Cruelty to Animals Should Concern Us All

17/11/2011 18:35 GMT | Updated 17/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Grainy security-camera footage showing a young man repeatedly swinging a black cat named Mowgli by the tail has sparked outrage across the country - and for good reason. Not only was this act extremely cruel and terrifying for the cat, who reportedly arrived home disoriented and traumatised, it could also be a chilling foreshadowing of more violence ahead. Psychiatrists and sociologists can attest to the fact that people who abuse animals rarely stop there.

When someone abuses animals, it isn't a minor personality flaw; it's usually an indication of a possible mental disturbance, and we must take it seriously. People who hurt and kill animals are cowards who take their issues out on the most defenceless victims available and, if not stopped in their tracks, feel more powerful and inclined to inflict even more violence the more they get away with it. Research and history show that without intervention, animal abusers eventually 'graduate' to committing violent acts against human beings.

Serial killers-in-training have been shown to use animals as 'practice' victims. Son of Sam, a notorious American killer, began his career of violence by decapitating cats, and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer admitted that his fascination with killing began when he found that he enjoyed dissecting animals in school. Their history of cruelty to animals might have been an early indicator of the future behaviour of violent criminals Raoul Moat and Steven Barker; young killers Mary Bell, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables; serial murderers Ian Huntley, Thomas Hamilton (Dunblane massacre), Fred West and Ian Brady; and others. When young people abuse animals, it is a red flag that we ignore at society's peril.

This is why it's crucial for witnesses to report all known or suspected cruelty to authorities immediately and for our legal system to ensure that animal abusers are given the maximum punishment, including jail time, counselling and a ban on contact with animals. Of course, it would be much better if we could prevent cruelty to animals from occurring in the first place. We could make great progress towards this goal by requiring humane education in all schools, giving students the opportunity to learn to empathise.

Teaching young people compassion and understanding for others is every bit as important as teaching them reading, writing and arithmetic. Children who learn to consider the feelings and rights of others - to see the 'us' in 'them' - stand a good chance of growing into kind, benevolent citizens and peaceful community members. Instilling in kids the idea that everyone deserves respect - no matter how different from us they may seem - would prevent a lot of bullying now as well as serious violence down the road.

In this age of school stabbings and increased violence, we mustn't tolerate cruelty of any kind. Mowgli's suffering can't be erased, but we can prevent more individuals from becoming victims by treating cruelty to animals with the gravitas it deserves and by making training in compassion an integral part of every child's education.