Author Archives: mmccarrey

Dogs and their Human Companions

In class we discussed violence against domestic animals. The relationship between humans and animals is determined by how the animal is categorized (companion animal, laboratory animal, livestock, or warm-blooded animal). Companion animals, such as dogs and cats, have a special relationship with humans and the most legal protection of the categories. It seems that protection isn’t because the animals themselves deserve protection but rather because of the human interest in the animal. Dogs in particular have a strong bond with humans. Being a dog lover myself I decided to delve into the relationship between canines and people.

Over time dogs developed an ability to communicate with humans. ( A recent scientific study suggests that people might really be able to tell what a dog is feeling just by looking at his face. ( The research included a group of 50 volunteers who were broken into 2 groups based on their experience with dogs. Each volunteer viewed various photographs the same dog and were asked to identify the dog’s emotion. Volunteers were able to accurately identify when the dog was happy, sad, angry, surprised or scared just by seeing a picture of the dog’s face. This ability to recognize emotions in a dog indicates that people are naturally able to detect how animals are feeling.

Dog-expressions_2511743bImage from

The volunteers most easily identified happiness (88%). The second most identifiable emotion was anger which was recognized by 70% of the volunteers. The remaining emotions and corresponding percent of recognition are frightened 45%, sadness 37%, surprise 20%, and disgust 13%. ( Interestingly, the study showed that the volunteers who had minimal experience with dogs were better able to identify disgust and anger. The researchers think that the inexperienced volunteers could recognize the emotion of the dog because the ability to read a dog’s face comes naturally and isn’t a learned skill. It is unclear why this is the case but the researchers hypothesize that this ability might be due to the long shared history or common mammalian ancestry. Facial expressions of dogs are similar to human facial expressions. Overall the experienced volunteers could correctly identify the dog’s emotion 45% of the time and the inexperienced group was correct 38% of the time. (Bloom, T., Friedman, H., Classifying dogs’ (Canis familiaris) facial expressions from photographs. Behav. Process. (2013),

Examples of Canine Loyalty

Dogs are man’s best friend. They are loyal companions who grieve the loss of their friends too. Not too long ago my mom and I watched the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale starring Richard Gere. Neither of us can even talk about the movie without crying. The movie is based on the true story of a University of Tokyo professor and his furry companion Hachiko from the 1920s. Richard Gere plays a professor who takes the train to work everyday. One night coming home he comes across an Akita puppy all alone in the cold at the train station. He takes the dog home and they instantly bond. Every morning Hachi escorts the professor to the train station and every afternoon he meets the professor to walk him home. Spoiler Alert! Years later the professor takes the train to school but something horrible happens and he never returns. Hachi waited for his return. It never came. The professor’s family took Hachi home but they couldn’t keep him there. Hachi escaped to return to the train station to wait for his friend; he continued to wait until his death 9 years later. Hachiko

Hachiko image from

Recently another episode of canine loyalty surfaced in the media. In 2006, similar to Hachi’s devotion, German Shepherd Capitan ran away from home after his friend Miguel Guzman died suddenly and found his grave. The family found Capitan at the grave the following week. For the past 6 years every evening Capitan returns to the cemetery and spends the night on his best friend’s grave.


Capitan image from

A third loyal companion is Ciccio (or Tommy), a German Shepherd from Italy. Prior to her companion’s death,  each afternoon Ciccio would accompany her friend to mass. Ciccio attended the funeral and followed the procession of the coffin to the same local church where the 2 had attended mass.

Heart Broken DogCiccio image from

Abuse and Neglect

Many owners reciprocate this loyalty. There are many people who have dogs and lovingly care for them because the dog is a member of the family. People are so attached to their pets that Congress passed a law allowing pets to stay in shelters with their families during federal emergencies. (Animals as Vulnerable Subjects: Beyond Interest-Convergence, Hierarchy, and Property by Ani B. Satz 2009, 67, 83) Some people were killed during Hurricane Katrina when they refused to leave their homes without their animals. (Satz, 67, 83)

However, while dog is man’s best friend, people do not always hold up their end of the friendship. Many other dogs aren’t so lucky and suffer abuse and neglect at the hands of people whether it be through action or failure to act. Many animals are sentient beings meaning they have the capacity to suffer. (Satz, 73-77) Domestic animals are particularly vulnerable to exploitation because they are permanently dependent on human caregivers. (Satz, 81) At a minimum, domestic animals are dependent on their caregivers for food, water, and shelter and at the mercy of others.

There is so much neglect, that states have criminalized companion animal abuse and neglect. (Satz, 81) Companion animals are domesticated live as a pet such as dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, and horses. Some purposes of these laws include a desire to keep them from harm, protect the relationships people value with their pets, and the link between animal cruelty and violence against humans. (Satz, 67-73)

For example, Georgia defines cruelty to animals: “when he or she causes death or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering to any animal by an act or omission, or willful neglect.” Ga. Code Ann. § 16-12-4. The term animal does not include fish or pests and willful neglect is intentional withholding of food and water necessary to prevent starvation or dehydration. In Georgia, “a person commits the offense of aggravated cruelty to animals when he or she knowingly and maliciously causes death or serious physical harm to an animal by rendering a part of such animal’s body useless or by seriously disfiguring such animal.” Ga. Code Ann. § 16-12-4.

You’d think that because people can decipher a dog’s emotion by his or her facial expressions and how loyal dogs have proven to be to their human counterparts there would be less mistreatment of dogs. Unfortunately that doesn’t seem to be the case. If you are interested in volunteering and helping homeless dogs and cats in your community check out Georgia Homeless Pets and/or Homeless Pets Foundation I have volunteered with both organizations and they need all the help they can get!

Information provided by the cited materials above and the links listed below.

For the full text of the Ga. Code Ann. § 16-12-4 see


Social Causes of Violence


Image courtesy of

What causes an individual to engage in criminal and violent behavior?

This week my life has been impacted by violence: a mentor and friend of mine committed suicide by shooting himself; I observed juvenile court proceedings one day in which the docket started and ended with cases of kids bringing knives to school; and a friend told me how she was having difficulty because her two-year-old son was the “biter” in class in response to social stress. These three examples demonstrate a range of violence from a middle-aged man (self-directed) and two teenagers who possessed weapons at school and a two-year-old in daycare (directed at others).

Professor Robert Agnew outlines that sociologists have elaborated at least 3 different theories about why people engage in violence.

1. Strain Theory: While most individuals cope with strains in a legal way, strains (or stressors) increase the likelihood an individual will commit crime. Strains that are most likely to result in crime include harsh/excessive/unfair discipline; child abuse and neglect; negative school experiences; abusive peer relations; work in “bad” jobs; unemployment; marital problems; criminal victimization; discrimination; homelessness; or failure to achieve certain goals. Strains create negative emotions and one method of coping is violence. The self-directed violence by my friend may have been influenced by his failure to achieve certain goals (he thought his performance at work was not where it should be) and relationships in his personal life. One boy accused of bringing a knife to school brought it because he was afraid of being attacked by other kids on the way to school. The best way to reduce the negative impact of strains it to help equip individuals with traits and skills necessary to avoid strains and to avoid and to alleviate social and economic stress. Programs that might promote that goal include parental training programs and anti-bullying campaigns.

2. Social Learning Theory: suggests that an individual learns behavior (including criminal or violent behavior) by observation. People learn how to act from their environment. Elements of the social environment that impact behavior include its values, beliefs, nature and operation of the family, school, church, community, and peer groups. One way the environment impacts behavior is that certain behavior is rewarded and other behavior results in being punished. This theory utilizes concepts of there is what is called positive reinforcement and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement, in the context of violence, is when you engage in violence and something good happens. Negative reinforcement is where you engage in violence and something bad is removed. For example, when the child bit the other kid who was too close to him, biting made the child go away. Upon the bite, the bitten child gave him more space. Positive reinforcement would say that the biter problem, for example, can be addressed by giving the child candy when he comes home from day care if he hasn’t bitten anyone. Teaching values and belies that counter violence and crime may be beneficial.

3. Control Theory: asks the question “why do most of us not commit deviance?” Societal social control mechanisms in society dissuade people from being deviant. These relationships may be between individuals or the community at large. People’s relationships and values encourage them to follow the laws of their community. This theory explains why people do not always act on their deviant impulses. If you have strong social bonds connecting you to other people in the community you are less likely to commit crime. This bond makes someone more likely to conform to the laws and values of the community Someone with weak bonds to those in the community are more likely to commit crime. Community development programs, education improvements, and parental training programs can strengthen an individual’s bond with the community.

Professor Agnew explained that each theory has merit but serious violent offenses are often the result of a combination of factors. Given this conclusion, it seems that a combination of policies and programs suggested as solutions under each theory may be warranted.

Information conveyed in this post comes from lecture given by Professor Agnew to our class on February 11th at Emory, 2013 and the articles Control and Social Disorganization Theory by Robert Agnew published in The Routledge Handbook of Deviant Behavior; Strain Theories by Robert Agnew published in 21st Century Criminology A Reference Handbook Volume 1; Social Learning and Violent Behavior by Gary F. Jensen.


This week many topics were discussed in our Violence class. I have chosen to focus on Dr. Abigail Hankin’s lecture and specifically on child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, and elder abuse.

Child Abuse and Neglect
Child abuse is rampant. Approximately 2-3% of children suffer abuse or neglect every year which results 1000-2000 deaths. An estimated 80% of child abuse and neglect victims are under 4 years old and 40% of the victims are under 12 months old. Children who have behavior problems or special needs are more likely to be abused. Often the abuser is someone who is a caregiver to the child but not related by blood. Caregivers who have inappropriate expectations of the child, have a mental health history, and substance abuse are more likely to abuse a child. One way that these individuals become caregivers is dating the parent of the child. Child abuse includes physical abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological maltreatment. Physical abuse includes shaking, slapping, punching, beating, kicking, burning and biting. Neglect is when a caretaker does something or fails to do something that results in harm. Often neglect is a failure to meet basic needs of food, shelter, medical care and education.

Victims of child abuse are more likely to be involved in aggressive and violent behavior later in life. Child sexual abuse also has been linked to suicidal behavior. (Krug, 1084). Other consequences of child abuse and neglect include increased aggression with peers, difficulty forming friends, increased rates of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. (Krug, 1084).

Domestic Violence (aka Intimate Partner Abuse)
Domestic violence is very common. It is often cyclical with stages of tension building up, battering, and the honeymoon phase. The honeymoon phase typically involves the abuser apologizing and saying it will never happen again and how much he or she loves the victim. Then the tension builds again and the cycle repeats. For example, Kansas City Chief player Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend who was the mother of his three month old child before taking his own life. Other examples include the ongoing saga between Chris Brown and Rhiana, Madonna and Sean Penn, Tina Turner and Ike Turner, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown, Mariah Carey and Tommy Mottola, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee.

Individuals highest at risk of being a victim are women who are divorced, separated, or single, economically distressed, and pregnant women. Those highest at risk of being an abuser include people who have recently lost their jobs, abuse drugs, and are jealous or possessive. People often ask or don’t understand why the victim of domestic violence don’t pick up and leave the abuser. These victims might stay because they believe the abuser will change or didn’t mean to hurt them or out of love for the abuser. Fear also induces individuals to stay in an abusive relationship. Victims may not disclose the abuse out of fear, shame, or abuser threats.

Elder Abuse
Not all types of abuse are physical (or purely physical). While approximately 2-10% of elderly people are victims of abuse, 80% of elder abuse cases go unreported.

Examples of Elder Abuse
A Duluth woman lost her home and all her money when one of her sons stole close to $400,000. Investigators said her son gave himself power of attorney allowing him access to the funds.

A Dekalb woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison for exploiting elderly and disabled adults she was caring for. The elderly and disabled were housed in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. They did not get adequate food and medication.

Information from this post comes from a lecture given by Abigail Hankin on February 25, 2013 at Emory, articles linked within the post, class notes from my Child Welfare Law and Policy course, The World Report on Violence and Health by Etienne G. Krug, James A. Mercy, Linda L. Dahlberg, Anthony B. Zwi published in The Lancet Vol. 360, October 5, 2002. Evolution of the Dependency Component of the Juvenile Court by Marvin Ventrell (1998).

The Interrupters

Abigail Hankin mentioned the documentary The Interrupters which portrays those trying to stop youth violence on the streets of Chicago. Many of the Violence Interrupters are former violent offenders and gang members or leaders themselves. Below is a link to the full documentary.

This American Life

For another taste of youth violence in Chicago check out the This American Life episodes below. The radio crew spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago. Last year 29 current and recent students of Harper were shot. The show chronicles the lives of students and administrators surviving the gun violence. The story is told in two parts.