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Cat Dragged

Cat Dragged


By: Atlantic City (New Jersey) Police Department

Date: January 7, 2004

Source: Associated Press. Cat Dragged. Associated Press Archives, Number 7090005, 2004.

About the Photographer: The Atlantic City, New Jersey, Police Department is headed by Chief Arthur Snellbaker, and is reported to have some four hundred sworn officers and about one hundred fifty support personnel.


Every state in America has some form of legal statute criminalizing the abuse of animals. In most states, animal abuse or animal cruelty is a misdemeanor, but more than half of the states (thirty) have specific categories of animal abuse or animal cruelty legislation that are at the felony level. In general, animal abuse or neglect is any avoidable behavior, whether willful or unintentional, that causes an animal to experience distress, physical discomfort, harm, or death. Animal abuse and cruelty includes a wide range of actions. Neglectful behavior such as confining an animal in too small a shelter for comfort or for too long a period of time, leaving an animal with an inadequate supply of food or water, or failing to take adequate medical (veterinary) care of an animal, constitutes animal abuse. Examples of outright animal cruelty include intentional physical punishment that is greatly in excess of "correction of undesired behaviors," intentional starvation or water deprivation, abandonment, physical and emotional torture, maiming, burning, mutilating, or killing an animal—whether wild or domestic. The American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Humane Society of the United States both state that the majority of abuses reported fall under the category of unintentional, and easily remedied, neglect. Cruelty and abuse to animals are socially and culturally, as well as legally, defined. Legal hunting, and the sanctioned use of animals in laboratory settings with appropriate oversight, are not legally considered to be animal abuse, although many animal activists would disagree.

In contrast to cases of domestic violence in which there is police involvement, cases of animal abuse and cruelty do not appear to be systematically tracked or categorized by local law enforcement agencies; rather, it is local humane societies that often respond, track, enforce statutes and laws, and seek prosecution of those who perpetrate violence against animals. That may be due, in part, to preoccupation by many law enforcement agencies with human-related crime, or it may be due to a lack of training, knowledge, and expertise concerning animal abuse issues.

Of increasing concern to animal protection and humane societies, to law enforcement professions, and to the behavioral health professional communities is the link between animal cruelty and violent crime against humans. Beginning with data reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation more than a quarter of a century ago, there has been a strong connection drawn between adult perpetrators of violent (often lethal) crime and childhood or adolescent histories of repeated animal abuse, cruelty, and torture. A similar link has been drawn between those who intentionally commit acts of animal cruelty and those who commit abuse to their children, their spouses, or their elders.



See primary source image.


The American Psychiatric Association, in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders lists cruelty to animals among the diagnostic criteria for Conduct Disorder appearing in either childhood or adolescence. In terms of motivation for animal abuse, there is a distinction drawn between those who harm their own animals and those who abuse those of others. Often, people who abuse animals belonging to other people do so as an act of revenge or as a means of threatening or intimidating someone they wish to affront, terrorize, or punish.

In the 1990s, there was a spate of lethal violence committed by extremely youthful offenders, such as Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (seventeen and eighteen year olds who perpetrated Columbine high school killings), Kip Kinkel (fifteen year old who killed his parents and two classmates, and shot others at Thurston high school in Oregon), Andrew Golden and Mitchell Johnson (eleven and thirteen year olds who killed five people and wounded ten others in Arkansas), and Luke Woodham (seventeen year old who killed two classmates and wounded seven others at Pearl High School in Mississippi). All of them reported engaging in acts of animal abuse and cruelty as younger children.

Many of those who go on to become violent offenders, whether they perpetrate against animals of humans, have an early history of experiencing child abuse (physical, emotional, or sexual) or neglect, or witnessing domestic violence. A significant number of incarcerated felons, when asked about childhood histories, report coming from backgrounds in which there was significant physical punishment for alleged misdeeds, even if it did not meet threshold criteria for child abuse or domestic violence. In addition, many adults who engage in domestic violence, elder abuse or neglect, or animal cruelty or abuse grew up in house-holds in which those events also occurred: that is, there is often a multigenerational history of violent and aggressive behavior.

Much of the research on the relationship between an early history of animal abuse or cruelty and the later development of criminally violent behavior has been retrospective. The apprehended or incarcerated offenders, when questioned about their past behavior, voluntarily report experiences of youthful aggression against animals. However, this is anecdotal data rather than rigorous scientific research. It is often, although certainly not always, difficult to substantiate the nature and extent of the reported animal abuse behavior. There are well-substantiated links between the types of personality characteristics that encourage some convicted felons to discuss episodes of violent and aggressive behavior (such as the offenses for which they are incarcerated) and a propensity to divulge other shocking, aberrant, or heinous behavior. That is, not all of the behavior reported may have occurred, or it may be significantly exaggerated in order to achieve a desired audience effect. In other instances past behavior may be understated, or the inmate may refuse to discuss his history at all.

When looking at aggression against animals on a developmental continuum, it is not abnormal for young children to enthusiastically kill insects, and to inflict harm on small animals such as lizards, birds, and small rodents. Most children do not move on to causing harm to larger animals, nor do they go on to become perpetrator of violent crimes. Perhaps the dividing lines between those who stop this behavior in childhood and those who continue and escalate center around experiences of violence, either as observer or victim, in the home, or differences in perceptions around the acts themselves. When most children come to understand that they are injuring another creature, they halt the behavior and feel remorse. It may well be that those who derive enjoyment or excitement from causing pain and suffering to other creatures (human or lower animal) are those most likely to escalate the behavior across the lifespan.



Kistler, John. People Promoting and People Opposing Animal Rights: In Their Own Words. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2002.

Nussbaum, Martha C., and Cass R. Sunstein. Animal Rights: Current Debates and New Directions. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.


Tannenbaum, Jerrold. "Animals and the Law: Property, Cruelty, Rights." Social Research. 62(3) (1995): 539-607.

Web sites

Atlantic City Police Department. "Mission Statement." 〈〉 (accessed February 18, 2006).

The Humane Society of the United States. "Legislation and Laws." 〈〉 (accessed March 04, 2006).

Animal Legal Defense Fund. "Zero tolerance for cruelty!." 〈〉 (accessed March 04, 2006).

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