neglected and abandoned. It’s a serious problem that reflects a number of other issues in our world. Studies have shown that people who abuse animals are more likely to act violently toward other people. It’s often seen as a precursor to more extreme acts of violence against others.
The pervasiveness of animal abuse says something about our society, our relationships with each other and our relationship with animals — both pets and wildlife. The way that we treat our pets reflects upon how we treat animals in general.
Animal abuse today
Almost 2,000 cases of animal abuse are reported in the media every year, but in reality, the number of occurrences is much higher. It’s difficult to determine exactly how prevalent it is, because most cases are likely not reported and, until recently, there wasn’t a central organization tracking it. In 2016, however, the FBI moved animal abuse from the “all other offenses” category into its own section in the annual Uniform Crime Report.
Animal abuse is divided into two subcategories — active and passive. Active abuse involves violence toward an animal, while passive refers to neglecting an animal’s needs or abandoning them entirely. Neglect and abandonment is the most common type of abuse. This is sometimes done out of ignorance. Other times, it’s intentional.
Our relationship with wildlife
According to one study, we lose between at least 200 and 2,000 species each year. This number would likely be even higher if it could include species that haven’t yet been discovered. Humans play a big role in causing this extinction. In fact, the same study found, humans accelerate the rate of extinction by as much as 1,000 percent .
People cause harm to animal species by destroying habitats, overhunting and trapping as well as indirectly through climate change. Some people also abuse wild animals through acts of violence toward them, depriving them of food or using cruel hunting and trapping methods. Wild animals that used for entertainment in circuses and traveling exhibitions sometimes live in poor conditions.
How these two issues are related
The commonness of animal abuse can be seen as a reflection of the way we relate to wildlife. They both stem from similar issues — animals aren’t always seen as living creatures that should be respected. They’re sometimes treated as things to be used rather than living, breathing organisms.
Just as passive abuse is more common than active abuse, most people don’t go out of their way to harm wildlife. Instead, it often happens as a consequence of other actions. Many people don’t even realize the danger that they’re putting animals in, because large organizations or groups of people rather than individuals usually cause these problems. It’s harder for people to see the big picture than to keep tabs on their own personal actions.
What we can do
There are various organizations, businesses and people that work to lessen its frequency and impacts. Shelters take in abused animals and provide them with happy homes. There are websites that connect people with abandoned animals that need new homes. Animal health companies and veterinarians care for sick animals.
Although animal abuse is still a huge problem, there have been many success stories. A 7-week-old pitbull puppy named Indie, for example, was found abandoned in Philadelphia. She was rescued, found a happy home and was treated for malnourishment and mange .
Indie’s story has a happy ending, but there are still many animals out there that need help. Still each year approximately 7.6 million animals enter shelters in the US and 3 million don’t ever leave the shelters. Volunteering with shelters, animal rights groups or other organizations can help. So can adopting a rescue animal.
With regard to wildlife, we need better education about our impacts on wild animals. Doing a bit of research and helping to spread awareness of the issue could help immensely. Only buying products that are sustainable, don’t require habitat destruction to make and aren’t tested on animals can help as well. There are a number of product certifications that can help you determine which items fit these descriptions.
In a broader sense, we need a cultural shift in the way we view animals away from objects we can use toward life that has intrinsic value and feelings. Better treatment of mental health issues could help too, especially with issues of active abuse. Perhaps one of the most important things we can do is provide good examples by treating animals and other people with respect.
This is a guest post written by Emily Folk.
Emily is a conservation and sustainability writer.
She is the editor of Conservation Folks, and you can see her latest updates by following her on Twitter.