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When Ashley Barnes was accused of stealing an acquaintance's prescription medication last month, police said, the 21-year-old charged into the woman's bedroom near Millsboro and crushed three of the woman's 2-week-old kittens with her hands.
One of the kittens died on the way to the veterinarian. The other two had to be euthanized there.
"It's an unconscionable and shocking act," said Dr. Carol A. Tavani, a board-certified neuropsychiatrist and executive director of Christiana Psychiatric Services, reacting to details in the court documents.
"If she was truly on something, maybe she was under the influence of some substance," Tavani said. "But even so, everybody under the influence of a substance does not become violent and even sadistic, which was the case here. Because if you look at it, this was in retribution for an accusation."
Barnes, who was visiting from Florida, was charged with three counts of felony animal cruelty last month and released on $1,000 unsecured bond, but failed to appear at an April 25 court hearing in Georgetown. Police are searching for her.
Tavani said the acts Barnes is charged with are worrisome.
"To go from simply being under the influence ... to actually act on a sadistic idea is very much darker than just being under the influence or even just being sort of a nasty person," she said. "This is a person who is maybe beyond very troubled."
Not everyone who harms animals, however, should be cast in this light.
People often associate acts of cruelty against animals as being driven by internal psychological factors, specifically the emotional history of the individual, said Michael Ferrari, a professor at the University of Delaware's Department of Human Development and Family Studies. But that's not always the case.
Anything from the person's relationship with his or her parents, a mental illness, a history of physical or psychological abuse can contribute to such acts.
"Or it can be an attempt to retaliate against another person or cover up some form of other concern from being discovered," said Ferrari, who also is a clinical psychologist. "For example, the person might be otherwise being abused, perhaps even being sexually abused, and this act calls attention to something other than that behavior." read more