The so-called “Canadian cannibal porn star”, Luke Magnotta has finally been apprehended. His actions to date provide a classic case study of the reasons why society needs to make tackling animal cruelty a far higher priority. Magnotta began by torturing and killing animals, and now he’s doing the same to humans: if his attacks on animals had been dealt with effectively, he might never have become a murderer.

Cruelty to animals is important to many of us because of the simple fact that animals are sentient beings: to us, it’s a given that animals should not be allowed to suffer. Unfortunately, there are many in society who disagree: animals rank low on the scale of importance. If it came to a vote, it’s likely that “animal lovers” would be in a minority. As a result, calls for greater attention to animal welfare often go unheard: human concerns trump animal welfare issues.

This can be frustrating for those who are passionate about animal welfare, but rather than just moaning about it, perhaps we can use these facts to our best possible advantage, by seeking out reasons why the human race can benefit from improving animal welfare. The link between animal abuse and physical abuse of other humans in the same household is now well established: in a study of shelters for victims of domestic violence, more than 85 percent of those interviewed reported incidents of cruelty to animals. Nowadays, whenever vets see cases of “non-accidental injury” in pets, we know that there’s a serious risk that humans in the same household could be at risk of physical violence. In some parts of the world, vets are legally obliged to report such incidents to social services authorities.

The reason for this link is thought to be a phenomenon known as the “erosion of empathy”. Most humans feel some empathy towards animals: we have an innate sense that it’s wrong to cause them to suffer. The problem starts when individuals take that relatively small step of deliberately causing pain to an animal. Once this moral hurdle has been stepped over, it’s much easier to go on to cause pain to humans. Researchers believe that some people develop “impaired systems of empathy” which can lead to increasing levels of cruelty to both animals and humans.

Many serial killers start their murderous careers by killing animals: Jeffrey Dahmer impaled the heads of cats and dogs on sticks. The self-named Crossbow Cannibal from Bradford was reported to keep large lizards which he fed on live rodents.

And now there’s Luke Magnotta: six months ago, videos were circulated of a live kitten being fed to a snake. The Sun newspaper tracked down Magnotta as the likely culprit but could not definitively prove his involvement. Nonetheless, they informed London police of their concerns. Despite these events, Magnotta was not apprehended.

For the sake of humans, as well as for the animals themselves, isn’t it time that society started to take animal cruelty more seriously?