A four-year-old child has been referred to the newly-launched Scottish Animal Guardians programme after killing two kittens, it has emerged.
Details of cruelty by youngsters were revealed at Scotland’s first human-animal interaction conference by the Scottish SPCA and the University of Edinburgh.
A total of 25 children from the Edinburgh City Council area have been referred to the primary schools-based Scottish SPCA programme since it started in May.
Whilst the scheme only operates in the Edinburgh area, it is due to expand to Glasgow over coming months and then across Scotland.
Experienced animal welfare officers said they were shocked at the young age of some of those referred to the education project, which aims to break the cycle of cruelty and harm towards animals and people.
The charity says there is evidence of a link between intentional animal cruelty and human violence.
The Scottish SPCA said both could be predicted by low empathy levels and conduct disorder, but early intervention could change behaviour.
Professor Jo Williams, from the university’s clinical and health psychology department, said there could be a range of factors influencing the children’s behaviour.
“It is difficult to attribute intention, but some have experienced adverse childhood experiences, some have not been diagnosed or have developmental difficulties or perhaps the parents are influencing their behaviour,” she said.
“But we know that human wellbeing and animal welfare are totally connected.”
Prof Williams will evaluate the effectiveness of the three-year programme, which is supported by a number of agencies, including Edinburgh Women’s Aid, Police Scotland, Edinburgh City Council and the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration.
Keynote speaker, author and broadcaster Simon King, who launched the conference in Edinburgh, said: “People may have heard snippets of information about animal cruelty, but don’t realise how we are all interconnected and have responsibilities.
“They might watch a wildlife documentary filmed in East Africa, but be unaware of illegal puppy farming in their own locality.
“The key to breaking the link between cruelty to animals and humans is education and one-to-one mentoring, allowing people see how interconnected our actions really are.”