A new study conducted at Massey University in New Zealand shows that animal cruelty is rampant among teenagers. Masters student Rochelle Connell did a survey of  133 teenagers for her thesis on finding the links between animal abuse, empathy and aggression.

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Connell found that more than half the teenagers in her study had committed acts of animal cruelty. When just a sampling of boys was taken, that figure rose to 75%. Connell’s study was an examination of the conclusions from recent research in the United States that found cruelty to animals by children and adolescents is a form of rehearsal for human-directed aggression. Connell’s research findings supported the results from overseas.

About 10 per cent of males in Connell’s study admitted to feeding animals drugs or alcohol, burning them, poisoning them or dropping them off of something. One third of the boys reported throwing stones at animals, and a third admitted beating or kicking them. 8 percent said they had drowned or strangled animals.

Although most of the respondents attributed their actions to hunting, fishing or punishment, 14 per cent said it was “enjoyment”.

Connell’s survey included a “free response” section where teens could write in their experiences. The responses were chilling.

One 16-year-old boy said he shot a sheep with a BB gun because it “rammed his leg” and a 17-year-old said he had put his pet cat in the freezer for several hours and reported “I felt really good.”

Connell said there were few responses that indicated severe abuse, but that was contradicted by the other part of the survey, where significant percentages admitted to types of cruelty.

Most attributed it to hunting or fishing or punishment, but 14 per cent said it was “enjoyment.”

Hans Kriek, director of New Zealand animal advocacy group Save Animals From Exploitation, said the figures were “pretty disturbing”.

Numerous studies have shown a correlation between animal abuse and other violent crimes.

A study of 9 school shootings in the United States between 1996 and 1999 (Verlinden) reported that 45 percent of the perpetrators had histories of alleged animal abuse, including the shooters at Columbine.

The ASPCA says that one of the most powerful tools we have for preventing cruelty to animals is education, and that adults should model appropriate behaviors for youngsters. It is important to teach children kindness early, and to reinforce it as the child grows. By instilling a strong sense of what is wrong and right, adults can help children and teens overcome peer pressure and stand up against animal cruelty.

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