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Only Sociopaths Intentionally Hurt Animals: A Professional View

Posted by at 6:42 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)


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Here at PETA, we see horrible animal abuse cases day after day. Our Cruelty Investigations Department is on call 24/7, helping animals and making sure that those who abuse them are held accountable. If you are like us, you have probably spent a good deal of time scratching your head wondering what kind of person would do such horrible things. That’s why we asked Dawn Drucker, PETA supporter and psychotherapist, to share her professional perspective on this.

I am a psychotherapist who has worked with all manner of people, including individuals of all age groups as well as individuals with personality disorders. I have found (and other psychotherapists I’ve talked to and whose findings I’ve read about agree with me) that there is a correlation between individuals who harm or kill animals and sociopathic behavior.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is used as a tool by mental-health workers to diagnose clients’ psychological problems, based on their symptoms and behavior. Diagnosing clients is necessary for the development of their treatment goals. Unfortunately, there are limited diagnostic tools to confirm the link between cruelty to animals and sociopathic behavior, but sociopathic behavior and the sociopathic personality type are indeed prevalent in our society.

For example, serial killers such as Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and Richard Ramirez as well as countless other serial killers, murderers, and rapists all abused animals as children, and that behavior escalated into harming humans.

The sociopathic personality first develops in early childhood or adolescence and is classified under the diagnosis of “conduct disorder,” which then develops into “anti-social personality disorder” (both of these are listed in the DSM). One of the early signs of a conduct disorder is often cruelty to animals.

An individual who is able to engage in cruelty to animals appears to have no conscience and thus no remorse for his or her behavior. The act of cruelty to animals results from an apparent need for power and control, and this need is accompanied by a lack of empathy. Animals are targeted, especially helpless and defenseless ones, because the perpetrator does not recognize or care that they have feelings and can experience not just physical pain but also emotional pain.

Animals can feel pain and suffer, just as humans can, but since sociopaths have a general inability to empathize, they are able to inflict pain and agony on sentient beings with no feelings of remorse—hence the increased probability that cruelty to humans is a next step.

I have often worked with clients whose attitude was “It was just an animal, so who cares?” They describe feeling a “rush” after abusing and killing an animal. This rush can also occur in people who inflict cruelty on other humans, so if a person is capable of abusing, torturing, and killing an animal, he or she may decide to go even further and inflict harm on another human being in order to achieve the same rush.

The link between violence against animals and violence against humans is well established. Check out this special booklet that PETA developed for law enforcement officials and prosecutors.

Dawn Drucker, M.S., L.M.F.T., L.C.D.C., has a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Eastern Michigan University and is an L.M.F.T.-licensed marriage and family therapist and an L.C.D.C.-licensed chemical dependency counselor in Texas.

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7 Comments

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    Robin says...

    April 6th, 2010, 8:29 pm

    I hope this important booklet gets in the hands of law enforcement, justice workers and social workers as well. Thank you, PETA, for producing it. Some is so very wrong with people who “get a rush” from hurting other beings. I wish society/people would realize such harm is wrong regardless of whether the perpetrator extends cruelty to human victims.

    Margaret says...

    April 8th, 2010, 2:31 pm

    Very well written. Parents, teachers, and neighbors need to be aware and catch these traits before it becomes a part of the adult personality. I believe that ,if found soon enough, it may be possible to teach that animals reward you in so many ways for being kind.
    Pleasereport and neglect any cruelty to animals!! Lets stop this. It may a life.

    Lise Ringuet says...

    April 9th, 2010, 6:46 pm

    I’ve just looked at your booklet. I live in Montreal and I can tell you that here in Canada, the law does nothing for animals. People who hurt them get away with it. It’s a shame.

    Ms Lois Koch says...

    April 10th, 2010, 4:55 am

    I know some people may really be sick and tired of hearing it; BUT I really think this bears repeating. It has come out that the Nazis trained the SS from boyhood to be cruel to animals starting with flies, butterflies and so on going from BIG to BIGGER and finally they “graduated” to harming and killing children and older people. I don’t think Our Lord meant any form of life to be so maltreated.

    yanna athanassiadi says...

    April 10th, 2010, 12:10 pm

    i agree precisely

    gdan says...

    April 11th, 2010, 12:12 pm

    Sociopaths are despicable individuals but they are but a fraction of one per cent of the general population. The average meat eater is responsible for the vast majority of animal abuse in this world. They ignore the plight of food animals while claiming to be an animal lover, of cats and dogs mostly. Most are not even concerned about the great extinction of wild animals that is occurring now. I can’t worry about the sociopaths when my friends and family are responsible for most of the carnage.

    Janice Williams says...

    April 26th, 2013, 8:08 pm

    These people that hurt the cattle and the horses and the pigs that they show on TV need to be brought to justice. What are they doing to their families while at home. To see a full grown man punch a calf in the face time after time is just too much for me. It made me cry. I was wishing I could kill that supposed so called man and all the other little men that were violating the animals, beating them just because they can. Kicking them in the face with their boots oh my god, I just can’t take it. These are not men. They are the worst of the worst and do not deserve to be out in the public. They need to be locked up and let the animals go free. DO SOMETHING ABOUT THIS DISGUSTING ACT AGAINST ALL ANIMALS. PLEASE I CAN’T TAKE IT. PLEASE I AM BEGGING OF YOU TO ACT UPON THIS NOW.

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