spcaLA: Friends for Life

Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles, since 1877

spcaLA en español Mobile Version Text size: Enlarge Minimize

Pets of the Week

Juno the Husky MixTippy the Domestic Short Hair

Oct 20–Oct 26

Sign Up
for our Newsletter
Youtube Tumblr Pinterest Sign Up for Mobile Alerts

Humane Education

Frequently Asked Questions About Animal Cruelty

What is animal cruelty?

Animal cruelty encompasses a range of behaviors harmful to animals, from neglect to malicious killing. Most cruelty investigated by humane officers is unintentional neglect that can be resolved through education. Intentional cruelty, or abuse, is knowingly depriving an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization, or veterinary care or maliciously torturing, maiming, mutilating, or killing an animal.

Why is it a concern?

All animal cruelty is a concern because it is wrong to inflict suffering on any living creature. Intentional cruelty is a particular concern because it is a sign of psychological distress and often indicates that an individual either has already experienced violence or may be predisposed to committing acts of violence.

Is there any evidence of a connection between animal cruelty and human violence?

Yes. Many studies in psychology, sociology, and criminology during the past 25 years have demonstrated that violent offenders frequently have childhood and adolescent histories of serious and repeated animal cruelty. The FBI has recognized the connection since the 1970s, when its analysis of the lives of serial killers suggested that most had killed or tortured animals as children. Other research has shown consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse. In fact, the American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder.

Why would anyone be cruel to animals?

There can be many reasons. Animal cruelty, like any other form of violence, is often committed by a person who feels powerless, unnoticed, and under the control of others. The motive may be to shock, threaten, intimidate, or offend others or to demonstrate rejection of society's rules. Some who are cruel to animals copy things they have seen or that have been done to them. Others see harming an animal as a safe way to get revenge on someone who cares about that animal.

What happens when authorities prosecute an animal cruelty case?

Depending on the severity of the case, individuals found guilty may be imprisoned. Appropriate sentencing can also include individual or family counseling, community service, or diversion programs. It is rarely the goal of the authorities to imprison a child for cruelty to animals. Law enforcement officers and judges recognize that cruelty to animals is one part of a complex problem. Sometimes the official response to animal cruelty provides a family its first opportunity to get help.

Can reports be made anonymously?

Yes, you can make a complaint anonymously. In some cases, successful prosecutions often depend on an identifiable witness who can authenticate evidence.

What are the warning signs that someone is violent or is on the way to becoming violent?

Following is information for specific communities and professionals who are in the position where they need to recognize and respond to animal cruelty.

For more information from other resources, please click here.


For more information about the spcaLA Humane Education Department, please contact

Melanie Wagner, M.S. Ed
Director of Humane Education
(310) 676-1149, ext 228

or via email at HumaneEducation@spcaLA.com.