‘Parents should worry’ about kids who torture animals

2011-08-18 14:22

It is “very common” for children who torture animals to grow up to be killers, according to independent criminologist Professor Anna van der ­Hoven.

“It can be kids who don’t know better and don’t know that animals experience pain. But if it happens often and if the child derives pleasure from it, then it is a sign of personality deviation.”

Her comments came after a chilling video of two KwaZulu-Natal schoolgirls torturing a hen led to criminal charges being laid against them.

The girls, who took the video and posted it on YouTube, are seen throwing the hen to each other and kicking it while it lay on the ground.

At the end of the video, the hen appears to be unconscious.

A caption posted with the video reads: “Well basically ... um ... this is what we do at sleepovers at 6am as you can see with the pajamas:) ... and the chicken did die )-o and please no animal cruelty lectures!!!”

The video and resulting action has sparked a new debate: Was it was merely an ignorant act of two young girls or do their actions suggest a greater underlying problem?

Dr Magdie van Heerden, a social worker who specialises in human-animal interactions, said that not all children who torture animals grow up to be killers.

“To state that children who torture animals are more likely to grow up as killers cannot be accepted.”

However, she said that “animal cruelty and abuse should be regarded as important for the early detection of maladjustment and for the prevention of further violence”.

Van der Hoven agreed that parents should not treat such behaviour lightly and should make their children aware that animals are able to feel pain.

She pointed out several cases of serial killers who had tortured animals when they were younger, including that of South Africa’s most notorious serial killer, Moses Sithole.

He was known to have a history of torturing animals during his violent and abusive childhood. He was convicted of 38 murders and 40 rapes.

» US citizen Brenda Spencer went on a shooting spree in her hometown of San Diego, California.

She killed two people and injured nine others. According to neighbours, she had repeatedly abused cats and dogs.

Spencer, who was 16 years old at the time, shrugged when she was asked why she had committed the crime, and said: “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.” She also said: “I had no reason for it, and it was just a lot of fun. It was just like shooting ducks in a pond. (The children) looked like a herd of cows standing around, it was really easy pickings.”

» Another American, Kip Kinkel from Oregon, killed his parents and opened fire in his high school cafeteria, killing two people and injuring 22 others.

Kinkel also had a history of animal abuse and torture. He boasted about blowing up a cow and killing cats, chipmunks, and squirrels by putting lit firecrackers in their mouths.

» In 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham stabbed his mother to death while she was sleeping. He then went to his school where he shot and killed two of his classmates and injured seven others.

In his journal, Woodham wrote that in a moment of “true beauty” he and a friend had beaten, burned, and tortured his own dog, Sparkle, to death.

Despite the overwhelming evidence in these cases, Van Heerden said it is unfortunate that animal welfare does not always play a great part in South African courts.

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