No nasty letters this time from the "it's just a cat" crowd.
My column from a few weeks back on the link between animal cruelty and crimes against people drew thousands of responses, flooding my e-mail for days with letters from everyday animal lovers as well as from social workers, therapists, teachers, law enforcement officers, academics, prosecutors, humane investigators, etc.
Many of these experts pointed out the numerous studies linking animal cruelty to crimes against humans, as well as relating gruesome cases they themselves had worked on, where the link was as large as a lumber chain.
"Your connection of animal cruelty with future criminal behavior is accurate," wrote Hiromi Paul Sanders, a therapist specializing in abused children and adolescents, many of whom have engaged in acts of animal cruelty. "Children are very emotionally scarred when parents use threats of or engage in animal cruelty to manage their child's behavior," he wrote. "Your statement that kids become hardened is also accurate because kids often model a parent's behavior, irrespective of its social appropriateness. Kids also utilize animal cruelty as a means of catharsis of pain and hurt, often when they themselves are victims of emotional, physical or sexual abuse."
Sanders notes that FBI profilers have identified three characteristics in children that predict a dangerous future, pointing toward serial murder: uncontrollable urination, fire-setting and animal cruelty. For such children, the therapist warns that intervention is essential.
"I agree that perpetrators of animal cruelty should be held legally accountable, but would add that for animal-abusing children, adolescents and teens, a therapy component ought to be ordered by the sentencing judge, so that the roots of this behavior are uncovered and treated," wrote Sanders. "My bias is that without such treatment, the minor's likelihood of recidivism will remain high."
Another correspondent touched on the either-or aspect of my column, on how some people seem to believe that if you care about animals, you don't care about people.
"I am always amazed at the sort of people you describe," wrote Paul Ernst. "They seem absolutely convinced that those of us who are concerned about cruelty to animals are incapable of feeling concern over cruelty to humans. Their logic is way beyond perplexing.
"These same people will sometimes fault others for donating to animal shelters 'while there are humans freezing and starving in the streets.' They ignore the fact that people who help animals are often the first to come forward to help their fellow humans. It amazes me that they seem to feel that concern for animals blocks out all other compassion."
Jennifer Bergovoy echoed those sentiments: "When the critics argue that I should be more concerned about what happens to humans, I always respond that I must be fortunate, because I have the capability of loving both humans and animals, and can mourn for both their losses."
The responses weren't all in agreement with me, however. Some felt I was saying we should care about animal cruelty only because it too often predicts crimes against humans. I gently reminded these readers that if I didn't care about animals on their own, I wouldn't have spent the last 20 years writing about them, with more than 1,000 columns, hundreds of articles and three books.
I guess that's the either-or argument in reverse: Some people think caring starts with animals, while I think caring includes us all, animals and people both. The overwhelming majority of those who wrote felt the same way.
Which reminds me of one of my favorite sayings (whose author I do not know, I regret to say): "Teaching a child not to step on a caterpillar is as important to the child as it is to the caterpillar."
Thanks to all of you who wrote. While you may have overwhelmed my poor computer, you made my week.
PETS ON THE WEB
Over the years I have reminded readers that "Beware of Dog" signs are not that great an idea. By posting one, you're likely just trying to keep people out of your back yard, but should your dog bite someone, a "Beware of Dog" sign could be seen as an admission that you believed you harbored an aggressive animal. And that could lead to serious legal problems.
After reading a warning in this column, entrepreneur Rob Loomis decided to come up with a solution to the problem –- a sign that protects both pet and property without setting up the pet owner for bigger problems should a bite occur. His stylish metal "Dog in Yard" signs are made of high-quality materials, designed to fit in with any style of housing and not give the "junkyard dog" appearance of cheap signs. The wording alerts people to the existence of a dog without casting aspersions on your friendly pooch.
The sign is slowly becoming available at hardware and home-supply stores, but for now your best bet is to order directly from the Original Pet Postings Web site (www.bigdoorproducts.com). It retails for $14.95. You
can also order by phone, (847) 835-1100.
If your bird is bitten or clawed by a cat or dog, you need to get veterinary help right away. Bite or claw wounds are potentially deadly to birds, even if the injury appears minor.
Dogs and cats are able predators, and their jaws are quite capable not only of piercing the skin of a bird but also of crushing internal organs and breaking bones. Even a bird who seems to have escaped an attack with a small bite or scratch can fall victim to infection. Birds with no visible signs of injury can also end up dead without veterinary intervention.
If your bird is attacked, contact your veterinarian right away. Your bird may need to be treated for shock, infection or internal injuries, and very likely should be started on antibiotics as soon as possible.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: For ethical and health reasons, I don't eat meat or buy products made from leather or other parts of animals. I have three cats, and frankly it makes me sick to my stomach to open the cans of cat food and think of the suffering that went into them. Can you offer me a way to have vegetarian pets? –- C.N., via e-mail
A: I understand and respect the choices you've made for yourself. But if you want a pet who'll thrive on a diet without meat, you should adopt a rabbit or other herbivore. If you're going to have carnivores as pets, you'd better get used to the idea of feeding them meals with meat protein, because that's what their bodies are designed for.
Cats require more than a dozen nutrients including vitamins, fatty acids and amino acids, that can't be manufactured in a cat's body and must be obtained from an outside source -- that is, from animal tissues.
Q: Gina, would you please warn people that clumping litter is dangerous to cats? It can cause intestinal blockage and kill them. -– W.N., via e-mail
A. Sorry, but there's no evidence that clumping litter kills cats. The idea that it has is unsubstantiated by any scientific study and unsupported by the widespread clinical experience of veterinarians. I am regularly asked to warn people about the "danger," which suggests that these concerns have become another urban myth spread by well-meaning cat lovers.
It seems the idea that clumping litter is deadly comes from an article in a long-defunct magazine, in which a breeder reported on the death of some kittens and speculated that clumping litter was the cause. That article has more lives than a cat is said to, because I'm e-mailed a copy of it at least once a month.
If you look at the issue another way, it can be argued that clumping litter has, in fact, saved the lives of many cats. That's because studies show that some cats who have chronic problems with using a litter box may choose to do so if the filler is clumping litter. Since behavioral problems such as ignoring the litter box cause many people to dump their cats, any product that helps keep cats in their families is surely saving lives.
Don't be too quick to believe what you read on the Internet. Although there's lots of great information on pets out there, I've also read plenty that worries me -– advice on nutrition, training and medical care that's flat-out wrong and can even be deadly. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian or consult a reliable reference book.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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