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Cruelty to animals refers to treatment which causes unacceptable suffering or harm to animals. The definition of "unacceptable suffering" varies. Some consider only suffering inflicted for sadistic reasons to be cruelty to animals, whereas others include the suffering inflicted for other reasons, such as producing fur or meat, or in the animal-testing and vivisection industries. Many people regard cruelty to animals as a major moral issue.
Psychological studies have shown that individuals willing to inflict harm on animals are more likely to do so to humans. One of the known warning signs of certain psychopathologies, including anti-social personality disorder, also known as psychopathic personality disorder, is a history of torturing pets and small animals, a behavior known as zoosadism. According to the New York Times, "[t]he FBI has found that a history of cruelty to animals is one of the traits that regularly appears in its computer records of serial rapists and murderers, and the standard diagnostic and treatment manual for psychiatric and emotional disorders lists cruelty to animals a diagnostic criterion for conduct disorders.  "A survey of psychiatric patients who had repeatedly tortured dogs and cats found all of them had high levels of aggression toward people as well, including one patient who had murdered a young boy." 
The animal welfare and animal rights movements represent two different responses to the issue. The animal welfare movement believes that the use of animals for human ends is justified in some instances, but is concerned with improving their treatment. Some in the animal rights movement, on the other hand, hold that we should stop making use of animals.
Laws against animal cruelty
Most jurisdictions in the USA have enacted statutes which forbid cruelty to animals; see Cruelty to Animals Acts in the United States. These statutes provide minimal requirements for care and treatment of animals, but do not require optimal treatment or mandate kindness or love. They require that animals be provided shelter, food, water and medical treatment and that animals not be tortured, or killed in an inhumane manner. Traditional or controversial practices such as treatment of rodeo and circus animals or medical research are usually excepted from the operation of the law.
In a few jurisdictions, notably, Massachusetts and New York, agents of humane societies and associations may be appointed as special officers to enforce statutes outlawing animal cruelty, see the Massachusetts statute and the New York statute. Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty by Arnold Arluke is an ethnographic study of these special humane law enforcement officers.
Most jurisdictions simply depend on law enforcement officers who may not be knowledgeable in the area or assign it a high priority. Spectacular stories about grave atrocities and animal hoarders are mainstays of local TV news reporting, but most offences concern lack of adequate shelter or food and similar mundane deficiencies in animal care.
In the United Kingdom, cruelty to animals is a criminal offence and one may be fined or jailed for it for up to five years. One notable case occurred when a group of students placed a hedgehog within a microwave in the late 1990s. Bestiality is also banned, and one may be prosecuted for running over a dog or a similarly sized animal, although not a cat.
In Japan animal cruelty laws historically were lax and seldom enforced. The 2002 Japan animal cruelty case lead to the first animal cruelty felony conviction in Japan. The case awakened a movement to strengthen animal cruelty laws.
In Mexico, animal cruelty laws are very lax or completely nonexistent; however, physical damage to animals can be punished as vandalism or property damage, while killing an animal in an intentional manner can be also punished as property destruction.
- Arnold Arluke, Brute Force: Animal Police and the Challenge of Cruelty, Purdue University Press (August 15, 2004), hardcover, 175 pages, ISBN 1557533504. An ethnographic study of humane law enforcement officers.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)
- Animal rights
- Animal welfare
- European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals
- Freedom for Animals
- Humane Society
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)
- Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA)
- Scottish Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
- World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA)