Sometimes it's hard for kids to find the courage to report a bully. What if telling an adult makes the bully angry? What if people call you a snitch or tattletale?
But consider the plight of PBJ, who animal-welfare officials said was viciously attacked by bullies.
The young adult tabby cat didn't have a way to ask for help or tell humans at the York County SPCA who mutilated her.
PBJ was taken to the Emigsville shelter as a stray in early spring, according to executive director Melissa Smith.
"When she came to us, her ears had just been freshly severed
and her tail had been broken," Smith said. A portion of her tail had to be amputated.
At least two people were needed to inflict the wounds, according to Smith, one to hold down the cat and the other to wield a sharp object. They were never caught.
Office cat: "I'm so sorry for what she went through," Smith said. "But it brought her here, and we are so grateful for that."
PBJ isn't in need of a new home. She's one of the shelter's resident cats and is showered daily with affection from staff members and volunteers, Smith said.
She has free run of the shelter's administrative wing and seems very content, Smith said. It doesn't seem to bother her that she doesn't look like other cats.
"PBJ is the sweetest thing," Smith said. "She's just a little angel in a fur suit."
Ambassador: Now the earless cat is wearing a brand-new hat -- that of anti-bullying ambassador.
Her first assignments will be Oct. 18 at Pleasant View and Mazie C. Gable elementary schools in the Red Lion Area School District.
The York County SPCA has teamed up with the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center for the center's "True Colors: You Make a Difference" program, specifically for students in third, fourth and fifth grades.
The program introduces kids to the concept of personality differences and the idea that "everyone is different, everyone has unique talents, and that's a good thing," said Jamie Reisinger, the center's assistant director of education.
Kids will be taught, in part, how to identify bullying behaviors, then will break up into smaller groups and rotate to "stations" where they can focus on teamwork, he said.
Teaching compassion: Smith and PBJ will be at one of the stations, talking about the link between bullying and animal cruelty, Reisinger said.
"We want to teach compassion toward one another through compassion for animals," Smith said. "The victims of bullying -- who are they? They are the smaller, the weaker. And we're hoping to make that connection with kids.
"Maybe some kids might relate to her story and think twice about being mean to each other," she said. "That's the goal."
Smith said studies have shown people who abuse animals often move on to harming or bullying humans.
Social media: According to Reisinger, bullying seems to be more severe, and social media and cell phones have exacerbated the problem.
"You could destroy someone's reputation in a matter of minutes," he said. "Schools, as a result, have to be more proactive and have, in fact, been more proactive in recent years ... (in delivering an) anti-bullying message."
Anne Bahn, the center's president and CEO, said the health center also offers anti-bullying programs for children of various age groups, as well as for parents. Some of them are gender-specific, she said.
For more information on anti-bullying programs, or any of the 90 programs offered by the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center, call 848-3064 or visit www.byrneshec.org.
Links to animal cruelty
A 2005 study found links between bullying and animal cruelty, including:
* Both bullying and animal abuse indicate a lack of empathy toward other living things.
* Males who mistreat animals are more likely than non-abusers to engage in school bullying.
* The more an individual engages in animal abuse, the more likely he or she is to be involved in bullying behaviors and/or victimization.
* Committing violence against animals desensitizes abusers to the effects of violence and reinforces the idea that violence is an effective means of social control.
* Children who participate in school bullying are twice as likely to commit some form of animal abuse than their non-bullying peers.
* Some victims of bullying may become animal abusers because they have learned violence and intimidation are appropriate and effective means of social interaction and control.
Source: "Bullying and Animal Abuse: Is there a Connection?" by Bill C. Henry and Cheryl E. Sanders of Metropolitan State College of Denver
-- Staff writer Liz Evans Scolforo can also be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.