Animal cruelty, domestic violence are often connected, agencies find
NEW YORK-One man fried his children’s goldfish. Another broke into his estranged wife’s home and microwaved her kitten. A wife who fled to a battered-women’s shelter received an audiotape from her husband; on it were the howls of her dog being tortured.
In all three cases, say the antiphonies familiar with them, family members not the pets were the primary targets.
Motivated by grim cases like these, police, family protection agencies and animal rights groups nationwide are increasingly exploring the link between cruelty to pets and domestic violence.
The Baltimore police department now includes animal-cruelty awareness in the guidelines it giyes officers handling domestic violence cases. An investigator from the local Humane Society is part of a domestic violence task force formed by the Colorado Springs, Cola., police.
Because few battered-women’s shelters accommodate pets, scores of communities have established programs providing temporary homes for these animals.
More than half of battered women in three recent surveys reported that their abuser, injured or threatened their pets. Fear of the consequences for their animals if they leave often keeps women from dumping their abusers, researchers say “If we can remove that obstacle, they are just delighted,” said Frank Ascione, a Utah State University Psychologist.
The new programs have provided common ground for animal welfare and domestic violence organizations that, as nonprofit groups, historically competed against each other for funding and community support.
“There’s still an attitude out there of, ‘Aren’t human victims more important than animal victims?’ “said Claire Ponder of the Humane Society of the United States. “But more and more, domestic violence specialists are seeing the connection. liven if they aren’t animal lovers, they see that some of the women they’re working with are.”
Ponder coordinates a Humane Society campaign called First Strike, launched in 1997 to raise awareness of the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has started a similar program ih New York City, called Family Vision.
Ponder said victims of abuse sometimes find that their pets are used as weapons against them.
“When their animals are killed or hurt, they feel victimized all over again,” Ponder said. “They realize that their barterer, without even having to lay a hand on them, is sending a message: ‘If I can do this to the pet, I can do it to you.'”
Children can be deeply scarred by this kind of abuse, according to Susan Urban, who coordinates Family Vision for the ASPCA. She told of two sisters, 8 and 10, in an art therapy group who repeatedly depicted-in drawings and conversations-their father killing the girls’ cat by throwing it against a wall.
Some children who experience domestic abuse either against their mothers or against themselves respond by mistreating pets, said Julie Justman, an animal control officer who works with the Colorado Springs task force.
“They start acting out against the only living thing in the house they have control over,” Justman said. “The animal is lowest on the chain.”
– The Associated Press
On the Net:
Human Society of the US: http://www.humanesociety.org/
American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: https://www.aspca.org/
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: http://www.ncadv.org/