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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 11:10 GMT
Warning over child animal cruelty
Violent behaviour may continue into adulthood
Children who commit acts of violence against animals are more likely to grow into violent adults - perhaps even killers - says a researcher.

Phil Arkow, Chair of the Child and Animal Abuse Prevention Project in the US, told the BBC that children who become obsessive or preoccupied with cruelty against animals were on a dangerous path.

Interviews with more than 100 US serial killers showed that most had a history of some form of animal abuse in their childhoods.

Other researchers say they have found a link between animal abuse and later risk of domestic violence.

At some point between normal childhood exploration and Jeffrey Dahmer, there lies a line that the child crosses

Phil Arcow
Many children, particularly boys, commit some kind of cruel act against an animal, at some point in their childhood - and few of these become a danger to society.

However, Phil Arkow said that where possible, any signs of this sort should be nipped in the bud - either by firm parental control, or by counselling.

He told the BBC: "Research shows that schoolyard shooters often had some instances of animal cruelty in their background.

"But nobody thought much of it - they thought that boys would be boys.

"However, these boys grew up to be violent men."

Professional counselling

He added: "At some point between normal childhood exploration and Jeffrey Dahmer, there lies a line that the child crosses.

"At some point it becomes a pre-occupation, something that the child focuses on, something more than normal childhood exploration, and at that point some professional counselling might be called for."

Parents who spot their children harming an animal should make the point of reproaching them, he says.

He said: "The first thing they should do is talk to the child, let the child know that this is not normal, that the animals have feelings, that it's just not the polite thing to do."

In the US, some vets are taking part in a programme which looks for signs of abuse in family pets brought to them and uses that as a warning sign of other types of violence in the home, such as domestic abuse.

Phil Arkow
Describes his theories about animal cruelty
See also:

04 Nov 98 | Health
Third way for psychopaths
04 Feb 00 | Health
Brain size linked to violence
23 Apr 00 | Health
Video games 'increase aggression'
22 Feb 01 | Health
Summer 'sees peak in violence'
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