The Link : Human Violence and Animal Abuse

I have interviewed with Phil Arkow , the coordinator of  National Link Coalition. National Link Coalition is an international and independent organization which is working on the link between animal abuse, domestic violence, elder abuse, child maltreatment and interpersonal abuse. Science says all kinds of violence are inter-related and underlying causes of different kinds of violence are similar; power and control. Animal abuse is the tip of the iceberg.



BP: Could you introduce yourself to our readers?

Phil Arkow :Hi, my name is Phil Arkow. I’m coordinator of an international, multi-disciplinary violence-prevention group called the National LINK Coalition. We serve as the National Resource Center on The LINK Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence. And after conducting over 2,000 animal-assisted therapy visits to nursing home residents and hospital patients, in 1996 I started teaching college-level training courses in Animal-Assisted Therapy and Activities – including one distance-learning online course that is available to students in Turkey.

Phil Arkow &NZ SPCA

Phil Arkow &NZ SPCA

BP: Why did you choose to work about violence and animal-assisted therapy?

Phil Arkow : I started out as a newspaper reporter and then spent 20 years as the community education and publicity director for a local animal shelter. I’m a writer at heart and am always looking for interesting stories about people. What amazed me working in an animal shelter was seeing how people’s relationships with their pets mirrored what else is going on in their lives. I began to concentrate on animal-assisted therapy and violence because the impact that animals can have on human health and human safety resonate much more stongly with legislators, funders and the general public who do not care about animals. These persons’ priority is what happens to people. Emphasizing how taking care of animals helps people as well as animals can accomplish more than just talking about other humane issues.

BP: Could you tell what National Link Coalition is doing? When and how did NLC start? Who has founded it and what is its organizational structure?

Phil Arkow : We were founded in 2008 as an independent, neutral, non-affiliated, informal network of professionals and interested people who believe that we can make more progress in preventing all forms of family violence by working together. Today we have over 2,400 readers of our free monthly LINK-Letter newsletter, in all 50 U.S. states and 41 foreign countries. Our members come from animal protection, child welfare, domestic violence, elder abuse, human and veterinary medicine, law enforcement, prosecutors, and academia. We believe that cases of animal cruelty, domestic violence, child maltreatment and elder abuse frequently overlap, so we are establishing local LINK coalitions and helping agencies to coordinate their recognition, response, prevention, intervention, treatment, and training about all these forms of family violence.


BP: What is violence? 

Phil Arkow : Violence takes many forms. In the world of The LINK, we see it in bullying, animal fighting, elder abuse, intimate partner violence, child abuse, animal cruelty and neglect. Traditionally, all of these forms of violence were considered separate, but research now confirms that the causes of one form of violence are similar to the others, and the targets of such violence are often matters of convenience and opportunity as much as anything else. It’s all about the perpetrator’s need for power and control.

BP: Could you explain intergenerational cycle of violence and link between domestic violence?

Phil Arkow : Beginning in 1993, child protection people began to recognize that domestic violence had adverse effects on children in the home as well. Today we are adding animal abuse into that dynamic.  The man beats the woman and the animals as a way to intimidate and control her. The children observe this and come to think this is normal activity. They grow up and repeat the cycle of violence.



BP: Who are abusing animals ? Is there  a profile such as age groups, social structures, sex etc?

Phil Arkow : As with all forms of violence, animal abuse crosses all socioeconomic strata, racial and ethnic groups, economic levels, and ages. Males are overwhelmingly the perpetrators, but women commit acts of violence, too. We find intimate partner violence in same-sex relationships as well as in heterosexual couples. Violence against the vulnerable runs across a range from benign neglect to deliberate psychopathological sadism. It’s an extremely complex issue.

BP: What is it that triggers abuse?

Phil Arkow : There are as many reasons for animal abuse as there are for interpersonal violence. Acts of violence against animals usually start with ignorance: people treat animals like they saw their parents do, or they have poor animal husbandry skills. Many people are socialized to abuse and come from a culture where violence is considered normal. These people lack empathy and see violence as a matter of power and control, regardless of who the victim is. Many people have poor coping skills and take their frustration out against animals, children, spouses, or whoever else is convenient. The behavior of the pet, wife, girlfriend or child is wrongly seen as a personal insult. Other times, they abuse animals to threaten or control a victim, such as in a case of domestic violence or child sexual abuse. They may poison neighbors’ animals to retaliate against them for other perceived disrespect such as playing music too loud or racing their cars in the street. They may torture animals to shock people for amusement. In some cases they are “practicing” for a future act of violence against people. These actions enhance their own sense of aggression and sometimes provide them with sexual gratification.


BP: What are the facts regarding children abusing animals? I always come across children who are somehow abusing animals, especially towards kittens or puppies and birds. But people ignore their behaviour, they are saying to me that I exaggerate, it’s just a bunch of naugthy kids….

Phil Arkow :   We can no longer excuse childhood or adolescent animal cruelty as a normal rite of passage for adolescents or trivialize it because it was “only an animal.”  Youths may abuse animals for all of the same reasons that adults do – plus a few more. It may start out as innocent exploration or curiosity because they do not know that animals have feelings. They may be under pressure from gang leaders or an adult abuser to hurt an animal as a demonstration of power. They may retaliate against the animal out of fear. We have heard of children who kill their own animals humanely to prevent them from being tortured by an abuser. Children may kill animals to re-enact their own experience of abuse or to regain a sense of power after being abused. They may be imitating the actions that they see adults do. And it may be a rehearsal for interpersonal violence.

BP: Should we behave differently to a child abusing an animal and a growup abusing an animal? Are they different?

Phil Arkow : Not really. In either case the offender may need counseling and/or incarceration.

BP: Are those children/people mentally ill? What about their parents and society that is accepting their behaviour? What does science say?

Phil Arkow : There are many mental illnesses that have been identified with different types of animal abuse, but each case is different and there is no consistent pattern. For example, animal hoarders may have an Attachment Disorder stemming from early childhood traumas, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, or Schizophrenia, or Alzheimer’s Disease, or Depression, or Agoraphobia, or Anxiety Disorders. The LINK is helping to change society so that such behaviors are no longer accepted.

BP: What kind of other behaviours do these children or people exhibit?They usually are sharing their cruel behaviours by filming it and sharing via youtube. Why are they doing this?

Phil Arkow : It’s a way to get attention, to demonstrate their power and control to their peers, and to relieve their bordeom when they feel depressed.

BP: I expect that a person who him/herself is a victim of abuse, stands against abuse and protects the others.However, the reality is opposite. Why? What is the explanation?

Phil Arkow : For some people, their coping mechanism to respond to the trauma they suffered is to act it out against another vulnerable victim.

BP: Is there a one time animal abuse behaviour? For ex I see a kid abusing an  animals, I warn him and then he never repeats his behaviour? 

Phil Arkow : In some cases the incident may be a one-time occurrence and guidance from a parent, teacher or trusted adult may correct the situation. This is especially true if the child simply does not know any better. However, if the incident indicates a deeper psychological disturbance professional counsaling may be indicated.

BP: Is violence towards animals or people treatable? Is it possible to treat abuse towards animals but not domestic abuse? Are there specialized psychologists working in this field? What are their diagnosis, or is there a name like…. disorder for people behaving this way?

Phil Arkow : We are just at the beginning of our undertsnaing of the psychological dimensions of animal cruelty. There is no specific named disorder, although animal cruelty has been called one of the many criteria for Conduct Disorder. It is one of the earliest such manifestations and starts appearing as young as 6-1/2 years of age. There are several assessment and treatment programs being used by specialized psychologists who work with juvenile and adult animal abusers.

BP: What do numbers say ? What is the correlation between animal abuse and a crime against a human? What is the probability of a child abusing animals becoming a husband beating his wife? What is the probability that a person who abuses animals,killing another person?

Phil Arkow : It is impossible to establish any probabilities. We have statistics from many studies that report the incidence of abused women whose pets were also attacked, or of criminal offenders who reported histories of childhood animal cruelty, but nothing that we can use to project future probabilities.

BP: Are there different types of violence?

  1. Once, I found a kitten and wanted him to have a home. A family called me and took the kitten, they had a 5 years old child. The next day, they left him saying that he was not playing enough. Is this a kind of abuse? 
  2. We have Golden Ret. problem in Turkey, people gave them as presents to each other and once they grow up, they left them to streets even worde to forests. Recently 36 goldens were rescued from a shelter here and taken to Atlanta. Are they psychopats, they are to me?
  3. Another case, a group of people tortured a dog called Tilki (Fox), they beat, poured her eyes paint etc and then when they tried to shoot, people intervened. Of course, there is no charge against them, they are accepted as good citiziens. What does this kind of behaviour suggest about the risk that other humans will come across in the future?
  4. Another case, the dog called Nilayım, she was raped and security cameras recorded it. Someone claimed that Nilayım was his dog and sued the person for damaging goods. The judge humiliated the person who sued the abuser. What could you say about animal rapists and human  rapists, also the judge who had found the case worthless?
  5. Another case is this: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32554496 Armed forces shot the mules with court order. All of these are telling me that it is not psychlogical, or an issue related to an extreme individual, this craziness /sickness is related to society. What do you think?

Phil Arkow : Each of these cases represents a typical incident that we see regularly worldwide. Leaving an animal alone all day and not playing with it may be objectionable to us but it is not considered “emotional abuse” in the eyes of the law as it would be in ignoring a child’s needs. Abandoning unwanted animals is a crime, but taking unwanted animals to a shelter is not. Sexual abuse against animals is considered a crime in many jurisdictions, but unfortunately it is not a crime in other locations, and is actually justified by some people in the “zoophilia” movement who claim that it is a legitimate sexual preference and if there is no evidence that the animals suffer it can’t be a crime. Torturing animals often is a sign of concurrent and/or future psychopathic behavior that will escalate to include humans – but this is not always the case. Not every child who abuses animals grows up to become a serial killer. Meanwhile, all cases like these are heavily influenced by a community’s culture, and what is culturally acceptable in a rural area of Turkey, for example, might be completely different than in an urban area in the U.S.

Aile İçi Şiddet ve Hayvan İstismarı

Aile İçi Şiddet ve Hayvan İstismarı

BP: What are the terms that we have to know while exploring human-animal relationships? What are animal abuse, neglect and cruelty? What is the difference? Also, does defintion change when we are talking about companion animals and other?

Phil Arkow : The definitions of “cruelty,” “abuse” and “neglect” vary from time to time and from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and the prevailing standard of what is culturally acceptable can be determined only by the courts. For example, in some areas of Asia it is perfectly acceptable to kill one’s own dog and eat it for dinner; this practice is completely unacceptable in the West. Most Western laws addressing animal welfare were written in the 19th Century and use the term “cruelty” which implies an intention to harm the animal. More progressive laws use the term “abuse” which is borrowed from the child protection field and implies that maltreatment occurred regardless of whether the offender intended to hurt the animal. Most cases investigated by humane law officials involve neglect rather than abuse or cruelty. Most laws in the U.S. include both companion animals and farm animals, but some states have separate laws for both. Wildlife is often covered by separate agencies and separate laws.

BP: Why is animal abuse important for society? What does it cost to society?

Phil Arkow : It was Mahatma Gandhi who said that we can judge the moral character of a country by the way it treats its animals. Animal abuse sets a poor example for society and especially for its children: as anthropoligist Margaret Mead said 60 years ago, the worst thing that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it. There are economic costs as well: research in Mexico and The Bahamas has found that tourists are likely to avoid visiting places where they see abused animals in the streets.

BP:  Why do some countries see animal abuse as a serious crime (felony in US) and some don’t?  Could you tell about the history of actions against animal abuse and how it becomes a crime in your country? 

Phil Arkow : The United States has the world’s oldest anti-cruelty laws, dating back to 1641 when we were still a collection of British colonies. These laws, and all subsequent laws worldwide, were NOT enacted out of a respect for animals’ inherent rights. They were enacted because animals were, and still are, considered property and animal cruelty harmed someone else’s property. You may disagree with this premise, but as long as animals are still considered property this framework is unlikely to change. Until the early 1990s, most states considered animal abuse a lower-level misdemeanor or petty crime and only 5 of our 50 states considered animal abuse a higher-level felony crime. Growing awareness of The LINK and how animal abuse affects people began to change that and today all 50 of our states define some kinds of animal abuse as felony-level crimes.


BP: Where I live, I’d like to do such a study, how do you collect data and correlate data? How do you manage to involve different stakeholders? How many stakeholders does the coalition have? ( government agencies etc)

Phil Arkow : We have more than 2,400 members around the world in both government agencies, NGOs, and independents. These stakeholders all share the recognition that whatever piece of the puzzle of family and community violence that they are working on, the problem is too large for any of them to solve alone. Getting data is extremely difficult because there are no established networks to collect data on the incidence of animal abuse.


BP: National Link Coalition is based in the US. However in the site, there is a link to foreign coalitions: http://nationallinkcoalition.org/link-coalitions/foreign-coalitions How could we start a coalition in Turkey, how could we collaborate? What should be the components and stakeholders of this coalition?

Phil Arkow : We would love to see a LINK Coalition established in Turkey: we presently hafve coalitions in Spain, the UK, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, Brazil, and New Zealand. We have a free Toolkit that includes lists of groups that could be involved in a coalition and a step-by-step process for organizing one at http://nationallinkcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/TOOLKIT.pdf

We also have some resource materials in other languages and hope that this blog will be included as our first resources in Turkish!

BP: Who should we follow, are there online courses, who should we follow, read?

Phil Arkow : A distance-learning course in animal-assisted therapy is available at http://animaltherapy.net/aat-courses/harcum/. A master’s degree program in veterinary forensics is available from the University of Florida.  For a bibliography of over 1,000 books and articles on The LINK visit http://animaltherapy.net/animal-abuse-human-violence/bibliography/


Writings/Turkey – Blog q&a.doc

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