Law enforcement agencies across the country generally have not taken attacks on animals seriously in spite of growing evidence of a link between cruelty to animals and other forms of violent and antisocial behavior, says Randall Lockwood, a psychologist with the U.S. Humane Society.
Lockwood, an expert on human-animal relationships, often talks to groups of police officers, encouraging them to look carefully at such cases to find perpetrators of crimes against humans.
He noted that many notorious criminals had histories of animal cruelty: Boston Strangler Albert De Salvo, who killed 13 women, had, in his youth, shot dogs and cats with bow and arrows. James Huberty, who killed 21 people in an attack on a San Ysidro hamburger stand, as a boy had shot a neighbor's dog. Letter carrier Patrick Sherrill, who killed 14 postal workers in Oklahoma, tied up animals with wire and mutilated them. Brenda Spencer, who killed two schoolchildren and wounded nine others, set tails of dogs and cats on fire. Carroll Edward Cole, who was executed in 1985 for five of 35 murders of which he was accused, told police his first act of violence was strangling a puppy.
Lockwood, who was part of a team of psychologists that studied 57 child-abusing families, found that in 88% of the homes where children had been physically abused, the animals in the homes had also been abused. In a third of the cases, it was the children who were the abusers, often using pets as scapegoats for their anger. In most of the cases, an abusive parent killed or injured the pets as a way to discipline the children.