Philosophy of AR > Animals and Abuse Linked
By Catriona MacLennan

Reciprocal reporting of child abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty is required in New Zealand if this country is serious about tackling its shocking record of abuse of animals, children and women.

An umbrella group comprising representatives from Child, Youth and Family Services, the SPCA, Plunket, the New Zealand Police, Women's Refuge, local councils, the New Zealand Veterirnary Association and Animal Management has been set up in Auckland to explore how the organisations can co-operate. ARLAN also has a representative on this group. The move follows more than 25 years of research in the United States which has established strong correlations between youthful abuse of animals and adult violence.

The American research resulted in the creation of the First Strike programme, which involves co-operation and reciprocal reporting between child protection, domestic violence and animal welfare groups in the United States. Psychologist and United States Human Society vice president Randall Lockwood visited New Zealand in 2001 to outline the programme and speak about the research, He said that American social scientists had conducted multiple studies over the past 20 years demonstrating strong connections between animal cruelty and family violence.

"We now know that these acts begin in elementary school, if not pre-school. Cruelty to animals, if it is there as a symptom of later conduct disorder, is usually there by the age of 6 or 7. It is the earliest indicator. The biggest flaw in our criminal justice system today is its inattention to supposedly minor crime. We are now beginning to realise how often there is a connection between domestic violence and animal cruelty."

A 1997 Massachusetts study of 268 animal abuse cases found that 97 per cent of the animal abusers were male, and that those charged with animal cruelty were five-and-a-half times more likely to have been arrested for other violence offences. A 2001 study of Florida State Penitentiary inmates revealed that 56 per cent of the violent offenders had a history of animal abuse, compared with only 20 per cent of non-violent offenders.

In 1995, researchers interviewed a small sample of domestic violence victims in Utah and found that 71 per cent of those with pets reported that an animal has been threatened, harmed or killed by the abuser. In 57 per cent of the cases, the pet was killed. A similar study that year of domestic violence victims at 12 shelters in Utah found that 80 per cent of those with pets reported violence to the animals.


The outcome of the research has been rapidly-expanding programmes of collaboration between child, domestic violence and animal groups in the United States. More than 100 programmes have been set up involving co-operation between women's refuges and animal shelters.

In California, humane officers were added to the list of mandated reporters of suspected child abuse in 1996. They are now trained to recognise the symptoms of child abuse, and educated about reporting it. In Colorado, vets are required to report suspected child abuse. Meetings between animals shelters, police and child protection agencies began in San Diego in 1997 and have spread to other parts of America.

Dr Lockwood carries out training sessions for vets and other animal workers in respect of child abuse, such as a session he conducted for 250 Ontario SPCA inspectors. Suspicious animal injuries are increasingly being regarded as pointers towards family violence and child abuse.

There is much New Zealand should be learning both from the American research and from the programmes being set up in the United States. The American First Strike campaign is also operating in Scotland, and New Zealand has now been authorized to develop its version to encourage co-operation between different agencies. ARLAN has been involved in early meetings to see how it can help coordinate efforts in the legal community.

CYFS and the SPCA are working on a protocol for co-operation and reciprocal reporting of abuse. Moves are also underway to provide temporary shelters for the animals of domestic violence victims. Women may often be reluctant to go to refuges because they are fearful about what will happen to pets who are left behind.

CYFS Otara office supervisor Briar Humphrey is urging training for frontline social work staff and animal welfare inspectors, and inclusion of information about treatment of animals in the Social Work Risk Assessment carried out by social workers.

Most of these moves are taking place in Auckland. They need to be expanded to the rest of New Zealand. It is also time for a mindset change away from treating cruelty to animals as trivial and an almost normal part of children growing up.

The opposite is in fact the case. Children who abuse animals are more likely to continue that abuse into adulthood and to extend it to women and children. It is simply no longer acceptable to laugh at teasing and ill-treatment of animals and say "Boys will be boys."

Childhood abuse of animals should be treated as a serious matter, and steps should be taken to deal with it at a young age. Again, much can be learned from the American model.

Positive interaction with animals is being used in the United States to address violence in teenagers. Project Pooch in Oregon involves youths from a juvenile detention facility working with dogs to teach them dog-training skills. In Dallas, the Patience, Responsibility, Empathy and Partnership programme brings children and dogs together, while a Chicago programme for substance-abusing young women teaches them animal care skills and then has them socialising dogs to be used for seeing-eye work. The unfortunate reality is that, in households where children are abused, the women and animals may also be ill-treated. Dealing effectively with all forms of abuse requires a co-operative approach.

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