Kicking-dogResearch on the Link

Why do people abuse and neglect animals?

The answers are as complex and multivariate as for why interpersonal violence occurs. Common reasons include:

  • Ignorance of the animals’ needs, or of humane discipline techniques.
  • Lack of empathy; failure to recognize that animals have feelings because it’s “only an animal.”
  • Socialized abuse: a culture in which violence to others is condoned, respected or expected.
  • Power and control: the same techniques of coercion and domination that mark domestic violence and other family violence. The pet may become a pawn and a vulnerable target as a way to intimidate or retaliate against another family member or ensure his or her silence or compliance with other abuse.
  • Inadequate coping skills: animals can become convenient, easily-accessible targets for momentary rage in times of crisis or stress.
  • Displacement of hostility, redirection or re-enacting of abuse targeting the perpetrator, or a means to regain a sense of power after such violence.
  • Sexual gratification.
  • Satisfying a prejudice against a species or breed.
  • Shocking people for amusement, or enhancing one’s own aggressiveness by impressing others with one’s capacity for violence.
  • Attempting to instill violent tendencies in the animal (e.g., attack-training).
  • Deriving sadistic pleasure from causing suffering.
  • Imitation of, or a rehearsal for, interpersonal violence.

Understanding these motivators is useful when developing an assessment, treatment, intervention or sentencing plan for the abuser.

KillersKillers: the animal connection

Researchers have long known that most serial killers and mass murders have histories of animal abuse. They often rehearse their crimes on animals or desensitize themselves to the pain and suffering of the victim in order to carry out the violence.

However, not every animal abuser becomes a psychopathic killer… and animal abuse is as likely to follow acts of human violence as to precede it. Animal abuse is part of a complex constellation of antisocial behaviors. It is often — but not always — an indicator or predictor crime of other violent acts.

The National Link Coalition and other organizations have produced a number of resource materials summarizing key research in the field, and new information is being published regularly.

Please see our Resources section for a more extensive list of research resources and our Bibliography of over 1,500 literature citations on The Link.