Animal Studies Bibliography

Kellert, Stephen R. and Alan R. Felthous. 1985. Childhood Cruelty toward Animals among Criminals and Non-Criminals. Human Relations 38(12): 1113-1129.

After the 16 th century, cruelty against animals became a social concern due to three factors: tendency to “humanize” companion animals, attention to social justice for various other groups abused by industrialization, and fear that abuse of animals would lead to abuse of people. The latter connection is often assumed by journalists, but the scientific evidence is “sparse and inconsistent” (1116). As a result, policymakers generally ignore childhood cruelty to animals as a significant problem or warning sign.


Aggressive adults are more likely to have engaged in cruelty to animals as children than are nonaggressive adults.

Independent variable/operational definition

Childhood (to age 18) cruelty to animals: “the willful infliction of harm, injury, and intended pain on a nonhuman animal”(1114)

Dependent variable/operational definition

Adult aggressiveness, rated on a scale based on repeated/chronic aggressive speech, aggressive preparatory behaviors (carrying weapons), and aggressive actions


Most subjects (60%) reported at least one act of cruelty, many of which were “minor” by cultural standards, such as tearing the wings off bugs. Aggressive criminals were much more likely than moderately aggressive criminals, nonaggressive criminals, and noncriminals to have engaged in multiple animal cruelties and in more severe cruelties (e.g. blowing up and burning animals). A preliminary typology of motives for the acts of cruelty includes 9 reasons: (1) to control an animal; (2) to retaliate against an animal for something it did (e.g. scratched the child); (3) to satisfy a prejudice against a species or breed (e.g. killing all snakes, rats, bugs, cats available); (4) to express aggression through the animal (teaching the animal to be aggressive and attack other humans and animals); (5) to enhance one's own aggressiveness (to hone violent skills); (6) to shock people for amusement (“jokes”); (7) to retaliate against another person (by abusing her/his pet or leaving them a carcass); (8) displacement of hostility from a person to an animal (venting aggression against an easy target when the real target cannot be attacked); (9) nonspecific sadism (pleasure in or obsession with death and pain). It should be remembered, though, that animal abuse is usually multi-causal. Children who engaged in cruelty were more likely to be from painful family backgrounds, including domestic violence and alcoholic parents. This was true of all levels of criminals and noncriminals, suggesting that childhood abuse influences abuse of animals.

Sample/population sampled

Kellert & Felthous interviewed 152 subjects: 63 from Leavenworth penitentiary, Kansas; 89 from Danbury penitentiary, Connecticut; 15 noncriminal Kansas residents; 36 noncriminal Connecticut residents. Prisoners were chosen based on counselors' ratings of their aggressiveness so the study would include a range of aggressivity. There was a low response rate—at least half of the prisoners refused to participate. Cross-checking indicated that prisoners tended to underreport their animal cruelty.



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