Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas.

first strike scotland logoAcademics, animal welfarists, psychologists, education specialists and scientists from all over the world converged on Glasgow in October for a major conference on the relationship between humans and animals.



Libby Anderson, the Scottish SPCA's Political Consultant, reports on the recent IAHAIO Conference in Glasgow which focused on the human-animal bond.

Academics, animal welfarists, psychologists, education specialists and scientists from all over the world converged on Glasgow in October for a major conference on the relationship between humans and animals. The 10th congress of the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organisations (IAHAIO), was organised by the UK's Society for Companion Animal Studies and ran for three days at the SECC. Taking as its theme "People and Animals: A timeless relationship", the conference featured renowned speakers on subjects as diverse as dog bite prevention, pets and older people, pet bereavement services, pets and children's health, assistance dogs and humane education.

A number of sessions showed the growing use of animal-assisted therapy, in settings as diverse as mental health and geriatric units, and young people's special education or penal institutions. While technical in nature, presentations showing troubled children learning patience and empathy through their work with animals, were also moving. Joan Dalton, the director of Project Pooch in Oregon, showed young men in a youth correctional facility training unwanted dogs for rehoming. Some boys came with a deep-seated fear of dogs; others had a history of violence: but all managed to develop the skills required to interact with the dogs and train them to behave in human society - meanwhile absorbing many skills for themselves.

Suz Brooks, psychological director of the renowned Green Chimneys School in New York State, showed how equine therapy could teach even children with a background of appalling abuse and fear to understand how to approach other living creatures, human or animal.

The Scottish SPCA supported the IAHAIO conference through sponsorship and by providing speakers in two of the special themed sessions. I gave a presentation in the session on Animals and the Law, looking at the differences between animal and human rights under UK law, how the law had evolved, and considering what changes might be appropriate for the future. The session was organised by animal law specialist Antoine Goetschel of the Foundation for the Animal in the Law in Zurich, who designed it as a launch pad for international co-operation in seeking equality under legislation for animals worldwide.

The Scottish SPCA-sponsored session on Current Perspectives on Animal Maltreatment looked at the darker side of the human-animal bond. Professor Frank Ascione, one of the leading researchers on the link between abuse of animals and violence towards humans, brought together a distinguished international panel of experts.

Helen Munro of the Royal (Dick) Veterinary School in Edinburgh reported on her experience seen as a veterinary pathologist, and how injuries and histories seen in abuse cases had led her to investigate what had become known as the "Battered Pet" syndrome.

Randall Lockwood, vice president of the Humane Society of the United States and one of the originators of that organisation's First Strike programme, talked of the success of the campaign and its growing international dimension - Scotland having been the first country to take it up. A recent Humane Society survey had shown very high levels of public recognition for the link between animal abuse and violence to humans.

Domestic violence, sexual abuse of animals and the responsibilities of the veterinary professions were also addressed.

Finally, Scottish SPCA Superintendent Michael Flynn showed examples from the Scottish SPCA casebook where animals had been the victims of catastrophic human relationship breakdowns, ranging from neglect to violent cruelty, and described a growing level of understanding among the justice services.

First Strike Scotland: Next steps
The Scottish SPCA First Strike Scotland campaign launched in 1997 has fostered public awareness of the link issues. To coincide with the conference, I wrote a new First Strike Scotland booklet, describing recent UK research, and proposing next steps in the campaign.

The booklet also summarised the latest results from the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, a long-term study of 4,300 secondary school pupils in Edinburgh. Children who had admitted deliberately hurting animals or birds were asked follow-up questions about the circumstances surrounding the event. An analysis of the results was provided for the Scottish SPCA by Susan McVie, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Law at Edinburgh University.

As was expected, cruelty to animals was an uncommon form of delinquency among these young people. A total of 6 per cent of cohort members aged 13 and 14 stated that they had hurt or injured an animal or bird on purpose during the previous year. This declined to 5 per cent at age 15, and 3 per cent at age 16.

About 10 per cent of boys at age 13 and 14 said they had hurt an animal in the last year, compared with around 2 per cent of the girls. Girls were more likely to offend alone and more commonly targeted pets, whereas boys were generally more likely to offend in groups and to focus their attention on wild animals or birds.

· More than half of animal abusers reported being cruel to an animal only once or twice in the previous year;
· A further one in ten abusers at each sweep said they had hurt animals three times;
· A much smaller proportion had hurt an animal between four and ten times;
· At age 14 and 15, around a quarter of the animal abusers had done so more than ten times;
· Despite this high incidence of repeated offending, very few reported getting into trouble from an adult or the police for cruelty to animals.

There were strong links between animal abuse and other forms of violence, with abusers being far more likely to get involved in fighting, carrying weapons and violent theft than non-abusers. A very small number were specialist animal abusers.

Despite the fact that the vast majority of offenders had gone unsanctioned for their animal abuse, many were already known to the police for other types of problematic behaviour, and a substantial minority had been formally warned or charged by the police for offending.

Animal abusers were significantly more likely to have experienced assault, violent theft and threats and to have harmed themselves than those who had not been involved in animal abuse. In general, animal abusers presented as a highly vulnerable, risky and needy group of young people.

The findings, up to September 2004, suggested that animal cruelty interventions could be effectively targeted at young offenders generally, and dealt with in the context of their wider offending behaviour. The research team considered, therefore, that it would be beneficial to build an element of 'respect to animals' into any offenders' programme.

Unfortunately, even if this behaviour is noticed and addressed, animal-related therapy or humane education is not routinely available to children in Scotland today. There are positive developments, however. In particular, the Lothian Youth Justice team (a multi-agency group working for offenders in the youth justice system) is collaborating with the Scottish SPCA on animal-related programmes which should, if progress is made, improve the outlook for people and animals affected by abuse.


While the Scottish Executive is stepping up its campaign against domestic violence,the Scottish SPCA is highlighting that humans are not the only family members who can fall victim to abuse.

The festive period has always brought an increase in calls to Scotland's domestic abuse hotline, which has prompted the Scottish Executive to make the hotline active 24 hours a day until the end of January. However, women and children are not the only victims; domestic violence can affect entire families, including the family pet.

The Scottish SPCA call centre was also very busy over the festive period. Open every day except Christmas Day, we received over 1,700 calls from members of the public. Some of these calls reported situations where animals were being attacked by their owners.

' I can hear a pup being battered through the wall, the dog is screaming and is very cowed, happens constantly,' Anonymous caller

First Strike Scotland is the Scottish SPCA's ongoing campaign highlighting the link between domestic violence and animal abuse. The campaign has gathered evidence from across the world which identifies the many links between violent behaviour towards humans and violent behaviour towards animals.

The link between cruelty to animals and family violence is significant in three ways:

· If an animal has been harmed in a household there is an increased chance that some other form of family violence (child abuse, partner abuse, elder abuse) is also occurring.

· If a child is cruel to animals then this behaviour may be an indicator that the child himself is also a victim of abuse.

· If a child is cruel to animals then there is an increased chance that he or she will go on to be cruel to children and/or adults.

The threat of harming a much loved pet can be used by the abuser to coerce or threaten another family member. Seventy-five percent of women victims interviewed by the charity 'Paws for Kids' between 1999 and 2002 stated that their abuser had harmed or threatened to harm their pet.

Victims of abuse may feel prevented from escaping a violent home if they are not able to take their animals with them. Some fear retribution will be taken out on the family pet if it is left behind. A Scottish Office survey in 1997 identified problems with access to refuge for women with pets.

To try and overcome this problem Pet Fostering Service Scotland is working with Scottish Women's Aid to provide homes for animals when families seek refuge. A recent study of refuges for women and children in Scotland revealed that 10% of refuges 'often' and 27% 'sometimes' used this service. However, few refuges have the facilities to allow pets to stay with their families when they escape an abuser.

The First Strike Campaign was started by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and was adopted in Scotland in 1997 when the Scottish SPCA launched 'First Strike Scotland'. Since this time much progress has been made in promoting the campaign and highlighting research and the campaign has since been taken on by other animal organisations across the world. However, much work still has to be done to make sure that animal cruelty is taken seriously.

The Scottish SPCA would like to see the link between cruelty to animals and family violence formally recognised across government agencies in Scotland, including a system of cross reporting to protect all potential victims.

Useful links and more information

Paws for Kids - a charity which fosters pets for families seeking refuge from domestic violence. Based in north west England. (opens new window)

Domestic Abuse - there's no excuse - Scottish Executive website. (opens new window)

Scotland's Domestic Abuse hotline - Freephone 0800 027 1234. Available 24 hours until the end of January

Scottish Executive Report REFUGES FOR WOMEN, CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE IN SCOTLAND - (opens new window)

HSUS First Strike Campaign -
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Pet Fostering Service Scotland -
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Scottish Women's Aid -
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For more information about our parliamentary and campaigns work contact the Society's Parliamentary Officer on 0131-339 0222 or Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo.







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girl with guinea pig

Animal-assisted therapy has been proven to help troubled children learn patience and empathy.
Photo: Agnes W. Leith



scotland first strike bookletClick here to Download the First Strike Scotland booklet (PDF opens new window)





scotland first strike booklet part 2Click here to Download the First Strike Scotland booklet Part II (PDF opens new window)







understanding the linksClick here to download 'Understanding the Links'.(PDF opens new window)


The Scottish SPCA is is pleased to support the launch of the NSPCC and RSPCA leaflet Understanding the links - child abuse and domestic violence, published in March 2003

The leaflet is aimed at raising awareness among professionals working with children, families or animals about the links between cruelty towards children, animals and domestic violence.

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