How do you fix someone who likes to hurt puppies?

Lorin Lindner is a psychologist based in California who specializes in treating people who abuse animals for pleasure and she spoke with CBC's Information Radio.

U.S. psychologist says people who abuse animals need to be taught empathy

What do we do about people who like to hurt animals?

That's a question being raised after a video posted on Facebook showing a man cruelly tossing a puppy in the air and onto pavement led to animal cruelty charges.  viral video of the man in Easterville, Man., who cruelly tossed a puppy in the air, causing it to be injured when it hit the pavement.

RCMP charged an 18-year-old from the central Manitoba community of Easterville, Man., with animal cruelty.

The puppy is now in the hands of a rescue group, who have named it Asha, and is on the mend.

But the incident raises questions about how concerned we need to be about people who take pleasure in hurting animals?

Lorin Lindner, a psychologist based in California who specializes in treating people who abuse animals for pleasure, spoke with CBC's Information Radio.

Below is an edited version of the interview.

What is wrong with a person who does things like this?

Anybody who engages in cruelty against an innocent being obviously has some issues regarding power, control and anger and very often those things are learned.People usually are not born hating little puppies.

Children are very, very amenable to being close to animals. They want to hold them and stroke them, and sometimes they have to be taught how to do that gently. And then once they have developed that kind of compassion from an empathic caregiver — a parent who says, 'Oh, that hurts the puppy, here is how you touch the puppy, here's how you pet the puppy' — then the child learns that that's what the puppy likes and that's the appropriate manner in which to do it. 

It's one of the basic ways we learn compassion and empathy, is by interacting with animals. Something very bad went wrong here in this young man's development.

We have to take it back to where there is empathy and grow it from there. And I hate to say this, but some people just aren't going to get there.- Lorin Lindner

To what extent as a society should we take notice when someone is doing something like this?

I personally believe — and it's been supported by the research literature — that taking this seriously is incredibly important for our society to do. Neglecting these kinds of behaviours very often creates a spiraling of the violence and aggression. So one of the things we talk about in psychology is the link between animal cruelty, child abuse, spousal abuse and elder abuse.

It doesn't end with the animal. This is usually only the beginning. This is usually the practice stage for aggression and hostility. Taking it out on innocent creatures is easy. That's where you start developing the pleasure, if you're that inclined towards aggression in that manner. And the spiraling effect becomes beating your wife and kids, taking poor care of your elderly parents. 

Can you tell me a little bit more about the clinical view of people who do these kinds of things?

This is an example of what we call conduct disorder. The FBI recognizes this as a symptom of possible aggression that can spread to humans. Very early on a young child will start doing cruel acts to animals. And when we see that, we have to notice.

We have to notice that this is an expression — possibly even a cry for help — because the child probably was also being abused. So in conduct disorder, you start seeing the kinds of animal cruelty that goes beyond just natural curiosity for kids who unfortunately might tear wings off a butterfly or something to see what happens. But it goes way beyond that. The basis of it is that the child gets a sense of pleasure from it, and that's a very dangerous place to be coming from because the pleasure doesn't end usually with animals.

Once a child has conduct disorder, if it's not intervened with, it will develop into an anti-social personality disorder after the age of 18.

I understand that you treat people who treat animals poorly. Can you tell me about how you treat someone who's engaging in animal cruelty?

It's about a 10-week treatment program. It helps individuals to develop a sense of empathy, a sense of standing in the animal's feet; in other words, being able to stand in their paws.

How do you teach them empathy?

We absolutely never use animals directly in the treatment because if someone is getting gratification from hurting animals, we would never want to expose an animal to this person. But in the beginning, you use vignettes where you describe an incident.

First of all, we let them describe the incident of cruelty that they engaged in. And if there were many incidents, then we might take one of those and help them see from the animal's point of view what that was like for the animal — what that animal experienced, what fear they experienced, what pain they experienced.

We may have to take a step back; see where their empathy starts. Do they have empathy for humans at all? What are they feeling in terms of different scenarios that we present when we talk about a kid who's made fun of in school? Do they have any empathy for that? We have to take it back to where there is empathy and grow it from there.

I hate to say this, but some people just aren't going to get there. And those people need a stronger sentence and they need to be locked away for longer and these types of crimes must be made felonies and must be enforced with the strictest sentencing possible.