by Brenda Shoss
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My kids thought I was a major-league nerd when I boycotted the movie "Something About Mary." But I refused to fund a flick that invited viewers to snicker over the abuse of a dog. "It's only a movie," my husband said. "They didn't really hurt that little dog."
Maybe not, but real-life abusers do hurt animals. Last Fall, Jonathan Moore and George Pettingil found a stray kitten along the back roads of rural Arkansas. The bored twentysomethings shoved the trembling calico into their back seat and later tossed her into traffic. They laughed as the bleeding kitten staggered helplessly between cars.
In Big Pine Key, Florida 18-year-old Justin Hilbish fired BB-gun pellets between the eyes of Lexus, a Labrador-Collie mix who now suffers seizures. Teenagers in Barnhart, Missouri pumped three potbellied pigs full of alcohol and bludgeoned one to death with a crowbar. A 13-year-old Lyon County, Neveda boy who carved out a dog's eyes now resides in a juvenile delinquency center. The yellow Labrador Retriever, found blind and bleeding, had to be euthanized.
We wonder, "What moron would do this to a living being?" Some temper their reaction with "It was only an animal." Should we care about this ruthless disregard for life?
Barbara Boat, Ph.D., Director of the Program on Childhood Trauma and Maltreatment at the University of Cincinnati thinks we should. "The young men responsible for the epidemic of high-profile school shootings in Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oregon, and Colorado all abused animals before turning their guns on fellow students." Supervisory Agent Alan Brantley of the FBI's Investigative Support Unit agrees: "You can look at cruelty to animals and to humans as a continuum. People begin to fantasize about these violent actions...The next phase is usually acting out against animals."
Violence rarely occurs in isolated chunks. It often evolves from childhood acts of rage against animals. Most of America's infamous killers unleashed their initial wrath on animals. Ted Bundy, executed in 1989 for at least 50 murders, heaped graves with animal bones. As a boy, "Boston Strangler" Albert DeSalvo imprisoned dogs and cats in orange crates and shot arrows through the slats. Carroll Edward Cole, executed in 1985 for an alleged 35 murders, strangled a puppy before progressing to humans. Jason Massey's killing resume began with cats and dogs; at 20 he decapitated a 13-year-old girl and fatally shot her stepbrother.
Serial killers inhabit the edge of the violence spectrum. Lately, a far more disturbing face appears among them. He is a young male with a history of parental neglect or abuse. Feeling powerless, he enters the classroom to open fire on his peers. In almost every school massacre, the murderer's previous rage toward animals had been attributed to "innocent cruelty." Animal abuse is more often an overt clue to a troubled family. A child may harm vulnerable creatures to mimic an abusive family member. Or, struggling for control in a turbulent household, he victimizes animals to vent his anger and anxiety.
After 16-year-old Luke Woodham mortally stabbed his mother and shot nine students, he confessed to bludgeoning his dog Sparkle with baseball bats and setting her on fire. "I made my first kill today," he wrote in his court-subpoenaed journal. "It was a loved one...I'll never forget the howl she made. It sounded almost human."
In a renowned study, "Childhood Cruelty Toward Animals Among Criminals and Noncriminals," 25% of aggressive criminals confessed to five or more acts of childhood animal torture, compared to under 6% for nonaggressive criminals. Of noncriminals interviewed for the report, zero had brutalized animals.
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