How each of us chooses to treat pets is a voluntary decision but does vary due to our political and cultural diversity. Arluke (2006) discusses how the term cruelty is often minimized and glossed over and that there is a school of thought that “abuse is done deliberately, while neglect is unintentional or even accidental. He goes on to detail how some believe that abuse results in tragic injury to animals, while neglect “only” creates hardship for them. Rowan (1993) suggests that the term cruelty should only be used in cases where the offender is in some way satisfied from the harm they cause. Regardless of where one stands on this point, however, and irrespective of the motives of the perpetrator and whether the cruelty be sadistic or negligent, no pet intentionally acts to be punished and no pet deserves to be the victim of cruelty (Hunter & Brisbin, 2016).
Hunter and Brisbin (2016) present a scale of normative behavior towards pets commencing with sadistic behavior and ending with empathy. The scale addresses whether cruelty is defined by motivation or hardship suffered and can be summarized as follows:
Examples of extreme incidents of dogs being killed or sustaining serious injuries at the hands of pet professionals have been reported in the media. These incidents have occurred at the hands of professional groomers, dog trainers and/or boarding kennels, the very professionals engaged and compensated by pet owners to care for their pets. It should, however, be noted here that, the pet training industry is “entirely unregulated, meaning that anyone can say they are a trainer or behavior consultant,” regardless of education, experience, skill, or knowledge – or lack thereof (Pet Professional Guild, 2016).
Listed below are just a few of the abusive practices still seen across the dog training industry:
In recent years, much creditable scientific study has been given to dog training and behavior modification methods and their respective efficacy and consequences. The preponderance of the evidence shown by these studies indicates that the implementation of training and/or behavior modification protocols predicated upon “dominance theory” and social structures (“alpha,” or “pack leader”), usage of physical or psychological intimidation, threats, coercion, or fear are empirically less effective and risk creating problematic consequences, including “fallout” behaviors that may be dangerous to the human and animal involved such as growling, snapping and biting.
Using dominance to train is now considered to be outdated and obsolete, with current scientific knowledge recanting the findings of previous studies promoting the implementation of alpha rolls and dominance training. Leading expert and board certified animal behaviorist Dr. Karen Overall (2016) states: “Dominance theory has shut off scientific research and has crept into medicine to the point where we think we can do things to animals whereby we are asking them to ‘submit.’ In pop psychology, dominance theory is insidious and has crept into everything we do with dogs and it’s wrong. It has gotten in the way of modern science and I’ve just about had it. Every single thing we do with dogs hurts them because we don’t see them as individuals or cognitive partners…Unfortunately, the dominance, discipline and coercion approach has affected every aspect of how we interact with dogs from basic training to treating troubled dogs. We MUST abandon these cruel, scientifically unsupported labels and approaches and replace them with a humane, scientifically-based approach that is dog-centric and attempts to understand situations from the viewpoint of the dog.”
It may be commonly believed that to work in the pet industry one must love pets, yet this begs the question of how can be possible given the varied topography of pet care. In addition to the examples of cruelty, abuse and neglect highlighted earlier, we must also consider the number of pet professionals who still rely on outdated practices and cultural myths while ignoring the growing body of science that proposes specific, humane methods and approaches. One might argue that this is somewhat akin to a public policy that accepts the use of alcohol as an anesthetic and leather arm cuffs as restraints by some medical professionals as their standard operating procedure. We now know better.
We now know better. In fact, in most professions that embark on counselling, mental health or education, thus training there is a professional expectation and, indeed, a legal mandate that, no matter what their field, a professional practice according to the best, most reliable ad up-to-date scientific research available.
There are two important questions to be answered then.
While there is no complete or consistent explanation as to why people are sadistic or cruel to pets, in particular, those that choose to work with pets as an occupation, a commonality would appear to exist in that individuals tend to view the animals as “other,” or significantly different to people. Hunter and Brisbin (2016) explain that the person may feel threatened by the existence of the pet, whether it be emotionally, egotistically, or physically. Their cruel behavior is then seen/identified or justified as teaching the pet a lesson, and/or there may be a motivation to nullify the “other” by inflicting suffering. Hunter and Brisbin (2016, p. 19) conclude that cruelty “in its various forms is thus a human emotional and cognitive response to perceptions or predictions of unpleasant contacts with companion animals.” It is not in the best interests of pets to intentionally set out to be annoying or frustrating, or to inflict pain on their caregivers. Frightening or aversive environmental stimulus including punitive pet training methods and scary techniques are more often than not the cause of aggression from pets directed to people.
Passive cruelty or neglect, meanwhile, tend to manifest from convenience or function. For example, in the case of professional groomers or dog trainers, these may be motivated by the need or desire to get results at whatever cost to the pet. Economically, they may be motivated by profit and the need for expeditious business transactions. These practices may include pinning down a dog to trim its nails or applying physical punishment to prevent a dog from pulling on a leash.
For those who do inflict cruelty, how do they accommodate the consequences of their behavior? In other words, how do they cope with it? How does a dog trainer justify to themselves that hanging a dog until he almost chokes, shocking a dog to the point where he is so fearful, he loses control of his bowels, or physically hitting a dog, is acceptable on any scale?
We might ask the same of the groomer who physically pins a dog on the grooming table if he does not comply and stand in the position required for the perfect haircut, or of the dog walker who drags and chokes a dog to mandate that he walks at a specific and very unnatural pace. These are all examples of instances that are acceptable practices in the pet industry by individuals who have chosen to make their living training and caring for pets.
Arnold Arluke ethnographic study of animal control officers, animal hoarders and shelter workers “illustrated how an individual’s identification of animals interacts with emotions, professional standards and practices, willingness to obey authority and personal identity” These components along with early childhood socialization and experiences can create a social confusion regarding the ethical treatment of animals (Hunter & Brisbin, 2016, p. 19).
Hunter and Brisbin (2016) also suggest that other studies indicated that a desire for power, social background, or other demographic factors may have an influence on individuals in terms of whether they may display passive cruelty or neglect towards animals.
Alternatively, it may just be that cruelty is influenced by the direct visibility of the act, or differing interpretations of cruelty towards different species. As summarized by Hunter and Brisbin (2016) Siobhan O’ Sullivan argues that animal cruelty is impacted by the visibility of the harm to the animal versus the normative assessments of cruelty and the current legislation to protect the animal.
When sadistic behavior, passive cruelty or neglect have taken place pet owners to justify this will often resort to moral disengagement. The offender may be able to reconstruct or reframe their behavior as being acceptable without feeling a need to change either their moral standards or their behavior. “Morale disengagement is behavior designed to avoid censure for injurious conduct” (Hunter and Brisbin, 2016 p. 20).
Vollum et al in their 2004 study surveyed Texas residents to gauge the perceived severity of numerous violent acts against nonhuman animals as well as the preferred criminal justice response were surprised as the “findings lend some (albeit limited) support for an important theory of animal abuse (Agnew, 1998), as well as Bandura’s (1990, 1999) compelling theory of moral disengagement”.
According to Bandura (2002), however, disengagement does not instantly transform a person from being kind and considerate to being cruel but is a more gradual process as they are exposed to more and more uncomfortable situations. In the case of a dog trainer or pet groomer, they may have started out by using aversive practices on pets and found that they paid off, thus making them able to tolerate the acts because of the benefit associated with them. These might involve saving a groomer time thanks to the ease of working with a dog who is pinned to the table, or, in the case of a dog trainer, expediting compliance via the use of shock while suppressing irritating and typically normal canine behaviors such as wandering, sniffing or lack of focus. Situations such as these may apply in a more difficult training environment for a professional who is on a time schedule, lacks knowledge, or has little empathy for the pet in their care.
Over time “progressive disengagement of self-censure” occurs and “the level of ruthlessness increases, until eventually acts originally regarded as abhorrent can be performed with little anguish or self-censure. Inhumane practices become thoughtlessly routinized.” (Bandura, 2002, p. 110). It must be of great concern to public policy makers that when a person inflicts cruel actions on a pet and undertakes moral disengagement “the continuing interplay between moral thought, affect, action and its social reception is personally transformative. People may not even recognize the changes they have undergone as a moral self (Bandura, 2002, p 110). This should then be a concern to pet owners as pet professionals are more often than not held accountable for cruelty towards the pets in their care, who have little or no say in their own welfare.
All parties involved need to exercise moral agency which has a dual purpose. It is both inhibitive and proactive. The inhibitive form is the power to refrain from behaving inhumanely whereas the proactive form of morality is expressed in the power to behave humanely. Therefore, people who practice higher-order morality do good things as well as refrain from doing bad things (Bandura, 1999).
In summary Vollum et al (2004) “findings showed that people are concerned about the social problem of animal cruelty and believe that it should be taken seriously by the criminal justice system”. In 2019 The Animal League Defense Fund, the United States leading legal advocacy group for animals, released their 12th annual year-end report ranking the animal protection laws of all 50 states.
They ranked each state under a three tier system ranging from The Bottom Tier, The Middle Tier to the Top Tier. The five best States for animals are
And the five worst states are:
“The disparity in various jurisdictions’ animal protection laws demonstrates the unfortunate reality that, in many places, the law significantly underrepresents animals’ interests. They did go on to say that “the Rankings Report also presents an opportunity to improve laws everywhere” (The Animal League Defense Fund, 2019).
So, what can you do to impact this and help prevent cruelty to pets?
As always, interested to hear your thoughts but any rudeness, inaccurate comments or fraudlent statements regarding science, philosophies and methodologies will be removed
Much more to follow on our pet industry, and the model in which we seek improvement.
Bibliography & Resources
Animal League Defense Fund (2019) 2018 U.S. Animal Protection Laws State Rankings
The full report is available here https://aldf.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Animal-Protection-Laws-of-the-United-States-2018-full-report.pdf
Arluke, A. (2002). Animal abuse as dirty play. Symbolic Interaction (25) 4 405–430. Retrieved December 31, 2018, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1525/si.2002.25.4.405
Arluke, A. (2006). Just a dog: Understanding Animal Cruelty and Ourselves. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press
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Arnold, B. (2017, November 15). Tampa Becomes First-in-Nation to Pass Groundbreaking Dog Training Ordinance. The Dogington Post. Retrieved December 31, 2018, from
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Bandura , A. (1999) Moral disengagement in the perpetration of inhumanities, Personality and Social Psychology Review[Special Issue on Evil and Violence], 3, pp. 193– 209.
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