Rage is one of the emotions that people feel when their companion animal is abused. The rage is often compounded by frustration at the failure to achieve justice and retribution. It is rage followed by frustration leading to more anger.
In a previous post the topic was guilt emanating from the abuse of the companion animal. In that post I referred to “intimate cases” and “remote cases”. Intimate cases of animal abuse occur when the abuser is intimate with the animal owner. In remote cases the person may be known to the companion animal’s owner. So for example the abuser could be a neighbour or somebody living nearby.
Unsurprisingly, intense anger is commonly observed in the animal’s owner. She/he feels helpless and out of control. In most remote cases the owner has strong impulses to confront the abuser directly and immediately with the intention of trying to find out what happened, to punish the abuser and to prevent the abuse happening again. Regrettably, in a study, it was found that most often the efforts of the cat/dog’s owner to achieve the above goals failed.
There are several reasons for this. When the owner confronted the alleged abuser, typically he/she denied harming the companion animal. They might also blame the animal for what happened. If a child is the alleged abuser then both the child and his parents deny and deny again.
Sometimes it is clear who the abuser is. It is an open and shut case. Even under these circumstances the abuser will often deny that he did it. In one case an owner said that he ran to his front door after he heard his cat screaming. He saw a man behind a bush. Moments later he saw his cat motionless on the sidewalk in front of the man and his dog. When he confronted the man he said that the cat had bothered his dog. He said that in response the dog bit the cat and killed him.
However, the cat’s owner noted on inspection (with a vet’s assistance) that the cat had three broken legs and internal injuries but no bite wounds or puncture marks. The man having been charged with beating the cat it went to court. The case was dismissed by the judge.
In intimate cases where, for example, the partner of the cat owner is the abuser, the owner often confronted her partner during the abuse. The reaction was instant and not afterwards.
Quite naturally, the cat/dog owner felt rage partly because they felt helpless to stop the abuse. However, if the abuser abused the person (the animal’s owner) she would not normally confront her partner. As one participant in the study said:
“If I saw him abusing the dog I would fight for the dog, whereas I wouldn’t for myself, oddly enough.”
In intimate cases there is often the common problem of codependency in which the cat/dog owner confronts her partner, the animal abuser. He denies the abuse. He is forgiven whereupon the same thing happens again at a later date.
This behaviour reflects what commonly happens in domestic violence cases. Companion animal’s owners often feel trapped in a long-term relationship with an abusive partner. The companion animal owner blames and then forgives the abuser whereupon the abuser abuses again.
Interestingly, the rage felt is compounded by frustration when the police are contacted. However, owners in intimate cases rarely sought police involvement. This is because there is a high level of disappointment with the police in dealing animal abuse cases. This is consistent with an Humane Society of the United States survey in 1996 in which it was found that 58% of those who personally witnessed animal abuse never reported it to the authorities.
Animal owners in remote cases often reported the matter to the police but were left disappointed. There was a lack of interest in pursuing cases. Sometimes the police even joked or made inappropriate comments which made the owners feel that the police were not taking the matter seriously and undermining their case. As one participant said:
“We called the police right away, but they didn’t seem to do much. I think as far as they were concerned, that was the end of it because it was a dog and not a human.”
There appears to be something of an overlap here with rape cases. It is no surprise to many people that rape victims take a similar stance. They are reluctant to report the matter to the police and in the past their complaints have not been taken seriously enough.
Cat/dog owners who made a complaint to the police and who were treated badly were hesitant to go to the police again should they encounter future cases of animal abuse.
Owners were more satisfied with an official investigation when they called the law enforcement department of the local animal protection society. They normally did this after their failed experience with the police.
More frustration and anger ensues when the matter goes to court should the police have taken it seriously. Almost all the participants in the study experienced additional frustration in court because the alleged abusers were found not guilty or if found guilty they were treated leniently.
One owner remarked angrily:
“So my cat was killed and he [abuser] gets six months probation and a $36 fine. I was appalled. I felt everything should have been more severe. This sentencing stinks.”
Another participant remarked:
“All he got was probation. I really don’t think he was punished enough. I wasn’t happy with that at all.”
Most of the owners wanted the abuser to change their attitude towards animals. They wanted the person to suffer so that he would learn that animals have feelings and that it wasn’t okay to do what he did. The owner wanted the abuser to understand what he had done and how the animal had suffered. We know that a lot of abusers simply do not get this. Some actually enjoy hurting animals indicating a complete lack of empathy or sensitivity.
More rage and frustration occurred when the abuser is found not guilty. As one owner said:
“I think whenever somebody gets away with something and you’re the victim, it’s kind of a shock that something like that can happen to you. And of course you can’t fix it, but nothing else happens. It’s just dropped and it’s upsetting. When it hits you of course it’s upsetting.”
The overriding impression that I took from read the results of the study is that it is very hard for an owner to obtain justice in matters of animal abuse primarily because the justice system and law enforcement fails them. This compounds the anger experienced.