Animal Cruelty, Law Enforcement, and Prosecution – FAQs

What is the link between animal cruelty and violence against people?

Many peer-reviewed studies have confirmed what most of us understand instinctively – there is a strong link between violence against animals and violence against people. In other words, people who hurt animals are more likely to hurt people.


Are there any studies proving this link?

The body of evidence establishing the link between human and animal cruelty is massive. Here are just a few of these studies:

  • Childhood cruelty toward animals among criminals and noncriminals[1] – Study determined that men convicted of violent crimes were significantly more likely to have committed animal cruelty as children.
  • Animal cruelty by children exposed to domestic violence[2] – Children who witness domestic violence in their homes are nearly three times more likely to abuse animals than other children.
  • Developmental animal cruelty and its correlates in sexual homicide offenders and sex offenders[3] – Subjects with a history of animal cruelty were 11 times more like to have committed sexual homicide. Further, subjects with higher frequency of animal cruelty during adolescence were six times more likely to commit sexual homicide.
  • Statistical Summary of Offenders Charged with Crimes Against Companion Animals July 2001-July 2005[4] – Study conducted by the Chicago Police Department found that 65% of people arrested for crimes against animals had been previously arrested for battery against a human.
  • Battered pets and domestic violence: Animal abuse reported by women experiencing intimate violence and by nonabused women[5] – Women at domestic violence shelters were almost 11 times more likely to have a partner that hurt or killed their pet than other women.


Why should animal cruelty by children be treated seriously? They’re just kids.

“Conduct disorder” is a serious psychiatric syndrome in children and teenagers. Typical symptoms include lying, physical cruelty, and property destruction. Animal cruelty is one of the most significant and earliest indicators that a child has or will develop conduct disorder.[6]

The evidence is so overwhelming that the following groups agree that animal abuse by children is a warning sign of future violent behavior: the American Psychological Association, the National Crime Prevention Council, the U.S. Department of Education, and The National School Safety Council.[7]


Why should prosecutors spend time on animal cruelty? Aren’t resources better spent on going after “serious” criminals?

          We Need to Protect Animals to Protect People

There is a link between human violence and animal cruelty. Animal cruelty is connected to many forms of human violence including domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, and crimes such as murder, arson, and rape. One study found that in 88% of homes with abused children, animal abuse or neglect was also occurring.[8] And a comprehensive study of over 3500 domestic violence victims across 11 metropolitan cities in the U.S. found that pet abuse was one of only four significant risk factors for domestic violence among an urban population.[9]

Psychologists and social workers understand that animal cruelty, domestic violence, elder abuse, and child abuse intersect. Taking animal cruelty seriously actually puts law enforcement and prosecutors in a better position to uncover other crimes. Animal abuse is a significant indicator that there is something wrong in the abuser’s home or life. Sometimes animal cruelty is more visible to neighbors (such as leaving a dog tethered in the cold) than human violence. An animal control officer might be the only person who can uncover other crimes and alert authorities.

          A Cycle of Violence

Failing to address animal cruelty today also creates a cycle of future violence. A 2009 study of the link between domestic violence, child abuse, and animal abuse found “a robust link between witnessing animal abuse and perpetuating cruelty towards animals…Furthermore, individuals who witnessed animal cruelty were eight times more likely to be perpetrators.”[10] Children who are simply present in a violent home are more likely to abuse animals later in life.


What’s the link between animal cruelty, domestic violence, and elder abuse?

When one form of abuse is occurring in a household, it’s more likely that other crimes are also happening. But there are other ways that animal cruelty is connected to abuse. Twelve different studies have found that between 18% and 48% of female domestic violence victims stay with their partner because they are worried about the safety of their companion animals.[11] Domestic abusers also use companion animals as pawns to manipulate women. In one study, 71% of abused women reported that their partners had killed, abused, or threatened to abuse an animal.[12] In response, more and more domestic violence shelters are creating programs to accommodate victims’ pets.

Similarly, the elderly are easily manipulated by abusers who threaten the safety or care of their animals. Victims of elder abuse are also more reluctant to accept outside help out of fear that their companion animal won’t be taken care of. A 2000 survey of adult protective services caseworkers discovered that 35% of clients reported their companion animals were abused, killed, or threatened.[13]


I heard that the FBI now investigates animal cruelty? Is this true?

Generally, no, but it does track it The reason you might have heard about animal cruelty and the FBI is that in 2016, the FBI started including animal cruelty cases as a Class A felony in its National Incident Based Reporting System (NIBRS). NIBRS is used by law enforcement agencies across the country. Before 2016, animal cruelty was considered a lesser offense and put into a “miscellaneous” category. This new categorization enables officials to track reported cases of animal cruelty, allowing law enforcement and lawmakers to better understand and effectively respond to animal abuse. Without good data, it’s difficult to effectively respond.

But the bottom line is that the FBI’s decision to include animal cruelty as a Class A felony is an acknowledgement from our country’s largest criminal justice entities that animal cruelty is a serious offense. Other Class A felonies include murder, arson, and assault.


With  all this evidence about the seriousness of animal cruelty, why aren’t more abusers put in jail?

Unfortunately, some police departments and prosecutors’ offices still don’t go after animal abusers either because they don’t believe it’s a serious crime or because they lack resources. Read on to learn about ways you can change that in your community!


[1] Kellert, S. R., & Felthous, A. R. (1985). Childhood cruelty toward animals among criminals and noncriminals. Human Relations, 38, 1113-1129.

[2] Currie, C. L. (2006). Animal cruelty by children exposed to domestic violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 30(4), 425-435.

[3] Alys, L., Wilson, J. C., Clarke, J., & Toman, P. (2009). Developmental animal cruelty and its correlates in sexual homicide offenders and sex offenders. In A. Linzey (Ed.), The link between animal abuse and human violence. Eastbourne, East Sussex, UK: Sussex Academic Press.

[4] Degenhardt, B. (2005). Statistical Summary of Offenders Charged with Crimes against Companion Animals July 2001-July 2005. Report from the Chicago Police Department.

[5] Ascione, F. R., Weber, C. V., Thompson, T. M., Heath, J., Maruyama, M., & Hayashi, K. (2007). Battered pets and domestic violence: Animal abuse reported by women experiencing intimate violence and by nonabused women. Violence Against Women, 12(4), 354-373.

[6] Ascione, F. R. (2001, September). Animal abuse and youth violence. Juvenile Justice Bulletin. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

[7] Randour, M. L. (2004). “Including animal cruelty as a factor in assessing risk and designing interventions.” Conference Proceedings, Persistently Safe Schools, The National Conference of the Hamilton Fish Institute on School and Community Violence, Washington, D.C.

[8] DeViney, E., Dickert, J., & Lockwood, R. (1983). The care of pets within child abusing families. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems, 4, 321-329.

[9] Walton-Moss, B. J., Manganello, J., Frye, V., & Campbell, J. C. (2005). Risk factors for intimate partner violence and associated injury among urban women. Journal of Community Health, 30(5), 377-389.

[10] DeGue, S., & DiLillo, D. (2009). Is animal cruelty a “red flag” for family violence? Investigating co-occurring violence toward children, partners and pets. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 24(6), 1036-1056.

[11] Ascione, F. R. (2007). Emerging research on animal abuse as a risk factor for intimate partner violence. In K. Kendall-Tackett & S. Giacomoni (Eds.), Intimate partner violence (pp. 3-1 to 3-17). Kingston, NJ: Civic Research Institute.

[12] Ascione, F. R., Weber, C. V., & Wood, D. S. (1997). The abuse of animals and domestic violence: A national survey of shelters for women who are battered. Society and Animals, 5(3), 205-218.

[13] Boat, B. W., & Knight, J. C. (2000). Experiences and needs of adult protective services case managers when assisting clients who have companion animals. Journal of Elder Abuse & Neglect, 12(3/4), 145-155.




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