Animal cruelty leads to delinquency

Last updated 13:00 09/08/2013

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OPINION: In Auckland this week a couple of teenagers invaded a Glen Innes home. The man and his family were able to take shelter in a secure room and when they deemed it safe to emerge, found their pet labrador puppy dead on the floor.

Last week in South Auckland, two pet rabbits and a dog were killed, mutilated and dumped back on their owners' lawns. One rabbit had its head and front paws cut off and the fox terrier was skinned and had its paw and ears removed. In Nelson, there has been concern after a cat was shot with an air rifle. Its owners were lumped with a $3000 bill and the distress that accompanies any act of cruelty against a pet.

Similar stories - seals bashed, farm animals starved, dogs dragged behind vehicles or thumped with hammers and left for dead, cats and birds "experimented" on with fireworks - emerge with distressing regularity.

Each example is appalling. Pets' very vulnerability and, in many cases, complete faith in and reliance on people, seems to make things worse. Though extreme child abuse is even more horrifying, to most of us both types of crime are as inexplicable as they are unacceptable.

It is timely that authorities are promising to take a serious look at the connection between those who torture animals, and perpetrators of violent crimes against people. Scientific studies have shown such links are more than urban myth.

High numbers of women entering refuges in the United States report that abusive partners have also been violent towards the family pets. In seven school shootings up until 2001, all boys involved had previously committed acts of animal cruelty. A range of crime prevention, education and psychology groups there agree that animal cruelty is a warning sign for at-risk youth.

In this country, neither police nor the SPCA have had the resources to pursue all reported cases of violence towards animals. Now, however, they are working towards an environment of greater co-operation. That will be a good thing, both for the two agencies involved and society as a whole.

Hopefully, this approach will lead to earlier identification of the sort of youngsters who tend to act violently towards others as they grow older. Some might respond positively to the right "intervention".

Preventive policing is an important initiative that most people will back - provided each case is treated on individual merit. Not every child who maims an animal will become a violent, sadistic, adult. But lack of empathy can be an important pointer that some sort of behaviour modification might be helpful.

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The tag-team approach from the police and SPCA is something to applaud. However, if we accept it as plausible that cruelty towards animals in youngsters can escalate to violence against people, then we all share an interest in seeing it combated.

As with any crime, it is a societal problem, not a police one. After all, they are there to enforce "our" rules on our behalf. Step one is to report all incidents of animal abuse - and co-operate fully should the authorities come calling. As distressing as it might be if our own children are implicated, it might prove the best thing that could happen for all concerned.

- Nelson

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