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What Can We Learn From Animal Abuse?

What Can We Learn From Animal Abuse?

A friend of mine recently sent me a link to a Raw Story article titled, “If Only We Could Talk About Abusing Women Like We Do Abusing Cats.” And it got me thinking.

OK, we’re going to get a little serious here for a moment. This is older news, but I still want to talk about it because it’s important. The Steubenville rape verdict made me cry. I am elated justice prevailed, but disappointed with the rapists’ sentences. More disappointing, however, was case coverage lamenting the rapists’ lost “promising futures,” instead of what the survivor lost, and the victim-blaming responses that make me want to never leave my apartment again. Perhaps for good reason, too — following the verdict, two teenage girls were arrested for making threats against the Steubenville victim.

So what does this have to do with cats?

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About a week ago, a sweet kid named Wendell in North Carolina chanced upon a group of boys ages 5 to 13 torturing a cat. The bullies were throwing the cat back and forth and trying to run over it with a bicycle. Fortunately for the cat, 10-year-old Wendell intervened, taking the cat home to his mother and rushing the kitty to an emergency vet. The cat, now named Jackson, was looked after by the Outer Banks SPCA until he — along with 16 other cats — was transferred to the North Shore Animal League America

As the Raw Story article above points out, no one sympathized with Jackson’s torturers, and no one said the cat “asked for it.” I agree with everyone’s comments: Wendell is a hero, whose compassion and courage are worthy of the commendation he received. I pray that one day, when Wendell inevitably witnesses an injustice toward a woman, he will act upon the same instincts that compelled him to save Jackson — even if it’s something as small as telling a male friend to refrain from catcalling a woman.

I pray that as Wendell navigates the tricky road of growing up a man in a culture that defines masculinity as violent and domineering, he continues to value his sensitivity — even when someone makes fun of him for it. I pray that Wendell continues to cherish not only the lives of cats, but the lives of women, people of color, and anyone — woman or man — whose existence outside conventions puts them at greater risk for mistreatment.

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But on that fateful night in Steubenville, where was the Wendell who could have stopped it all? Why was it so easy for a 10-year-old child to see the wrong in torturing a helpless animal, and why was it so impossible for a group of nearly legal adults to, instead of exploiting a helpless young woman, help her? Why is it so much easier for some people to empathize with a cat and not a fellow human being?

There is a proven correlation between those who abuse animals and those who abuse people. According to the ASPCA, the majority of women (85%) and children (63%) who have been victims of domestic violence reported instances of their abusers hurting animals. A bulletin from the National Criminal Justice Reference Service concluded that understanding acts of cruelty to animals by children can lead to solutions for youth violence. More telling, however, the bulletin revealed that most children who hurt animals have themselves been victims of physical and sexual abuse, indicating a cycle of violence. At the core of violence lies a lack of empathy, and the ability to feel for others erodes as victims are subjected to abuse, making it easier for them to perpetuate the behavior.

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I am not trying to make excuses for the Steubenville rapists, but I wonder what went wrong in their upbringings that allowed them to justify their actions to themselves. I wonder if the boys who tortured Jackson have been subjected to horrors beyond our darkest nightmares. I wonder about the football coaches who reassured their Steubenville players that they would “take care” of everything and failed to report the crime to the police. I wonder if the parents of Jackson’s torturers punished their children for what they did to a helpless cat, but more than that, I wonder if, when those parents read about the Steubenville verdict, they said out loud that the victim was “asking for it,” setting up a precedent that it’s OK for some people to be hurt by others.

Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” In these terms, 10-year-old Wendell is the greatest we can hope to be — he was up against a group of boys who could have easily turned their aggression on him, but Wendell did as his heart compelled him, for a creature some might call “just an animal.” If we are capable of such kindness and compassion, what goes wrong?

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Jackson the cat’s torturers were boys Wendell’s age, and, since they’ve demonstrated their lack of empathy, should we fear what they might do to a helpless fellow human being? And, more importantly, what are we, as adult role models, doing to inadvertently perpetuate cycles of violence? When we call Wendell a hero for rescuing a cat, but we blame, withhold sympathy, and even threaten human victims for the crimes committed against them, we’re setting up a confusing — and potentially dangerous — message.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any answers, but since a lot of us here are women (and men who defy conventions), and we’re all cat lovers, I wanted to see what you think. What will happen to Wendell as he grows up? Is he the harbinger of a new world of compassion? While I found the entire Steubenville case and some people’s reactions to it upsetting, I took solace in the conversations it generated, in the strength it gave me and other victims to finally speak out about a problem that’s been quietly plaguing women — and men — for far too long. Sadly, I don’t think rape or animal abuse will ever completely cease, but I hope that Wendell is one of a generation of young people who have the strength to stand up for what’s right. To some, it was “just a cat” Wendell saved, but one day it might be another human being.

What are your thoughts? Share them in the comments.

Photo via the Outer Banks SPCA

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Read more: Animal Rights, Cats, Pets

This post was written by Liz Acosta, regular contributor to Catster Magazine.

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At Catster, we believe life is always more meaningful with a cat. Get a daily dose of news, views and cuteness over at Catster Magazine.

112 comments

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5:18AM PDT on Jul 8, 2014

What's learned is we have to respect every living life

12:46PM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

I hate all animal abusers, kill shelters and death rows! At least the last 2 are not in Germany, but some poor kitties and doggies or other pets are also abused here, I better won´t write what I´d do with such scum who do that....

6:30AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Thanks for sharing

3:06AM PDT on Jul 7, 2014

Thanks for these deep thoughts that i also share with you. If we meet someone in our life who makes us understand and realize how much Life and each life - and starting from one's life - is precious that may change the whole perspective through which we see the world. For most people it will be a complete reeducation to change a attitude which is often based on taking, taking from nature, taking from others, whether it's their energy, their talents, their time, their ressources to an attitude of giving and sharing. What is violence after all? it's starts from having the strange belief that we are having a right on people, on animals, on the elements of nature etc. But the only right we have, is to protect, care and sustain Life.

5:52PM PDT on Oct 14, 2013

TY

8:07AM PDT on Oct 6, 2013

What may very likely happen to Wendell is that he will be ridden mercilessly by other kids, coaches, and the like once he gets into high school and/or college, and told to "toughen" up. If he fails to do so, unless he has much back-up and encouragement from parents & his "village" he will be told he's a baby, a pansy and the like. I think being a man in today's society is impossibly difficult.

Working in the ghetto for a number of years, I saw what single mothers did to "toughen" their kids. They helped produce the bullies and gang members I had to combat, but on the other hand, there are few, if any, traditions, rites of passage or other rituals that allow a man to clearly define himself as masculine any more.

I'm glad that we recognize that abuse fosters abuse, but in a sense using one's upbringing as an excuse is not okay. I was molested as a child, but did not go on to molest. Each day we get up, we make a choice on how we will live and whether we will be a light in the work or darkness. It's time we hold each person strictly accountable for the result of their choice on that front, whether male or female.

4:47AM PDT on Jul 13, 2013

thank you for sharing 13/7

10:54AM PDT on Jun 15, 2013

abusers escalate its worth keeping track&dealing w/them promptly&harshly

4:49AM PDT on Jun 4, 2013

I think that people that abuse animals go on to abuse people. It's a sick progression and needs to stop...... no matter what their reasoning!

4:33AM PDT on Jun 4, 2013

thanks for sharing

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