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Ethical Treatment of Animals (July 2015): Social Sciences and "The Link"

By Walter Hogan and Eric Owen

Social Sciences and "The Link"

A number of social scientists have observed that, although human mistreatment of animals occurs wherever the species interact, academic and professional concern is centered on domestic abuse such as violence toward pets.  A pair of edited essay collections on all aspects of animal abuse displays this preponderance of domestic studies.  The International Handbook of Animal Abuse and Cruelty: Theory, Research, and Application, edited by Frank Ascione, presents a collection of international and interdisciplinary essays, most focused on abuse in the home.  Similarly, The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence, edited by the prolific Andrew Linzey, while including a section on the mistreatment of wild animals, is also tilted toward domestic situations.  Both collections include law enforcement and veterinary perspectives.  Ascione’s Children and Animals: Exploring the Roots of Kindness and Cruelty focuses on children’s mistreatment of animals, which sometimes echoes other abusive behaviors within the home.  As Ascione indicates, a consensus seems to be developing about “the link” between animal maltreatment and domestic violence.  While many persons who behave cruelly toward animals never come to the attention of authorities as perpetrators of violence against humans, this book suggests that in an abusive household containing companion animals, investigators would do well to look for both human and animal victims.  However, some experts are skeptical of “the link,” believing that animal protection advocates may have a vested interest in linking their cause to the abuse of humans, which is taken more seriously and gets more funding.

In her textbook Animals and Sociology, Kay Peggs describes the “zoological connection” between people and animals, and lays out a strategy for incorporating animals within the discipline of sociology.  Along the same lines, Thomas Ryan’s Animals and Social Work builds a foundation for “a morally inclusive social work” incorporating a regard for animals within the practice.  An alternate sociological perspective is provided by Erika Cudworth’s Social Lives with Other Animals: Tales of Sex, Death and Love.  Cudworth focuses on relationships of power and domination, illuminating people’s treatment of animals by comparison with human hierarchies of power.  Cudworth explores the extent to which humans’ relationships with companion animals, which seem to strongly contrast with their treatment of other species as food, are nevertheless another type of domination.  This paradoxical treatment of some mammal species as pampered pets and other similar species as food is the subject of Hal Herzog’s Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It’s So Hard to Think Straight about Animals.  Siobhan O’Sullivan’s Animals, Equality and Democracy explores the unequal legal treatment of animals, which sometimes involves the same species, as when hens in petting zoos are afforded much greater protection than broiler hens raised for meat.

Works Cited