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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Dangers of Cruelty to Animals

Millions of Americans, who do not subscribe to the entire agenda of the Animal Rights movement, are becoming more sensitive to the avoidable practices that inflict massive cruelty to animals.

Research laboratories and commercial companies are beginning to concede their excess. Avon Products announced last week that it was moving to cease animal testing for their cosmetic batches. Other companies have recognized that they can reduce the number of laboratory animals used to test the safety and toxicity levels of other commercial products.

Less responsive are the “factory farms of agribusiness which pack chickens, pigs and cattle so close together that the stresses and diseases invite more antibiotics in their feed and later into people’s diets.

New ways to reduce the sacrifice of laboratory animals are being developed. At Purdue University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, there is a program to develop computer-generated, three-dimensional holograms of animal organs to reduce the slaughter of live animals in teaching laboratories.

Outside of corporations or other institutions, however, mindless violence toward animals continues unabated. The victims are not only the animals. A recent study by Yale Professor Stephen Kellert, funded by the Geraldine Dodge Foundation, examined the relationship between childhood cruelty toward animals and aggressive behavior among criminals and noncriminals in adulthood. Kellert’s chief finding: “Childhood cruelty toward animals occurred to a significantly greater degree among aggressive criminals than among nonaggressive criminals or noncriminals.”

Using lengthy oral questionnaires, the professor elicited some astounding admissions. He carefully made the distinction between what he called “culturally sanctioned acts of violence to animals, such as hunting or trapping or butchering livestock.” He focused on the “unsanctioned” violence. These grisly examples included: stoning or starving dogs, pulling the wings off birds, electrocuting animals, burning or poisoning animals, maimings and mutilations. Prison inmates told of throwing dogs from high places, tying the tails of cats together, stuffing cats in pillowcases and setting them on fire.

Far from being random, Kellert believes that such acts are consistent and predictable markers of later violence against humans. Fully 25% of the aggressive criminals interviewed revealed a history of repeated animal cruelty, while fewer than 6% of the nonaggressive criminals and none of the noncriminals exhibited a similar pattern, observed Kellert.

“The idea that adolescent animal cruelty leads to adult violence,” Kellert says, “is a logical deduction;” but the thesis needs more investigations than his pioneering paper could provide. What he wishes to see happen is for early therapy or assistance to youngsters who engage in such violence to helpless animals. It may he thinks, prevent later crimes against people.

And so one argument of the Animal Rights Movement receives further support — namely that sadistic cruelty to animals can boomerang on the human race.