When I read about a Wisconsin man who shot and killed two dogs and four cats in front of six children, my stomach sank.
Angered over two of his dogs fighting and one killing the other, he decided that it would be best if he just killed all the other pets in the home. And after drinking his weight in beer, he did just that, telling the kids to not only help him find the pets, but then forcing them to clean up the dead animals too. Whether they saw him kill the pets or not is irrelevant. They were all in the home and could hear the gun fire and the animals whining in pain, perhaps even fearful that their little souls were next.
Twenty years ago, I worked for American Humane Association when the work on the link between cruelty to animals and abuse to children first started. Basically, “The Link” means that if there is abuse to animals in a home then there is the possibility of abuse to the children too — and vice versa. Abuse has no boundaries, but it does often start with animals, eventually moving on to children and spouses as the abusers confidence in committing these crimes increases.
Abusive people use pets as threats to children when they sexually abuse them — “if you tell anyone, I will hurt your dog.” Abusive people use pets as threats when their spouses try to leave them — “if you leave me, you better take the pets because I will kill them if you go.” Abusive people abuse pets to either control the other people around them or to exact their uncontrolled rage which will eventually move on towards people if unchecked. In fact, most serial killers in prison confess killing small animals first. So it’s not a normal behavior for children to kill animals; it’s an indicator they need help.
Prosecutors recognize “the Link” and use it in the courtroom. Battered women’s shelters recognize “the Link” and encourage women to bring their children and their pets when they flee from their home. The pets are either kept at the women’s shelter or fostered out to a humane society until the women can get back on their feet again. And social workers recognize the importance of “the Link” when visiting a home to check on children; they now are supposed to observe what’s going on with the pets in the home too so they can ask animal control officers to step in, if need be, to guard an animal’s safety. And vice versa: animal control officers checking on pets are also looking to see if the kids need help too.
In the instance of this Wisconsin man, a social worker was paying the family a visit to check on the children when the 10-year-old, who was standing in the driveway, confessed that the man had killed all their pets. The kids had been told not to tell anyone at school — clearly aware that he had done something wrong — but they had been too traumatized to go to school.
The man has been charged and could face 25 years in prison — and yet somehow, it doesn’t seem nearly enough for someone who killed six pets and traumatized six children for the rest of their lives.