June 22, 2009
Making the Connection to Protect Animals and People
This week Advocacy for Animals presents an article by Randall Lockwood, Ph.D. Dr. Lockwood is senior vice-president of Anti-cruelty Field Services at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). He writes here on domestic violence and the strong correlation between violence against humans and against animals in situations of domestic abuse.
Part of my daily routine is to review a summary of the previous day�s media stories reporting on instances of animal cruelty. Nearly every day there is an account of an incident in which a companion animal has been injured or killed in the context of a domestic dispute. Usually the perpetrator has been arrested and is facing serious charges that may include both animal cruelty and domestic violence. The following are some recent incidents:
Such arrests were uncommon until relatively recently. If police responded to a domestic incident and a dead animal was found at the scene, it was likely to be discarded as if it were a broken piece of pottery. The fact that the human victim of the violence had a deep attachment to the pet was often unappreciated, as was the reality that the animal potentially provided key evidence that could prove a violent crime.
Things have changed in the last decade. Police, prosecutors and judges have become better educated about the growing body of research showing a connection between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence. This has included numerous studies reporting a high incidence of abuse of animals by perpetrators of domestic violence in order to control, intimidate, or emotionally abuse their victims.
Pets are part of the family in most homes with children: 74.8 percent of homes with children over age 6 have pets. The woman is the primary caregiver in nearly three-fourths of these households. Interviews with women seeking protection in domestic violence shelters throughout the U.S. and Canada consistently show that about 70 percent of them reported violence towards their animals. In more than a third of these cases, children had witnessed this violence.
Harm or fear of harm to pets is a common reason why women delay leaving or trying to leave a violent relationship if they are unable to take their pets along or find a safe place for them. More than a dozen studies show that between 25 and 40 percent of battered women worry about what will happen to their pets or even family livestock should they leave. Many fear that, once they have left, their pets could make easy targets for retaliation by their abuser.
Several recent trends demonstrate a greater recognition of the need to respond to this problem:
Better training for law enforcement
Every law enforcement agency is required to provide training on recognizing and responding to domestic violence. Much of this training now includes material on the animal abuse in the context of such violence. Some agencies have changed their General Orders on domestic responses. For example, the Baltimore Police Department instructs its officers to �Remain alert for signs of abuse to any family pets encountered during domestic situation calls for service and document occurrences. Ensure that the animal shelter is notified when you encounter abused family pets. (General Order G-11). Other agencies have developed special units to facilitate cross-training and cross-reporting of different forms of abuse. For example, the Broward County, Florida, sheriff�s department has a Special Victims and Family Crimes Section that combines investigations of child abuse, elder abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty.
Establishment of 'safe havens' for animal victims of domestic violence
Until recently, pet-owning victims of domestic violence had few options if they needed to escape from a violent relationship and feared what might happen to animals that were left behind. In the last decade, many domestic violence shelters have teamed up with humane societies, animal care and control agencies, veterinarians and others to provide temporary shelter for animals in need.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence�s 2004 National Directory of Domestic Violence Programs, more than 700 shelters across the country provide some assistance or referrals for placement of pets. However, very few women�s shelters are equipped to provide shelter for both human and animal victims of violence in the same location. American Humane�s Pets and Women�s Shelters (PAWS) Program encourages the establishment of such facilities, but there are still only a handful of such facilities.
Strengthening of animal cruelty laws related to domestic violence
In 2004 Maine amended its animal cruelty code to make it a separate crime to kill or torture an animal to frighten or intimidate a person or to force a person to injure or kill an animal. Indiana passed a law in 2007 that specifies that the definition of �crime involving domestic or family violence� includes animal cruelty used to threaten, intimidate, coerce, harass, or terrorize a family or household member. The killing of an animal with the intent to threaten, intimidate, coerce, harass, or terrorize a family or household member is a now a Class D felony.
Extending orders of protection to pets
In 2006 state legislators began to recognize the need to provide victims of domestic violence additional legal protection for the animals that are so important to them. The courts already allow for orders that prevent abusers from coming near a victim�s home, children, vehicle or workplace�but pets were rarely included in such orders and in some states could not be included without a change in the law. Maine enacted the nation�s first laws specifically allowing courts to include companion animals in domestic violence protective orders. Vermont and New York followed suit. Similar laws were quickly passed in California , Colorado , Connecticut , Illinois , Louisiana , Nevada , Tennessee , Washington , and Puerto Rico . Similar legislation has been introduced in about a dozen other states in the last year. Several bills have failed, but will be re-introduced.
Courts in most states are free to extend this protection to pets without a state law, but having such a law is a powerful tool for educating judges, prosecutors, victim advocates and victims to the need to provide for such protection to protect people and the animals they love.
Communities are realizing that violence is violence, whether the victim is a child, a spouse, an elderly person, or an animal. Addressing the needs of the often hidden animal victims, and holding the perpetrators of violence accountable, can help all the other family members.
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If the pets are abused, the children will be, too
When animals in a home are abused or neglected, it is a warning sign that others in the household may not be safe. In addition, children who witness animal abuse are three times more likely of becoming aggressive or abusive. (Currie, C.L., 2006,). -- Research quoted by Caren Kaplan, MSW, director of child protection reform for the American Humane Association, testifying today before the House Committee on Education and Labor's Subcommittee on Healthy Families and Communities. Kaplan was there to urge Congress to reauthorize and increase funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).
Kaplan's full testimony, which includes a full description of CAPTA and its history as well as a complete definition of Differential Response, can be read here.
A review of Cheryl L. Currie's paper, "Animal cruelty by children exposed to domestic violence," can be found here. Currie is from the School of Public Health , Univ. of Alberta , Edmonton .