Cruelty to Animals

Every day, countless cats, dogs and other animals suffer and die at the hands of the very people who are supposed to care for and protect them. Physical violence, emotional abuse and life-threatening neglect are daily realities for many animals. Their only hope is that a kind person will speak up before it’s too late. Read on to learn more about some common types of cruelty and what you can do to stop them.

Hoarding: A Cruel Compulsion

Animal hoarders are not merely people who have a few too many animals – they are individuals whose mental illness or compulsion can cause criminal behaviour with horrific consequences for animals, the hoarders’ families and their communities. Hoarders exist in virtually every community and include members of every socio-economic status, gender and education level. An increasingly common and disturbing trend involves hoarders who operate under the guise of being “shelters” or “rescues”. Hundreds of sick, starved, wounded, dying and dead animals have been found in raids of such institutional hoarding facilities.Puppy dog with mange named Pokey.

There are three characteristics of hoarding behaviour agreed upon by experts and seen in nearly every case of hoarding:

  • Hoarders amass a large number of animals.
  • Hoarders fail to provide for animals’ physical and social needs, including food, water, veterinary care and sanitary living conditions.
  • Hoarders offer excuses for, or deny, the abysmal living conditions of their animals and, in some cases, their children.

Hoarders often confine animals to tiny cages or crates that are stacked on top of each other. Accumulated faeces and urine – which often cover every surface in hoarders’ residences – can create dangerously high ammonia levels, which can burn skin, eyes and lungs. Parasite infestations and disease outbreaks spread quickly in these crowded conditions. Food and water are usually inadequate – if they are provided at all.

‘The Link’: Stopping the Cycle of Violence

People who abuse animals are cowardly – they take their issues out on the most defenceless victims available – and their cruelty often crosses species lines. Research in psychology and criminology shows that animal abusers tend to repeat their crimes as well as commit similar offenses against members of their own species. This phenomenon is known to law-enforcement and humane professionals as “the link”. For everyone’s safety, it’s vital for law-enforcement officials and communities to treat cases of cruelty to animals seriously and to ensure that animal abusers are appropriately prosecuted and sentenced.

“Anyone  who has accustomed himself to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also at the idea of worthless human lives.”

– Dr Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian

A study conducted by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA in the US found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans.  Behavioural profiles of criminals by the FBI have consistently shown that many serial murderers and rapists had abused animals in their childhoods. Numerous studies have also shown that up to half of all

Many notorious killers, including Mary Bell, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables as well as serial murderers Ian Huntley, Thomas Hamilton (the Dunblane massacre), Fred West, Dennis Nilsen, Ian Brady and Raoul Moat all started out by deliberately harming animals.

Animals also frequently become victims in homes plagued by violence. Many batterers try to control their victims, such as a partner or spouse, by threatening, torturing and/or killing the victim’s animals. The RSPCA and  have found that cruelty to animals was present in 20 per cent of their high-risk assessments. Many human victims of domestic violence are reluctant to leave the situation for fear of what will happen to their animals if they aren’t there to protect them. That’s why it’s crucial for social service, animal-protection and government agencies to work together to protect all victims of domestic violence.


It’s easy to feel despair when we hear about people who deliberately maim, torture or kill animals. But just as cruelty and cowardice are the causes of such behaviour, so courage and kindness are needed to combat it.

Share the World compassionate teaching resourcesTeaching children to empathise with other living being from an early age, both in school and by leading through example, is hugely important. Kind parents who go out of their way to help animals in need can inspire future generations to make compassionate choices, and educational establishments also play an important role. When PETA learns of occasional shocking incidents of cruelty to animals committed by young people, we often send “kindness kits” to local schools in the area, with resources to help teachers with humane education. We also have free classroom resources, which can be accessed here.

It takes courage to speak out if you suspect that an animal is being harmed. If you believe an animal is in imminent danger, please contact your local police and/or the RSPCA immediately. When the police are investigating incidents of cruelty, PETA often offers a reward to encourage people to come forward with information. On a more positive note, we also recognise compassionate individuals who go the extra mile to help animals by honouring them with our “Hero to Animals” Award.

What You Can Do

  • Preventing hoarding and other forms of cruelty to companion animals begins with fighting the overpopulation crisis. Ensure that your animals – and those of family, friends and neighbours – are spayed or neutered.
  • If you suspect animals are being neglected or hoarded – even if the person who is supposed to be responsible for them appears well intentioned – contact the RSPCA and police immediately. A simple call from a concerned neighbour can save countless animals from slow, miserable deaths.
  • If I’ve seen a video online that depicts cruelty to animals, please head to this PETA US page.
    If you are in the UK and can identify the individual participating in cruelty to animals, please immediately contact the police or phone the RSPCA’s cruelty hotline on 0300 1234 999.
  • Always keep your animal companions indoors and allow them outside only on a leash and harness or in a fenced area, under supervision. Cats and dogs who are allowed outdoors unattended are easy targets for cruel people, and they are also at risk of encountering many other dangers, including being killed in traffic, ingesting poison, getting lost and succumbing to weather extremes.
  • Help children develop empathy for animals by leading by example: always speak to animals kindly and handle them gently; treat animals as family members by letting them live indoors, brushing them, playing with them and walking them daily and never take kids to zoos, circuses or other places that exploit animals.