Intentional Cruelty Versus Neglect: New Insights on Animal Cruelty Crimes and Implications for Policy

AuthorLynn A. Addington,Mary Lou Randour
Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Criminal Justice Policy Review
2022, Vol. 33(9) 966 –988
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/08874034221098918
Intentional Cruelty Versus
Neglect: New Insights on
Animal Cruelty Crimes and
Implications for Policy
Lynn A. Addington1* and Mary Lou Randour2*
Animal cruelty has received growing scholarly attention over the past few decades.
One ongoing challenge for researchers has been the lack of readily accessible data.
This situation changed in 2014 with the addition of animal cruelty offenses to the
Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program as part of its
National Incident-Based Reporting System. In addition to providing a much-needed
source of animal cruelty information, these data shed light on two distinct forms of
cruelty: intentional animal abuse and neglect. Previous research tended to group both
forms of cruelty together, which limited the ability of these findings to inform the
development of targeted prevention and intervention policies. The present study is
one of the first to examine the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s animal cruelty data
and to distinguish between neglect and intentional cruelty. The findings obtained are
discussed in terms of application to policy and guidance for future work.
animal cruelty prevention policy, intentional animal cruelty, animal neglect, animal
cruelty offenders, NIBRS animal cruelty data
Animal cruelty has received growing research attention over the past few decades.
This interest can be traced back to the 1970s where connections between animal cru-
elty and interpersonal violence began to be explored, especially in the psychiatric
1American University, Washington, DC, USA
2Animal Welfare Institute, Washington, DC, USA
*Authors are listed alphabetically but contributed equally to this study.
Corresponding Author:
Lynn A. Addington, Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, American University, 4400 Massachusetts
Ave NW, Washington, DC 20016-8016, USA.
1098918CJPXXX10.1177/08874034221098918Criminal Justice Policy ReviewAddington and Randour
Addington and Randour 967
literature (Felthous, 1979; Rigdon & Tapia, 1977; Tapia, 1971). By the 1980s, social
scientists and mental health experts identified animal cruelty as an important factor in
the development of anti-social and aggressive behavior and added “physical aggres-
sion toward people and animals” as a criterion for a diagnosis of conduct disorder to
the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., rev.; DSM-III-R;
American Psychiatric Association, 1987). Around the same time, Walker (1984) sug-
gested a link between pet abuse and domestic violence as batterers used companion
animals as a way to intimidate victims. These linkages prompted studies that focused
on various connections between animal abuse and family violence as well as other
forms of interpersonal violence (Ascione, 1998, 2001; Faver & Cavazos, 2007; Knight
et al., 2014; Merz-Perez et al., 2001; Walters, 2016).
In 2014, the evolving research on animal cruelty and its association with violence
against humans led the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to add animal cruelty
offenses to its collection of incident-based crime statistics in the Uniform Crime
Reporting (UCR) Program’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).
Inclusion of animal cruelty to NIBRS expands the opportunities to explore these
crimes as well as address some of the shortcomings in previous research on animal
cruelty and its association with criminal behavior.
Before the addition of these crimes to NIBRS, animal cruelty research was limited
due to a lack of available data. These limitations were highlighted in a recent critical
review of the literature on the link between animal cruelty and violence (Longobardi &
Badenes-Ribera, 2019). Of the 32 research articles included in the review, 28 relied on
non-probabilistic sources, such as convenience samples from prisons, schools, or clini-
cal settings. Moreover, the studies used often were limited to a single jurisdiction over
a short period of time due to the labor-intensive nature of original data collection.
While most previous research did not rely on official police or court data, a few
exceptions exist. These studies not only provide insights about animal cruelty offenses
that come to the attention of the criminal justice system, but they highlight the chal-
lenges for researchers to access these data prior to the changes in NIBRS. For exam-
ple, three studies that used police records were limited to data from a single city
(Arluke et al., 1999; Burchfield, 2018; Febres et al., 2014). Researchers also have
relied on conviction records (Gerbasi, 2004). Conviction record data, though, are sub-
ject to the filters of arrest and prosecution decisions.
The current state of the literature highlights the need for animal cruelty data that
can provide not only details about individual incidents but also permit comparisons
across jurisdictions and over years. Obtaining information at the early stages of the
criminal justice system process, specifically from police reports, allows for the broad-
est number of incidents to be captured when they first come to the attention of offi-
cials. The addition of animal cruelty to NIBRS creates an important resource that fills
this need. Given the relatively recent availability of these details, few articles could be
published analyzing these data prior to the present study.
This study provides an initial exploration of two recent years of NIBRS data and
helps improve the understanding of animal cruelty crimes with a focus on comparing
two subtypes: intentional cruelty and neglect. Research that distinguishes between

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