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Dog Tip: Breaking the Cycle of Abuse

By Robin Tierney

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Perhaps you've encountered cases of children or adults neglecting, taunting or abusing pets, and wondered what to do. Animal abuse hurts the animals and society.

As a result of recent tragedies in schools around the U.S., there is a growing interest in humane education. As animal volunteers, many of us recognize this need as well, since we have witnessed the effects of animal neglect and abuse. Researchers have noted a strong link between abuse to companion animals and abuse/violence towards people.

Following are some thoughts and findings related to this subject from the National Association for Humane and Environmental Education/HSUS:

"One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it." -- Margaret Mead, Anthropologist

"Anyone who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives."-- Albert Schweitzer, Humanitarian

Nearly all children go through a stage of "innocent" cruelty during which they may harm insects or other small animals in the process of exploring their world. Most children, however, with guidance from parents and teachers, develop empathy for the pain animals can suffer. Some, however, become locked into a lifetime pattern of cruelty.

For example, Brenda Spencer fired 40 shots at San Diego school children, fatally wounding two and injuring nine others. Neighbors later informed police that Spencer had repeatedly abused dogs and cats, often by setting their tails on fire.

Although studies have shown that many criminals who have been violent toward people have a history of cruelty to animals. Yet, even today, it is not unusual to find school and judicial systems in which animal abuse is not taken seriously.

What you can do:

* Do not ignore even minor acts of cruelty. Correct the child and express your concerns to his or her parent. Urge your school district, judicial system and child welfare service agency to take acts of animal cruelty seriously.

* Take seriously children's reports of animal abuse in the home. Animal abuse, by a parent or child, is one indicator that a child may be at risk of abuse. Early intervention can sometimes prevent abuse from occurring. Report abuse and neglect situations.

* Report suspect animal cruelties/neglect to your local animal welfare agencies. Failure to provide adequate food, water and shelter or the use of physical force sufficient to leave a mark or otherwise cause injury constitutes cruelty to animals according to most state laws. By reporting the mistreatment of an animal, you may help the animal as well as enable the troubled person to get help. Intervention can prevent escalation of abuse. Document observations, conversations and evidence.

* Support legislation upgrading animal cruelty from a misdemeanor to a felony.

* Spread the word about humane treatment of animals, including responsible pet ownership -- including maintaining pets as indoor family members, using humane obedience techniques, spaying and neutering, adequate vet care, and never chaining a dog or letting pets run loose outside.

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