There are often stories in the press about people, including youngsters, abusing animals.

I read recently about the prosecution of a 16-year-old boy who horrendously abused a kitten.

Gratuitous cruelty towards animals is only the tip of the iceberg; these crimes are more prevalent than people may realise.

They are committed by children and adults. As a volunteer involved in wildlife rescue, I regularly find animals with air rifle and stoning injuries. One alarming incident saw me challenge a man who was teaching his young son to fire a catapult at seagulls floating under the Palace Pier with the obvious intent of hitting one.

I am not suggesting everyone who abuses animals is going to become a serial killer or rapist, but research shows animal abuse is not an isolated form of violence.

Rather, it indicates a violent nature. Those who engage in it are likely to harm people as well.

It has been suggested that abusing an animal is a way for a human to find power, joy and fulfilment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend itself.

This is a precursor to the abuse of vulnerable humans such as children, the elderly and the disabled. Statistics show that in 80% of all child abuse cases, there is also a history of animal abuse.

The NSPCC has produced a leaflet for professionals on the links between abuse of animals, children and domestic violence, so it would seem it takes this possible link very seriously.

Acts of animal cruelty are a warning sign, not of the inevitable but of the possible.

By reporting or responding to any incident committed by a child or an adult you may help to prevent the present and future suffering of both animals and humans.

Certain animals are often demonised and vilified, particularly herring gulls, pigeons and foxes.

This can be seen by those with a predisposition to cruelty as an incitement, a green-light condoning their actions.

As far as I’m concerned, this is as bad as throwing the stone or firing the gun. Animal abuse knows no social boundaries – it could be committed by the person living next to you or by the child sat next to yours at school.

In my work with wildlife, I have met some amazing children who have found an injured creature, called for help and shown great compassion and respect.

If society teaches children that the suffering of animals does matter, with adults as role models, this world would be a better place.

Shirley Waite, Lorna Road, Hove