There was a little farm. They had a cow and pigs and stuff. We thought this
was crazy. Five or six of us went back there at night and we kept luring the
cow to the electrified fence to shock himself, and he’d shock himself and
then walk back. We kept on doing it and doing it because it was funny to us.
It was entertainment for the people who were there. Something different.
—Business major, male, twenty years old
TO THOSE WHO TREASURE ANIMALS and want to protect them, intentional cruelty and extreme neglect are inexplicable crimes that demand some explanation. Unfathomable events, such as these, are just too disturbing to be flippantly dismissed. They cannot happen without a bad reason. While almost everyone wants to know why abusers harm animals, including humane law enforcement agents and the human victims of animal abuse, the abusers’ explanations are understandably simple and disconnected from their own reality. Agents, for instance, write off most cruelty to “ignorance.” If they just knew better, they would not harm animals. More extreme cases are written off to “sickness.” “Look what they do to children? They cut up little babies and stuff them into garbage cans. You have to put it into perspective—it’s a sick mind. A sick individual. I don’t think you can rehabilitate these people. I feel that it starts out with animals and goes on to humans.”
Humane agents do not understand the abusers’ perspective, one that makes their acts intelligible, reasonable, and even enjoyable to them, in part because capturing this perspective humanizes the enemy and comes dangerously close to justifying or excusing bad behavior. As we see in this chapter, agents are not alone in this regard. Many people, including mental health professionals, whose attempts to understand animal abusers lapse into tired formulaic explanations, join them. Even more disappointing, they cannot answer why cruelty is so common— even a rite of passage for some adolescents. By trying to fathom the