From a friend.....
Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: ending the cycle of cruelty
Did you know that children exposed to dog fighting are more likely to grow up to be violent adults? Did you know that children exposed to cruelty to animals are more likely to be cruel to other people? Did you know that men who abuse animals are very likely to abuse women and children?
The concept of animal welfare, particularly in a country, which is struggling to find resources to deal with child welfare, can be controversial, but it shouldnít be. It goes without saying that Belize has an excellent history in terms of legislating to protect the flora and fauna of the country. Unfortunately, many people are not aware that there is a Belizean law called the Cruelty to Animals Act. This law makes it an offence to fight dogs or harm other animals through neglect or intentional cruelty. The law makers of Belize, as in most countries in the world where cruelty to animals is a crime, understood that morality just does not extend to our own species, but to every species that can feel pain or suffer. They recognised the cycle - where violence begets violence.
Some would justify animal cruelty by claiming that all animals were put here by God for us to use and abuse as we see fit, but the Church does not agree. Pope John Paul II declared in a public audience in 1990 that 'also the animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren'. Those familiar with religious history will be well aware of the works of St. Francis of Assisi, who is one of the most beloved saints of all and is the patron saint for animals, birds and the environment. He probably would have loved Belize and used it as an example to promote his deep belief that it is the duty of men to protect and enjoy nature as both the stewards of God's creation and as creatures ourselves.
So why are people cruel to animals? What makes some people disregard the pain and suffering felt by the non human creatures we share our planet with? Sadly, many children are desensitised to violence in the home. Because animals are at the bottom of the pecking order, they usually suffer the worst abuse and children become accustomed to this. When children are abused by a parent, they will often act out or take out their frustration on someone, or something weaker than they are. Sometimes the cruelty we see inflicted upon animals by children is direct mimicry of what they are experiencing at home and sadly this often involves sexual abuse.
Where dog fighting is concerned, there is a very macho element. It stems from insecurity. Some men believe that by fighting a dog, they are somehow increasing their status and demonstrating their masculinity. What they donít realize is that women naturally seek fathers for their children who will be kind, nurturing and good providers. Real men fight their own battles. Frighteningly, dog fighting has even more serious implications. Dog fighting has roots deeply entrenched in the gang and drug culture. Where you find dog fighting, you are likely to find guns, drugs and criminally violent people.
In other words, cruelty to animals is a symptom. It is a symptom of a lack of kindness, a lack of empathy and a lack of thoughtfulness. It implies lawlessness and it advocates the power of the strong over the weak and vulnerable.
Belizeans are often described by visitors as kind and welcoming people and they truly are. They love their children and their families mean more to them than anything in the world. But somehow, somewhere down the line, people have forgotten that both domestic animals and the fragile ecosystem in Belize are entirely dependent upon our care taking.
In the case of domestic animals, many donít even consider their basic needs. Throughout San Pedro it is easy to see animals neglected, without access to fresh water, or shade Ė the very basics. Not to mention that many do not worm their dogs regularly or keep them vaccinated against rabies, putting us all at risk. It is not uncommon to see people flagrantly breaking the law by keeping native Belizean birds and wild animals as pets, sometimes in the most appalling of conditions.
How does this reflect upon Belize? What do the visitors to Belize think, when they see children treating wildlife like a toy, acting as if they had never been taught anything about dignity or respect for the environment? What do visitors think when they see the lawless and dangerous activities of dog fighting or crocodile feeding practiced openly and with impunity?
How frustrated do you get when your garbage is spread around the street night after night by dogs owned by irresponsible owners who donít care for or take responsibility for the animals they choose to keep? How do you feel knowing that your child may be bitten by a loose dog on his or her way to school? What do you think will happen when all the green iguanas and parrots disappear from Belize because of illegal poaching and pet keeping? What sort of Belize are we leaving for the next generation?
Belize is a beautiful country with beautiful, proud and kind people. If we allow ourselves and our children to continue witnessing violence committed against the weak, animals that are entirely dependent on us, we canít complain when the next generation have no empathy and believe that violence and child abuse are acceptable.
Animal cruelty and neglect can be indicators of very serious problems. It is important to be aware of this; the police need to be aware of this, educators need to be aware of this and the government needs to be aware of this. When you see animal cruelty in your community whether it is dog fighting, children tormenting animals, animal owners not providing fresh water and shade or allowing animals to continue breeding uncontrollably, be aware. Other things are probably going on in those homes and they probably arenít good things. If you have dogs being kept in your neighbourhood that are being used for fighting, donít ever believe that they will not attack humans. Violence begets violence, even for animals.
So, you may not really like animals and you donít care about causing pain and suffering Ė but remember - the law is the law and the Belize law says it is an offence to be cruel to animals, to not provide them with their basic needs or to hurt them intentionally.
One of the greatest spiritual leaders this world has ever known was Mahatma Gandhi. He once said ďOne can measure the greatness and the moral progress of a nation by looking at how it treats its animalsĒ. Belize is great and should remain great by making sure that the most vulnerable and dependent living creatures are treated with respect and dignity. Starting with the simple things can often have a remarkable effect and inspire young people to look forward to a more peaceful and brighter future. Nothing could be simpler than teaching kindness and compassion by example. Violence may beget violence but as with all things there is a balance: kindness also begets kindness.