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Animal Abuse - What Constitutes Cruelty?

Oct 18, 2007
Animal abuse or animal cruelty refers to ill treatment or substandard care that result in needless harm, distress, or suffering. Standards of animal abuse laws, implementation, and tolerance vary across the US. So conditions that constitute abuse are decided on a case-to-case basis.

For example, at least five issues have caused divided opinions among the American public.

1. Fur Farming
2. Factory Farming
3. Animal testing of cosmetic products
4. Medical research using animal subjects
5. Using animals (especially wild animals) in a rodeo or circus

Practices that are considered cruel in other countries, which are tolerated in the US, include tail docking, ear cropping, and the Geier Hitch (using a rope through a nose ring to herd livestock).

Welfare Vs. Rights

Perhaps one reason for the divided opinion of the American public over issues of what constitutes cruelty is the fact that two active animal advocacy movements have responded differently to the question.

Animal welfare advocates say that using animals for human gain may sometimes be justified. But they aim to work at both improving treatment and ending unwarranted suffering.

On the other hand, animal rights advocates believe that an animal has rights just like a human being. That is, each animal has a right NOT to be used for human gain. They work at stopping humans from handling animals like commodities.

Psychological Implications

As mentioned, animal abuse has far-reaching implications on the state of mind of the abuser. The FBI, for one, states that a history of animal abuse is a recurring trait in profiles of murderers and serial rapists.

Furthermore, studies have shown that children who are animal abusers are often victims of abuse themselves or have, at least, seen abuse committed against a member of their family.

The US Humane Society released findings from two studies to this effect: Around a third of families experiencing domestic violence had one child at least who'd hurt/killed a pet.

How Cruelty Is Dealt With in the US

Anyone involved in animal care and training in the US should check out the cornerstone legislation, Cruelty to Animals Act. The law focuses on minimum (rather than optimum) care requirements, such as:

1. Food, water, and shelter
2. Medical care
3. Outlawing torture or inhumane killing

Animal advocacy groups and pet lovers decry the law's ineffectiveness or silence on practices at circuses and rodeos and the treatment of animals considered pests. Moreover, that enforcement across the US is lamentably inconsistent.

But some states take animal abuse more seriously than others. In New York, for instance, humane society representatives are appointed by the state to enforce laws against animal cruelty. Another state with a similar policy is Massachusetts.

The US is also home to two of the most active animal advocacy groups in the world:
- The Humane Society of the United States
- Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

As penalties for animal abuse are minor, the best thing animal lovers can hope for is that once cases of cruelty are exposed the abuse will end.
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