Animal abuse could point to violent tendencies or domestic abuse, psychologists say

Psychologists say youngsters who maim and injure pets may be playing out their own abuse, suffering and heartbreak.

DUBAI // Abuse of animals could signal deep-rooted psychological problems resulting from a disturbed childhood or domestic violence, psychologists said.

British psychologist David Lee, lead consultant at the Camali Clinic in Dubai Healthcare City, said there is a correlation between violence against human beings and young people who are deliberately cruel to animals.

“If they are exhibiting aggressive, tortuous behaviour they are more likely to be a risk to other people,” he said. “We see these people are unable to relate to the suffering of others.

“It is often a symptom of something that runs deep. We would want to address that with professional mental health services as soon as possible to safeguard others.”

According to the UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), there is a growing body of research evidence to suggest that if a child is cruel to animals this may be an indicator that serious neglect and abuse have been inflicted on the child.

Dr Lee said individuals found abusing animals could have been subject to extensive bullying or victimisation, and that it was often a marker to a deeper psychological disturbance that could take time to resolve.

“Early intervention is absolutely key. If we get to the point where a young person is committing these kinds of offences, it can take long-term work to rectify. We would want to do some reparative work to address these issues. It is not a quick fix.”

Animal abuse is classified as the intentional harm of an animal. It includes, but is not limited to, wilful neglect, inflicting injury, pain or distress, or malicious killing of animals.

In recent months, Dr Susan Aylott, a volunteer vet at Animal Welfare Abu Dhabi, has reported cases of cats being hurled from rooftops and another of a stray being mutilated, with symbols carved into its body.

Dr Aylott is working with the Government to produce information leaflets to be distributed on how animal abuse can be reported.

“It is well established that links between animal abuse and other violence pose a real threat to society and need to be addressed here,” she said.

According to the NSPCC, where serious animal abuse has occurred in a household there may be an increased likelihood that some other form of family violence is occurring. Any children present may also be at increased risk of abuse.

“This kind of marker shows serious concern for potential child-protection issues,” said Dr Bryn Williams, a clinical psychologist with a specialist interest in the welfare of children, young people and families, who works with the Ministry of Health.

“The UAE culture is very kind to animals, so this kind of behaviour is unusual and not something that is culturally acceptable.”

Dr Williams said family pets could be an important step in teaching children about compassion, life and death.

“The function of animals as pets is the first time we have to take responsibility in life. It teaches children about caring for something else,” Dr Williams said.

“Pets are hugely rewarding. They can be a great way to teach children how to deal with trauma. It is how we practise being human. Animal cruelty can give us a lot of insight into where a child is at mentally.”

Published: September 14, 2016 04:00 AM


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