Animal torture is not an isolated act of cruelty

ONE out of two households in the UK owns a pet so, from a business perspective, it is perhaps understandable that puppies promote loo rolls, a cantering horse promotes a bank and a beautiful Old English Sheepdog is synonymous with a well-known brand of paint.

Our lives are inextricably linked with our pets, so should we be surprised to find that, when human relationships breakdown, it is sometimes the family pet that is the first visible victim?

Last Thursday afternoon, the Scottish Parliament addressed the subject of wildlife crime and, during the debate, mention was made of the Scottish SPCA's First Strike Scotland campaign. The aim of the campaign is to highlight the links between cruelty to animals and human violence. When it was launched in 1997, it may have been slightly ahead of its time but now many agencies and individuals are accepting research that indicates that the man who beats his dog may also raise his hand to his wife or the child who beheads his hamster could grow up to be a violent, abusive adult.

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In America, the FBI considers a history of animal abuse to be a significant part of offender profiling; they see a clear relationship between animal abuse by young people and the pathway to more serious crimes, including murder. Abusing animals often provides an initial kick or practice before the aggressor moves on to a human target. Shooting pigeons, torturing cats or poking out a rabbit's eyes may be a hideous form of rehearsal for the future. The encouraging thing from the American experience is that this behaviour can be altered if it is detected and treated early.

The Scottish SPCA would like to see a greater recognition by the general public and official agencies that animal abuse really matters. It can be a precursor of worse to come.

It is also essential that offences against animals are properly recorded and, if necessary, reported to us. We all need to see the end of the "it was only a pigeon" mentality and, if an incident is recorded, it is possible to start to build a bigger picture.

As an animal welfare society, we want to promote understanding of the human dimension.

When children take a rabbit to a block of flats, douse it in petrol and burn it to death - as happened in Glasgow - everyone knows it is an act of cruelty. But where did it come from? Are they just daft laddies? Or is the cruelty a signal that we ignore at our peril?

The Scottish SPCA believes that abuse of animals matters. Our organisation has a philosophical commitment and a legal duty to prevent animal suffering.

There are laws against cruelty and the inspectors use them.

Doreen Graham is a campaigns manager for the Scottish SPCA. Further information about the organisation's work is available at