New York, agents of humane societies and associations may be appointed as special officers to enforce statutes outlawing animal cruelty, see the Massachusetts statute and the New York statute. Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty by Arnold Arluke is an ethnographic study of these special humane law enforcement officers.

In 2004, a Florida legislator proposed a ban on "cruelty to bovines", stating: "A person who, for the purpose of practice, entertainment, or sport, intentionally fells, trips, or otherwise causes a cow to fall or lose its balance by means of roping, lassoing, dragging, or otherwise touching the tail of the cow commits a misdemeanor of the first degree." [2]

It is to be noted, however, that in the USA ear cropping, tail docking, the Geier Hitch, rodeo sports and other acts perceived as cruelty in many other countries are often condoned. Penalties for cruelty can be minimal, if pursued. Currently, 43 of the 50 states have enacted felony penalties for certain forms of animal abuse.[3] However, in most jurisdictions, animal cruelty is most commonly charged as a misdemeanor offense. In one recent California case, a felony conviction for animal cruelty could theoretically net a 25 year to life sentence due to their three-strikes law, which increases sentences based on prior felony convictions.[4]

By practice


The use of animals in the circus has been a matter for argument recently, as animal welfare groups have documented instances of animal cruelty, used in the training of performing animals e.g. video [1] evidence filmed by Animal Defenders International and [2] by PETA. The Humane Society of the United States has documented multiple cases of abuse and neglect [3]. Some animals go berserk, as in the case of Tyke, an elephant with Circus International in Honolulu, Hawaii who killed her trainer then ran loose outside until she was shot and killed with almost 100 bullets. The Humane Society of the United States and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals present their case here and here as to why the use of animals, especially wild animals, ought to be disallowed in circuses. Animal trainers, however, deny that such abuse is commonplace [4] [5].


Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland, and Singapore have restricted the use of animals in entertainment. The UK and Scottish Parliaments have committed to ban certain wild animals in travelling circuses. Approximately 200 local authorities in the UK have banned all animal acts on council land. Animal acts are still very popular in former Soviet Union and throughout much of Europe, the Americas, and Asia. In the United States animal welfare standards are overseen by the United States Department of Agriculture under provisions of the Animal Welfare Act, however, says the HSUS, "while standards for handling, care, treatment, and transport are written into the federal Animal Welfare Act (administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture), those standards are minimal and poorly enforced. Persistent violators are rarely prosecuted" [6]. One can view or request the USDA inspection reports for conditions of animals at various circuses here. Efforts to ban circus animals in cities like Denver, Colorado have been rejected by voters. [7]. Activists saw the defeat as evidence that "big business won, wild animals lost" [8].

In response to a growing unease from the public about the use of animals in entertainment the formation of animal free circuses have begun cropping up around the globe [9] [10].

In theory and practice

There are many different reasons why individuals abuse animals. Animal cruelty covers a wide range of actions (or lack of action), so one blanket answer simply isn’t possible. Each type of abuse has displayed certain patterns of behavior that we can use to help understand more about why people commit the crimes we encounter today.

Animal cruelty is often broken down into two main categories: active and passive, also referred to as commission and omission, respectively.

Passive cruelty is typified by cases of neglect, where the crime is a lack of action rather than the action itself. Examples of neglect are starvation, dehydration, parasite infestations, allowing a collar to grow into an animal’s skin, inadequate shelter in extreme weather conditions, and failure to seek veterinary care when an animal needs medical attention.

In many cases of neglect where an investigator feels that the cruelty occurred as a result of ignorance, they may attempt to educate the pet owner and then revisit the situation to check for improvements. In more severe cases however, exigent circumstances may require that the animal is removed from the site immediately and taken in for urgent medical care.

Active cruelty implies malicious intent, where a person has deliberately and intentionally caused harm to an animal, and is sometimes referred to as NAI (Non-Accidental Injury). Acts of intentional cruelty are often some of the most disturbing and should be considered signs of serious psychological problems. This type of behavior is often associated with sociopathic behavior and should be taken very seriously.[citation needed]

Animal abuse in violent homes can take many forms and can occur for many reasons. Many times a parent or domestic partner who is abusive may kill, or threaten to kill, the household pets to intimidate family members into sexual abuse, to remain silent about previous or current abuse, or simply to psychologically torture the victims, flexing their "power".

Psychological disorders

One of the known warning signs of certain psychopathologies, including anti-social personality disorder, also known as psychopathic personality disorder, is a history of torturing pets and small animals, a behavior known as zoosadism. According to the New York Times, "[t]he FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.[citation needed] "A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a young boy."[citation needed]Robert K. Ressler, an agent with the Federal Bureau of Investigation's behavioral sciences unit, studied serial killers and noted,"Murderers like this [Jeffrey Dahmer] very often start out by killing and torturing animals as kids."[5]

Cruelty to animals is one of the three components of the MacDonald Triad, indicators of violent antisocial behavior in children and adolescents. According to the studies used to form this model, cruelty to animals is a common (but not with every case) behavior in children and adolescents who grow up to become serial killers and other violent criminals.

It has also been found that animal cruelty in children is frequently committed by children who have witnessed or been victims of abuse themselves. In two separate studies cited by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), roughly one-third of families suffering from domestic abuse indicated that at least one child had hurt or killed a pet.

Film making

There is a case of cruelty to animals in the South Korean film The Isle, according to its director Kim Ki-Duk.[6] In the film, a real frog is skinned alive while fish are mutilated.

Several animals were killed for the camera in the controversial Italian film Cannibal Holocaust.[7] The images in the film include the slow and graphic beheading and ripping apart of a turtle, a monkey being beheaded and its brains being consumed by natives and a spider being chopped apart. In fact, Cannibal Holocaust was only one film in a collective of similarly themed movies (cannibal films) that featured unstaged animal cruelty. Their influences were rooted in the films of Mondo filmmakers, which sometimes contained similar content.

More recently, the video sharing site YouTube has been criticized for hosting thousands of videos of real life animal cruelty, especially the feeding of one animal to another for the purposes of entertainment and spectacle. In spite of these videos being flagged as inappropriate by many users, YouTube has generally failed to take the same policing actions to remove them that they have with videos containing copyright infringement or sexual content.[8][9]

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) has contracted with the American Humane Association (AHA) for monitoring of animal use during filming or while on the set.[10]Compliance with this arrangement is voluntary and only applies to films made in the United States. Films monitored by the American Humane Association may bear one of their end-credit messages. Many productions, including those made in the US, do not advise AHA or SAG of animal use in films, so there is no oversight.[11]

Terror groups

PETA’s Ingrid Newkirk (co-founder of PETA) wrote to then President of the Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat after learning that a donkey, laden with explosives, was intentionally blown up on January 26, 2003 in Jerusalem. Newkirk wrote that “Animals claim no nation. They are in perpetual involuntary servitude to all humankind, and although they pose no threat and own no weapons, human beings always win in the undeclared war against them."[12] Newkirk asked Arafat to leave animals out of the conflict.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Emery, David. "Florida to Consider Ban on Cow Tipping". Retrieved 2007-06-07.
  3. ^ ALDF: Resources
  4. ^ Accused Dog Killer Could Get 25 Years to Life in Prison
  5. ^ Clues to a Dark Nurturing Ground for One Serial Killer, New York Times August 7, 1991]
  6. ^ Andy McKeague, An Interview with Kim Ki-Duk and Suh Jung on The Isle at, May 11, 2005, retrieved March 11, 2006.
  7. ^ "Pointless Cannibal Holocaust Sequel in the Works". Fangoria. Retrieved 2007-01-13.
  8. ^ Times online, August 19, 2007, retrieved August 25, 2007.
  9. ^ Practical Fishkeeping, May 17, 2007, retrieved August 25, 2007.
  10. ^ Entertainment Industry FAQ
  11. ^ Earning Our Disclaimer
  12. ^ PETA: Leave the Animals in Peace

Legal Dogfighting in St.Croix

Further reading

  • Arnold Arluke, Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty, Purdue University Press (August 15, 2004), hardcover, 175 pages, ISBN 1-55753-350-4. An ethnographic study of humane law enforcement officers.
  • Forensic Nursing: Four-legged Forensics: What Forensic Nurses Need to Know and Do About Animal Cruelty online version
  • Lea, Suzanne Goodney (2007). Delinquency and Animal Cruelty: Myths and Realities about Social Pathology, hardcover, 168 pages, ISBN 978-1-59332- 197-0. Lea challenges the assertion made by animal rights activists that animal cruelty enacted during childhood is a precursor to human-directed violence. The activists argue that our most violent criminals started off their bloody sprees with animal torture. Many parents, teachers, school administrators, and policy makers have thus accepted this claim on face value. In contrast, Lea finds that, in fact, many American youngsters-- and boys, especially-- engage in acts of animal cruelty but that few of these children go on to enact human-directed violence.
  • Munro H. (The battered pet (1999) In F. Ascione & P. Arkow (Eds.) Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue University Press, 199-208.

External links