The killing and mutilation of six animals in Manitoba has one psychologist concerned about the possibility whoever is responsible could turn on people.
But another psychologist said while the person responsible needs to be stopped, the behaviour won't necessarily be transferred to humans.
"I'm worried about the community and what else might be going on," said Lorin Lindner, a clinical psychologist in California who specializes in treating animal abusers.
"This is a strong indication of something seriously gone awry. The type of person who normally does this is either seeking revenge or is intentionally inflicting cruelty because of a sadistic nature. These are extreme forms of sadism."
And there's "very little jump whatsoever" to go from abusing an animal in that fashion to hurting a human, she said.
"It's a very fine line."
On March 23, a dead goat with its hind legs bound and its ears cut off was found in a ditch off a gravel road not far from Brandon. Three days later, on the opposite side of the same road, a dead miniature pony with its ears cut off was found.
Since then, the remains of three coyotes and a raccoon have been found in the same condition, RCMP reported.
On the same weekend the pony was discovered, a family in southern Manitoba found their dog dead. It had been stabbed with a screwdriver, tied up and dragged down a road in Winkler.
"People who do that want to inflict cruelty because it actually makes them feel better," Lindner said about the deaths.
"But they don't feel any kind of empathy or compassion for others. This is a way of actually getting some kind of excitement or pleasure or even joy. It doesn't bode well for what else might happen."
However, Daniel Rothman, a forensic psychologist in Winnipeg, doesn't believe we should jump too quickly to the idea that people could be the next targets.
Sadly, animal cruelty is more common than we might realize and "most of the time, people engaged in violence towards animals do no escalate or go on to hurt people," he said.
"It's actually few and far between, the cases where that kind of thing happens."
In large-scale studies on the topic, one in three adults reported engaging in at least one act of animal cruelty over the course of their lifetime, Rothman said.
Violent offenders were surveyed at the same time and had the same one-in-three results.
"So that tells us that the behaviour's not that unusual, unfortunately, but also that it's not necessarily associated with subsequent violence towards people," Rothman said.
He and Lindner agree, though, that the person responsible must be found — and helped.
"This should be considered a criminal act with the person being punished as such so that they are recognized by the courts as having a problem, but there also needs to be some psychological help for this person," Lindner said.
"You want to be able to not release somebody until they're able to feel empathy. Otherwise this will just continue, with animals, with children, with spouses. It just goes on and on."
In treating someone, it is vital to identify the reason for the behaviour, such as a need for sensation, a need for immediate gratification or a deficit in empathy, Rothman said.
"You don't need to necessarily change the person's entire personality, but identify what needs they're trying to fill and target those."