Animal cruelty: a gateway to violent crime?

The recent arrest of Interpol fugitive Luka Magnotta served as a rude reminder that animal cruelty is not a crime to be taken lightly. Magnotta was arrested in Germany for murdering, mutilating and cannibalizing a young man in Montreal, Canada. Magnotta recorded video of the murder, then posted it on the Internet.

For two years prior, animal activists had been searching for a young man who had posted videos of himself online, torturing and killing cats. Montreal law enforcement has since identified the animal abuser as Magnotta.

The link between animal cruelty and violent crime

Analyses by sociologists, psychologists and criminologists during the past 25 years show that perpetrators of animal cruelty frequently do not stop with animal victims. Many will move on to commit acts of violence against humans. A 1997 study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA reported that nearly 40% of animal abusers had committed violent crimes against people. 

FBI survey of convicted serial killers found that most serial killers tortured or killed animals as children or teens, before moving on to human victims. Among them were Jeffrey Dahmer, who had impaled dogs’ heads, frogs and cats on sticks as a teen, as well as Columbine High School students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who bragged about mutilating animals to their friends, before shooting and killing 12 classmates and taking their own lives.

Studies also show a strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence. National surveys have found that among battered women who owned companion pets, as many as 71% reported that their male partners had threatened to harm their pets, or had in fact injured or killed their pets. Survey results also show a detrimental effect on children who witness animal abuse in their families: among the same group of battered women, 32% reported that one of their own children had also engaged in animal cruelty.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that nearly 1 million animals a year are abused or killed in connection with domestic violence. Acknowledging the significance and severity of this problem, 22 states have passed laws empowering courts to specifically include pets in domestic violence protection orders.

Felony animal cruelty

Today all 50 states have enacted laws prohibiting animal cruelty. The statutes criminalize two types of actions: (1) intentional acts, such as killing, torturing, or deliberately injuring an animal; and (2) the failure to act, as in the failure to provide adequate food, water, shelter, or in some states, reasonable veterinary care, for an animal. 

Recognizing that animal abusers are likely to commit acts of violence against humans as well, state legislatures are strengthening animal protection laws. Before 1986, only 4 states had felony animal anti-cruelty laws. Today, all but 3 states have enacted felony animal cruelty provisions. (The three states currently with no felony provisions are Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota.) Of the 47 states with felony provisions, 43 allow first-time offenders to be charged with a felony in cases of intentional and aggravated cruelty. Many states have enacted felony provisions for repeat offenses, even if the first offense was only a misdemeanor.

Saving animals, saving ourselves

Repeat offenses by animal abusers are not uncommon. Recidivism among animal hoarders is estimated to be 100%. Once the initial case is resolved, the hoarder will set up shop again in a different – or even the same – jurisdiction in which their first case was prosecuted.

To prevent recurrences of animal abuse, animal welfare advocates nationwide are rallying state and local legislators to establish animal abuser registries. The proposed registries are patterned after the child molester registries established by Megan’s Law. With the the names and locations of convicted animal abusers made public, animal shelters, rescues, breeders, pet shops, groomers and veterinarians could help ensure that no additional animals are placed into the hands of convicted abusers.

Suffolk County in New York was the first jurisdiction to establish an animal abuser registry requirement in 2010. Today, 25 states, including New York and California, are considering legislation to establish animal abuser registries.

The registries may help save more than just animals’ lives. “We know there is a very strong correlation between animal abuse and domestic violence,” says Jon Cooper, the sponsor of the Suffolk County animal abuser registry bill. “Almost every serial killer starts out by torturing animals, so in a strange sense we could end up protecting the lives of people.”

Learn how to spot and stop animal cruelty. You might save more lives than you think.


  1. exacty!

    Also, I think they should make people go through a stringent application process to acquire a pet. That would cut down animal cruelty quite a bit. In my opinion, a lot of people cannot really afford a pet and they also they aren’t responsible enough to have one.

  2. exacty!

    Sorry but they can pass all the laws they want. If the animal services agencies do not enforce them, then the laws are totally useless. Way too many stories are out there (on this website even) of people calling about abuse and their calls are ignored. When that happens, people who truly care feel helpless and though they may not stop caring, they give up. All too common.

    • exacty!

      And what is worse? People are told not to give up and are made to feel guilty if they do when they should be commended for getting involved in the first place. They will hold those same people responsible for not continuing to call instead of putting pressure on the agencies who should have responded in the first place.

  3. spinal traction philadelphia

    I really hate reading or watching stories about animals being abused. We should all do our share to stop animal cruelty. It starts at home so teach your kids how to take care and love their pets.

    spinal traction philadelphia

  4. ashley flemister

    I really feel they should something about this animal neglect and more they dont deserve this god didnt put them on this earth to be treated like this there loving and all they want is love how would people like if they were in the position that that animal is in. please so something about this i beg

  5. Hairless Cat

    Hi P4P,

    @Caroline Pavlinik – Glad Idaho at least has a start. That can be built upon.

    @Red – I think you’re right – They might learn a thing or two from Western Culture.

    Sad that is starts with animal abuse.

    Clearly it’s a bully thing – pick on the weak or helpless.

    Then it apparently expands with progressively increasing “challenges”.

    Solution is to report animal abuse immediately.

    That will reduce animal abuse and prevent it from attaining human abuse – according to the well written article.

    It sounds like a gateway in a progressive way.

    =^-^= Hairless cat Girl =^-^=

  6. Red

    maybe we can learn a thing or two from thailand’s culture. although i dont understand the massive numbers of stray dogs in the streets of bangkok and where they are coming from, i am a witness to the claim of this article that thai people love animals . perhaps they only need to learn from western culture about responsible ownership.

  7. Caroline Pavlinik

    Fortunately Idaho finally passed a felony cruelty provision in the 2012 legislative session, however it it is still fairly weak. The felony option is for the third conviction of willful and malicious cruelty (which does not include neglect). We still have a long ways to go, but I see first hand with each new generation, increased respect and appreciation for an animal’s intrinsic value, and the tide of general public sentiment is changing for the better.

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