Dogs, Bees and Us: A link between cruelty to animals and humans?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
The Humane Society of the United States website

VISIT The Humane Society of the United States website for more information. Just click on this small snapshot fro the HSUS website.

Cruelty is the dark side of human-animal interactions.

Did you know that there is no national accounting of cruelty to animals? We have uniform accounting, each year, of crimes against humans—but not so for animal abuse and other attacks against animals. The U.S. Humane Society (HSUS) reports:

“The shocking number of cruelty cases reported daily in the media is only the tip of the iceberg. Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Although there is no national reporting system for animal abuse, media reports suggest that it is common in rural and urban areas. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.”

Despite the lack of national reporting, the HSUS has collected and summarizes a lot of data from media reports. And, if these reports move you to do something, HSUS provides a Take Action page as well. Of course, most of us are deeply troubled when we hear of such abuse.

And, my question today may add to your concern: Can cruelty to animals predict cruelty to humans?

Researchers are sure there’s a link, as Marc Bekoff summarizes in Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, the book we’re consulting this week. He focuses on the work of Australian psychologist Eleonora Gullone, from her book Animal Cruelty, Antisocial Behaviour, and Aggression: More than a Link. She notes that “mild and isolated forms of animal cruelty may be part of normal exploratory developmental behaviour” in children. But “persistent or recurrent cruelty to animals” is associated with, precedes, and predicts later anti-social behavior, aggression, and violence toward humans.

Once again, the HSUS has helpful information, including various connections between animal and human cruelty. Here are some of them:

  • Animal abuse can reveal people who are also engaged in criminal activities, as well as reveal family violence.
  • Cruelty to animals can be a “warning sign for at-risk youth.”
  • One of the predictors of domestic partner abuse is cruelty to companion animals.
  • A history of animal abuse in childhood may translate into tolerance of interpersonal violence in adulthood.

Have you observed the cruel side of human-animal interactions?

Have you seen a link between cruelty to animals and to humans?

Dogs, Bees and Us: Are we more affectionate with animals than humans?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us

Rob Pasick book Conversations with My Old DogDo you know about Jane Goodall’s “Roots & Shoots” program? Founded in 1991 by the famed primatologist, it is a “program about making positive change happen—for our people, for animals and the environment.” Marc Bekoff, author of Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed, teaches for the program, and for years, has done so for inmates at the Boulder County Jail in Colorado. (All this week, we’re looking at Marc’s new book; you might also enjoy an interview with Bekoff.)

What does Marc Bekoff’s experience with inmates tell us?

“Many inmates find it easier to connect with animals than with people,” writes Bekoff. “Animals don’t judge them.” The inmates “trust and empathize with animals in ways they don’t with humans.” To model healthy relationships, Bekoff tells the inmates about the social behavior of animals who live in groups, such as wolves, and how they cooperate with and depend on one another.

But, I think, the observation that it’s easier to connect with animals extends beyond the prison population.

“People are able to express more emotions and physicality with their pets than with one another,” says Rob Pasick. A practicing psychologist and consultant, Pasick also is author of Conversations with My Old Dog.

We play with, touch, and talk to our pets in ways that are outside social norms for most human-to-human interactions. “Pets give us permission to do things that would be made fun of” otherwise, says Pasick. Pets can be “substitutes for interactions we wish we had with people,” but that society does not value, sanction, or permit.

Do you know people who connect more easily with animals than humans?

What does this tell us about society and what we value?

Dogs, Bees and Us: Do dogs or cats prevent heart attacks?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Dogs, Bees and Us
Birmans on homemade stamps on Zazzle

Birman owners love our “sacred cats of Burma”! On the Zazzle design-it-yourself website, a number of Birman owners have made US Postage stamps from photos of their cats. And, the cats are featured on commemorative stamps in countries from Congo to New Zealand.

I wasn’t always a cat person.

My affection for felines began when our son was 6 and my wife announced, “He needs a cat.”

My wife was an only child and had a special bond with her cats. Our son is an only child, and my wife felt it would be beneficial for him, too. When we told him we were going to get him a cat, he was so happy he burst into tears. Since then, I’ve learned a lot about the human-animal bond, including its relevance for our values.

And, by the way, did you know that sharing our lives with animals yields health benefits?

We looked for a breed that was sociable, gentle, quiet and companionable—settling on Birmans, known as the Sacred Cats of Burma.  From the moment we got the cat, I observed the evolution of a boy-cat bond that supports what biologist Marc Bekoff writes in his latest book, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation. This book is a remarkable collection of Bekoff’s columns from Psychology Today about the latest research into animals, their psychological and emotional lives, and human attitudes toward animals.

One thing I’ve learned, for example, is that a cat can get depressed. We saw that whenever we went on a trip and had someone stop in regularly to feed the cat. Sociable animals need companions and we realized that our responsibility was to provide one. So, we got a second Birman, half-brother to the first, and the depression never reappeared.

Our animal companions also produce benefits for our emotional and physical well-being. Bekoff cites a 10-year study with the astonishing conclusion that having cats helps prevent death from heart attacks! “Those who owned a cat were 40 percent less likely to die from heart attacks than those who had no feline in their lives,” he writes, summarizing the study.

Do dogs have the same effect?  They don’t, according to the study.  Dogs, of course, have other beneficial effects on our lives.

What have you learned from your animal companions?

Are you surprised to learn that cats reduce death from heart attacks?

What benefits have you observed?

Want to learn more about Marc Bekoff’s work?

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm interviews Marc about his new book and this emerging field of research in this week’s cover story.