Animal Studies Bibliography

Deviney, Elizabeth, Jeffrey Dickert, and Randall Lockwood. 1983. The Care of Pets Within Child Abusing Families. International Journal for the Study of Animal Problems 4(4): 321-329.

The idea of a connection between our treatment of animals and our treatment of people has a long history, including thinkers like Aquinas and Kant. Several studies have shown links between animal abuse and violence against humans. Understanding how pets fit into child-abusing families will clarify both problem identification and treatment.

Hypotheses : 1) Child abuse and animal abuse are associated. 2) Conflict over pet care is related to animal abuse.

Operational definitions : (a) child abuse in the family, as identified by New Jersey state law, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect; (b) animal abuse, defined by Leavitt's (1978) criteria: 1) observable or reported pain or suffering due to inflicted pain beyond forms of discipline commonly accepted in our society; 2) causing the death of an animal in an inhumane manner; 3) abandoning an animal in an environment which is not natural to it or in which it is incapable of surviving.; 4) failing to provide care as indicated by poor sanitary conditions, lack of proper nutrition, lack of shelter or inhumane confinement (325). Meeting any one of these criteria classifies the family as animal abusers.

Findings : Patterns of pet ownership and positive attitudes toward pets and their personalities were similar to (previous) surveys of the general population. Children had a good relationship with the pets in 36% of the families, hit or pestered the pets in 26% of the families, and ignored or neglected the pets in 6% of the families. Reports of basic care (feeding, etc.) were also similar to the general public, but interviewers (who were the families' caseworkers and had observed actual family-pet interaction over time) indicated that 17% of these responses were misinformation given to be socially acceptable (e.g. respondents lying about how often they gave their pets food or water). Dog owners reported using vets less than the general public, and cat owners used vets about as much as the public. This lower rate of vet use may be due to the lower SES of these families. More cats had been vaccinated than had seen vets, suggesting the use of free clinics. Fewer dogs and cats had been neutered than was the case for the general public. 34% suggested that previously owned pets were lost through some form of abuse. Overall, 60% of the families had at least one family member who met at least one criteria for animal abuse (36% pain and suffering, 6% inhumane death, 13% abandoning, and 25% neglect). 20% of the families met 2 or more criteria. In most cases in the first 2 categories of abuse, the parent(s) were the main abusers. Children were the only abusers in 14% of these cases. In the 31 cases where the abused animal could be identified, 58% were dogs, 32% were cats, 13% involved both dogs and cats, and 6% were birds. In 9% of the families, pets were treated well. Comparing animal-abusing families with the non-abusing ones, there was no difference on pet ownership, reasons for ownership, or positive attitudes toward pets. Animal-abusing families had younger pets, suggesting high death and turnover, but the difference was not statistically significant. Conflict over pet care (who should feed the pet, etc.) was associated with abuse--82% of conflict cases were in families engaging in animal abuse. There was a non-significant difference in use of a vet (with animal abusers using vets less), a significant difference regarding vaccinations (non-abusers' pets had them more often), and no difference regarding spaying. Animal abuse may be linked to unruly pet behavior, as there was a non-significant difference in reports of pet misbehavior (which may be a cause of or caused by the abuse), with abusers more likely to report such problems, including the pet injuring a person. While families that physically abused their children engaged in animal abuse 88% of the time, families engaged in other kinds of child abuse (sexual, neglect) were animal abusers only 34% of the time, a significant difference. All of these families lacked the capacity to care properly for children and for pets. Pet abuse may be a sign of other family problems, and should be identified by vets when possible, as well as being included in the family's therapy plans. Animal abuse follows patterns similar to child abuse, with great affection for pet victims and division of pets into good and bad pets. Pet abuse may be used by a victim to release anger on another (explaining children's animal abuse) or may be used in triangling, attacking a family member by abusing a beloved pet. Both child and animal abuse may come from lack of knowledge about proper care for them and unrealistic expectations.

Sample/population sampled : From 200 families identified as child-abusing families by the New Jersey Division of Youth and Family Services, 53 were chosen based on pet ownership and availability. A caseworker interviewed one adult or teenager in each household.


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