Children’s Reports Of Animal Neglect And Abuse In The Home Need To Be Taken Seriously

The joy that animals bring to the world

It’s a shame that some folks cannot appreciate the joy that animals bring to the world. As a social worker in child welfare and from my avocation in animal welfare, I have caught glimpses of personalities forming, personalities that will grow to love animals – or not.

I believe that children start out loving animals. I see this when soliciting donations for animal causes in front of department or grocery stores. A child in tow of a parent exiting a store, when asked, “Would you like to donate to help homeless animals?” will inevitably tug on the parent’s coat and say something like, “Mommy, mommy, we have to give….” How that parent responds gives a clear message, surely repeated many times over, that animals either deserve care – or not.

There are qualities in children, which can become socialized away. Those believing in psychic abilities inform that children have extrasensory skills, which are routinely squelched because of the widespread disbelief that such skills exist. Take another more common example – laughter. By the time a child reaches nursery school, he or she will laugh about 300 times daily. Compare this to adults who laugh on average 17 times a day. Clearly, children lose things along the way.

Unfortunately, many children experience more than the normal travails of childhood. Hundreds of thousands of children experience neglect and abuse of varying kinds and degrees. With 872,000 confirmed cases of child abuse or neglect in the U.S. for 2004, the result is over half a million children in foster care at any given time.

A survey of pet-owning families with substantiated child abuse and neglect found that animals were abused (usually by the parent) in 88% of homes where child abuse was present. Another study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71% of those having pets indicated that their partner had threatened, hurt, or killed their companion animals and 32% of mothers reported that their children had hurt or killed their pets.

The anthropologist, Margaret Mead, warned, “One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.” As a youth, Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler” who killed 13 women, trapped cats in orange crates, and shot arrows through the boxes. The first act of violence in Carroll Edward Cole’s childhood, one of the most prolific killers in modern history, was to strangle a cat. As the humanitarian, Albert Schweitzer, pointed out, “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.”

Children’s reports of animal abuse in the home need to be taken seriously. Animal abuse, by either a parent or a child, is an indication that the child may be at risk of abuse. Early intervention may prevent child abuse from happening, although animal abuse can also signal that child abuse is already occurring. Some children who will not talk about their own abuse will share what is happening to their pets. If a child describes animal abuse in the home, they should be interviewed further to determine if he or she is also being abused. In addition, the local animal welfare agency should be notified so that they can check on the care of the animals in the home.

There are a number of states that have mandatory cross-reporting laws. In these states, when child abuse has been substantiated, an accompanying report must be made to the animal protection agency, should there be animals in the home. Conversely, if animal protection authorities substantiate animal abuse in a home where there are children, then an accompanying report must be made to the child protective services agency. Although legislation of this type has been discussed in the Connecticut legislature in the past, no such law was ever passed. With studies showing the direct connection between animal and child abuse, time is overdue to revisit this type of legislation.

Yes, it is a shame that some individuals cannot appreciate the joy that animals bring to the world. There are reasons for this and they are not random. A child learns what he or she sees and the eyes of a child are always watching. A child will understand the value of animals only through what he or she is taught – and every day holds many teaching moments.

For the animals,
Gregory M. Simpson

Gregory Simpson’s animal welfare involvement spans over 25 years, has provided leadership for several Connecticut organizations, as well as having served as state advisor to the national Friends of Animals. Chosen by CAT FANCY magazine as one of the ultimate cat lovers in the U.S., he is also a member of the Cat Writers’ Association.

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