Philosophy of AR > Animals and Abuse Linked

Sociopaths likely to start with animal abuse
By Danielle Williamson
October 23, 2005


What do Jeffrey Dahmer, the Son of Sam and the BTK killer have in common?

Besides all being serial killers, noted an official with the Humane Society of the United States, each had a history of torturing animals.

"People who abuse animals often don't stop there," Peter Wood, deputy manager of animal cruelty issues said recently.

The connection between the two types of abuse has long been documented, but with a handful of recent animal cruelty cases across the region, the concerning link has re-entered officials' consciousness.

In Northbridge, a cat was set on fire this spring. In Walpole, a woman has been accused of slaughtering her Great Dane. Police in Blackstone suspect a group of teens beat a great blue heron to death a few week ago.

Those incidents appear to be the most egregious of recently publicized accounts. Attracting just as much attention, however, are examples of animal neglect: dozens of miniature horses that were found emaciated and sickly on an Upton couple's farm; a handful of puppies, one of them badly hurt, abandoned in Milford; three St. Bernards Natick officials seized after finding them kept in small cages with little to no food, living in their own urine and feces.

"There's something underlying there," Milford Police Chief Thomas O'Loughlin said of people who abuse animals.

O'Loughlin drew a distinction between the more blatant cases of abuse, such as the burned cat case, and examples of animal neglect, like the one he saw this month when five puppies were abandoned in Milford.

"Usually, you find that there are financial issues with people abandoning dogs," O'Loughlin said. "Sometimes, there are mental health issues. They're taking just as good care of their animals as they are of themselves.

"That's much different from a person that pours gasoline on a living thing and sets it on fire. That's depraved; that's sociopathic behavior."

Northbridge resident Allan Bessette, 42, pleaded not guilty this month in Worcester Superior Court to an animal cruelty charge alleging he and his 15-year-old son set a stray cat on fire in May.

Legislation approved last November elevated cruelty to animals to a felony charge, and required the Department of Social Services to be notified when youths abuse animals.

State Sen. Richard T. Moore, D-Uxbridge, sponsored the bill.

"There are enough studies that show us someone who abuses animals is more likely to abuse humans," Moore said.

Patricia and Karl Chapin of Uxbridge adopted the abused cat, whom they named Phoenix, and have nursed him back to health with financial help from the public.

"Seeing Phoenix up close and personal has just deepened my belief that abuse laws have to have more substance, more meaning to the criminal," Patricia Chapin said. "I don't think abusers make distinctions (between humans and animals); they operate for the moment."

Virginia-Marie Beckett manages the Humane Society of the United States' "First Strike" campaign, a program launched in 1997 to raise awareness about the connection between violence against animals and humans.

"We focus on animal cruelty connected to family violence," Beckett said. "In homes where children or spouses are being abused, quite often, pets are being abused, or threatened as ways of controlling abuse victims in the home."

First Strike monitors abuse cases and studies exploring the violence link, Beckett said. In 1983, New Jersey's Department of Social Services found that animals were abused in 88 percent of the homes where there was documented child abuse.

In the mid 1990s, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals worked with Northeastern University on a study of 150 prosecuted animal abuse cases. Convicted animal abusers' criminal records showed they were seven times more likely than the general population to abuse people.

"It really showed there is a connection, and in a lot of cases, there is a progression," Beckett said. "Children and adults who are abusing animals are also often committing other crimes at the same time."

MSPCA spokesman Scott Giacoppo said animal abuse is not necessarily a stepping stone for violence against people.

Rather, "an act of animal cruelty can fall anywhere on the line, before or after humans," he said.

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