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          When Children Abuse Animals

          May 05, 2004

          A single mom who’s raising her son in a chaotic, turbulent and hostile environment is concerned because her 9-year-old son has killed his pet hamster and tortures the family dog. Dr. Phil suggests she seek immediate help, and advises the following:

          • Stop the fighting. Fighting in front of children changes who they are. Your fighting writes on the child’s slate in permanent ink, and you don’t have the right to do it. Be mature enough to recognize that your behavior is affecting a defenseless child, who will have to pay the price.
          • It’s not just the child who needs help, you need help to stop the fighting. Having insight and understanding the problem is not going to stop this, because the payoff from the fighting is too big. You cannot change what you don’t acknowledge.
          • Recognize the severity of the situation. If you think killing a hamster and torturing a dog is where it’s going to stop, you’re wrong. A child harming or killing a family pet is a precursor to some very serious violent behavior. Research in psychology and criminology shows that people who commit acts of cruelty against animals don’t stop there; many of them move on to their fellow humans. Children who harm family pets are at risk for other kinds of acting out behavior and need immediate help. What also goes along with torturing animals is setting fires. If you smell smoke, you’d better take it seriously.

            Additional information from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals:

          • Studies show that acts of cruelty toward animals are the first signs of violent pathology that includes human victims.
          • Animal abuse is not just the result of a minor personality flaw in the abuser, but a symptom of a deep mental disturbance.
          • The FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appear in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers.
          • Studies show that violent and aggressive criminals are more likely to have abused animals as children.
          • Domestic abuse is directed toward the powerless; animal abuse and child abuse often goes hand and hand.
          • Children who abuse animals most likely are repeating a lesson learned at home from their parents or guardians. They are reacting to anger or frustration with violence.
          • The child's violence is directed at the only individual in the family more vulnerable than themselves — an animal.

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