Philosophy of AR > Animals and Abuse Linked

May 4, 2006
Seminar on abuse links animal, human cruelty
By TONY REID - H&R Staff Writer

VANDALIA - From a serial horse rapist to the owner of a fighting dog who set his pit bull on fire when it refused to indulge in savagery on demand, Ledy VanKavage has seen it all.

She shared some of her nightmare visions of Illinois animal cruelty Wednesday at a Vandalia conference called "The Link between Animal Abuse, Child Abuse and Domestic Violence."

VanKavage is senior director of legislation and legal training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and she spoke to an invited audience of police officers, domestic violence case workers, veterinarians and people involved in saving and caring for abused animals.

Her theme was simple: Animal abuse is often the first violent outlet for criminals who may go on to harm and kill people. If police and the courts system thoroughly investigate and prosecute cases of cruelty to pets or wild animals, they may well uncover evidence that will lead them to discover or prevent serious crimes against people.

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, for example, practiced dissection techniques on dead pets long before he went on to murder 17 young men and eat their body parts.

"And studies have shown that in 88 percent of the families in which children are abused, animals are abused," said VanKavage. "More and more people are starting to get the link between animal abuse and human violence."

She said Illinois was fortunate because it has some powerful state laws that enable police to enter property to search for signs of animal cruelty - and maybe find evidence of other crimes - and stiff penalties have been laid down for offenders. The man who torched his reluctant pit bull, for example, was sentenced to five years in prison.

VanKavage illustrated her talk with color shots of animal abuse that frequently drew shocked gasps from her 75-strong audience. Citing the case of the man who raped horses, she said, "I am pretty jaundiced in my outlook; I see a lot of horrible things, and it's frightening what's out there." Several people had to look away when she played part of a movie called "Off the Chain," which looked at the vast underground sport of dog fighting - widespread in Illinois - and included graphic footage of actual fights.

Phil Jacobs/For the Herald & Review
Ledy VanKavage, an attorney and lobbyist for animal rights, spoke about cruelty to animal and especially how kids that abuse animals later abuse people, during a seminar at the United Methodist Church in Vandailia.

She says evidence and experience also shows that abusers who have no regard for the welfare and care of animals are often the same way about neglecting and abusing people.

"So when we stop animal abuse, we never know just what else we might be preventing," she said. "When cops go out on an animal abuse case, they need to think what else might be going on with the people in that household."

Sometimes, the link between animal abuse and human abuse is even more direct.

"I've had cases where, for example, a woman's husband shot her cat to show her what he would do to her," said audience member Carolyn Daniels, director of Vandalia's Sexual Assault and Family Emergency Center. "You can imagine the fear of that woman and the control over her in a situation like that."

Wednesday's morning-long conference was organized by the 4th Judicial Circuit Family Violence Coordinating Council, based in Vandalia, and part of its discussion was given over to addressing the issue of safeguarding pets in abusive families.

The idea here is to remove the pets to a place of safety to protect them and also prevent them from being used by abusers to coerce their victims. Judges can write orders of protection, for example, to include pets.

Renee Jacquot, director of development at the Violence Prevention Center in Belleville, spoke on creating foster parent programs for the pets of domestic violence victims. The hope is that a similar program can be set up in the nine-county area covered by the coordinating council, which includes Montgomery, Christian, Shelby, Jasper, Effingham and Fayette counties.

Tony Reid can be reached at  or 421-7977.

For more information about the animal cruelty laws in Illinois and what's covered by them, call 618-345-8086 or go to For information on preventing animal cruelty and related topics, go to and click on "news" and then click "animal cruelty."

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