In my peer counseling practice, I have so far had two animal killers. One was a 16 year old boy in Germany. He came to me about violent thoughts but he didn’t and couldn’t pay. Nonetheless he was so profoundly disturbed (killing puppies) that I felt that he needed an immediate intervention so I simply worked with him for free. Also I sometimes work with teenagers for free as they can never pay.
This boy had rescued a dog and made a pet out of it. It was a female and soon enough it had puppies. The boy then strangled all of the puppies one by one.
I was very alarmed by this, but I had to tread very carefully. I did not get angry at him for killing the puppies, nor did I act shocked. My attitude was just, “Ok, so you killed some puppies.” I told him that killing puppies was wrong, and he should not have done that. This prompted a weepy apology session where he tried to defend himself by saying it wasn’t his fault. I accepted his apology and didn’t bother him about killing the puppies.
However, I did say that I wanted this puppy-killing to stop, and I didn’t want to hear about him killing any more puppies. I was emphatic about this. He readily agreed.
A lot of clinicians will freak out and get very angry at a client who is killing mammals, but I think that is the wrong approach. The client is just going to get his back up at best, and he may well get up and walk out of the room at worst.
Even if you are shocked and horrified by the mammal-killing, it is important to not show your feelings. You can raise your eyebrows, suck in your breath, say, “Wow”, things like that, but don’t get mad at them. However, you need to throw down a hard limit of no more mammal-killing at least while the client is talking to you.
Not all mammal-killers are bad human beings. A lot of them are but not all of them. Some of them are good people who are simply ill. Also it’s just a lower mammal. Killing a dog or a cat, as much as we love them, is simply not the same as killing a human, sorry.
I finally figured out that he was probably hallucinating voices although he denied that he was, as he called them thoughts and not voices. But you can tell through careful questioning and listening carefully to their answers whether you are dealing with thoughts or hallucinations. Sometimes what people describe as “thoughts” are actually auditory hallucinations. He was getting command hallucinations telling him to kill the puppies, and he was acting on them.
He also had some other problems. His mother was dead. At age 13, his mother had taken him and herself to the railroad tracks in order to get hit by a train and commit dual suicide. At the last minute the boy ran away from the train. The mother stayed on the tracks and was killed. That’s a pretty traumatizing experience!
He had a flat attitude about him where he was always saying, “I don’t care.” It seemed a bit odd how he seemed to not care about so many things.
He kept to himself at school and drew pictures a lot. For some reason his behavior was odd enough that his schoolmates bullied him. They often hit him. He would fight back vigorously, so he was getting into fights all the time. I didn’t think this was pathological, as he was just defending himself.
After he killed the puppies he felt so guilty that he put his hands in boiling water for a long time to punish himself. This had caused some injuries to his hands.
He also didn’t get along with his father at all for whatever reason.
He was extremely confused sexually and most of his early sexual experiences from 13-on had been with other boys. But now he had a girlfriend with whom he was having regular sex, and he said he had discovered that he liked sex with women just fine. I figured he was probably straight or at least not gay. He was one of the most sexually confused people I have ever dealt with.
He also told me that he had killed a pet rabbit when he was five years old. After a bit I figured out that this was in response to a command hallucination also.
I relayed the case to a former therapist, a clinical psychologist, and he told me that mammal killers are often either psychopaths or psychotic. He also suggested that this boy may be on the track to develop Borderline Personality Disorder. He was a Pre-Borderline if you will.
We have to say this because we cannot diagnose personality disorders in people under 18 because personality often changes quite a bit, especially in adolescence. In particular, a lot of adolescents appear psychopathic but then they age out of it as they become adults. A lot of juvenile delinquents are actually just “temporary” criminals.
The BPD did fit with the self-harm (Borderline men, like Borderline women, often self-harm), the constant fighting (Borderline men often pick fights a lot), the identity confusion, and the sexual confusion.
Borderline men are bad. They’re much worse than Borderline women.
I told him it was absolutely imperative that he get to a psychiatrist and find out what was going on with his head. His father convinced him to go to a psychiatrist, and he was diagnosed with schizophrenia as I suspected.
He had a rather apathetic and “so what?” attitude about that too.
People can be apathetic for various reasons. I had an OCD man who wrote to me once with a 10 page long history of his illness. He was from India.
He worried about every stupid thing under the sun, but he also kept saying, “I don’t care” through the paper. In this case, obviously he did care and in fact, he cared way too much. So the constant “I don’t care” was probably a defense against his over-caring and the illness that developed out of it. It was a thought compulsion to counteract the excessive caring that was causing the obsessions.
However, in this case, the apathy made sense to me after his diagnosis because schizophrenics often seem apathetic, and one of the symptoms of the illness is flat emotions.
So you see not all mammal-killers are psychopaths. There can be other things going on too.
However, I must say that this boy was one of the most seriously disturbed clients I have ever had.