Animal abuse means acts of neglect or violence that cause the pain and suffering of domestic and wild animals. With the development of modern civilization, this problem and the attention to it have been continuously increasing. According to Tanner (2015), today, “condemnation of cruelty to animals is virtually unanimous” (p. 818). Despite the public disapproval of animal abuse, little is being done when the cases occur. Moreover, numerous acts of animal neglect are not generally considered as cruel due to the lack of awareness in society. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand the negative impact of animal maltreatment on society, particular individuals, and the animals to realize the seriousness of the problem and take decisive actions.
Presentation of the Problem of Cruelty to Animals
Humans stand in the most dominating position among all the species of Planet Earth. They are the ones who run farms, circuses and decide whether to buy, adopt, or abandon a pet. The influence of humans has even spread onto wild animals as they can kill them while hunting or destroy their environment. According to Cooper (2018), domestic animals and pets exist exclusively at human mercy. However, this should not mean that people are free to do anything they want to animals, but, instead, signifies the responsibility of humans for treating animals properly. Although the use of farm animals for food, leather, and fur is not considered cruel by most of society, the practices that provoke unnecessary suffering and pain should not be tolerated.
It should be mentioned that animal maltreatment commonly appears in two forms – passive and active. Passive cruelty is the act of making animals suffer without vicious motives, usually for commercial purposes. Hurting animals in such a way does not imply aggression from humans; nevertheless, such acts show irresponsibility from people in their attitude to animals. This type of animal cruelty comprises such phenomena as inhumane farming, training animals for entertainment shows, neglect, starvation, and abandonment. Acts of animal maltreatment are considered illegal in the US. However, they often happen throughout the country as it is difficult to prove them and to find out who is guilty.
As the reasons for passive cruelty often lie in ignorance or indifference, active cruelty means deliberate and aggressive actions against animals to hurt and torture them. Acts of violence against animals are studied more thoroughly by scholars from various fields of study as they touch different aspects of social life such as psychology, psychiatry, education studies, and criminalistics. Cruelty as a psychological issue, especially at a young age, is a subject of concern for parents and teachers, as such acts speak for psychical disorders.
Causes of Cruelty to Animals
The history of relationships between humans and animals is thousands of years long. Our predecessors used animals for food and work as we do now, but initially, this use was motivated by necessity. Today, people are not as much dependent on animals, as there are various sources of food, and they do not need to put animals to work as machines are more effective than horses or oxen. Despite this, the exploitation of animals has only increased with the development of civilization. The question is, what makes people act cruelly towards animals if it is not a necessity.
Several reasons cause people to be cruel to animals today. First of all, commercial motives should be mentioned as the desire to maximize profit from farming leads to animal exploitation, such as factory farming. Testing products on animals is also a step in pursuit of commercial goals. Entertaining shows with animals, such as circuses or bullfighting, were initially present in many cultures. However, the main reason that they are still present despite the modern-day awareness is that they bring money.
Secondly, ignorance and indifference are the reasons that mostly cause violence towards pets. Some people use cruel types of training or inhumane procedures such as declawing of cats without knowing that they hurt their pets. Other people do not care about pets and neglect them. For example, they can leave a cat or a dog at home alone for several days without food and water, or leave them freezing outside at night. Irresponsible treatment is illegal and should be punished, but such cases are rarely reported.
Sheer aggression is probably the most clamant reason for cruelty to animals. Psychologists who study the nature of delinquent behavior claim that there is no specific type of aggression aimed at animals. As Hoffer, Hargreaves-Company, Muirhead, and Meloy (2018) claim, it is possible to predict the violence to humans by assessing the abuse of young people to animals. Their research shows that, in most cases, animals become victims only because they are weaker and cannot protect themselves from human rudeness.
Effects of Cruelty to Animals
From the ethical point of view, cruelty to animals should not be tolerated. It is illegal to make animals feel pain or suffer, and it should be punished. However, punishment, as it is rare and weak, is not a deterrent to animal abuse. That is why the awareness should be raised about the effect of cruelty to animals on society. After taking the first look at commercial maltreatment of animals, it seems that there is no negative influence on society, as people seem only to benefit from it.
Nonetheless, factory farming can lead to the transmission of infections among animals. Such outbreaks of diseases transmitted through products of animal origin are registered in the US almost every year. In addition to this, the exploitation of animals, especially with entertaining purposes, leads to cultural and ethical degradation of society.
Indifference and ignorance of pets can have disastrous outcomes for them, as in the result of such treatment, many of them die, starve or become abandoned. Children, raised in families where cruelty to animals is tolerated, have the perception that it is a norm and are likely to continue this tradition. As a result of abandonment, cities are flooded with stray animals, which negatively influence the welfare of residents.
Psychologists say that there is a direct link between violence to animals and people (Bright et al., 2018). Deliberate, aggressive behavior to animals has been self-reported by numbers of juvenile offenders, as the study shows. According to Bright, Huq, Applebaum, and Hardt, animal abuse is a sign of delinquency: “Compared to the larger group of juvenile offenders, the children admitting to engaging in animal cruelty are younger at the time of the first arrest” (p. 287). Reporting and assessing such incidents is necessary, as it can serve for prediction and prevention of further aggression against humans.
The analysis of the effect cruelty to animals has on the society shows that there are numerous negative consequences of such acts, as there are no animal abuse cases that have absolutely no outcomes. The effects on humans are different, but the effect on animals is always the same – creatures capable of affection and devotion are suffering and dying. Viewing animals only as objects can not lead to effective and happy co-existence, whereas compassion and care provide mutual gain.
Bright, M. A., Huq, M. S., Spencer, T., Applebaum, J. W., & Hardt, N. (2018). Animal cruelty as an indicator of family trauma: Using adverse childhood experiences to look beyond child abuse and domestic violence. Child Abuse & Neglect, 76, 287–296. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2017.11.011.
Cooper, D. E. (2018). Animals and misanthropy. London, UK: Routledge.
Hoffer, T., Hargreaves-Company, H., Muirhead, Y., & Meloy, J. R. (2018). Violence in animal cruelty offenders. New York, NY: Springer Nature.
Tanner, J. (2015). Clarifying the concept of cruelty: What makes cruelty to animals cruel. The Heythrop Journal, 56(5), 818–835. doi: 10.1111/heyj.12122.