POLICE are planning a radical new way of tackling domestic abuse by targeting people who are violent against animals.
The move follows growing evidence about the links between pet abuse and domestic abuse and The Herald has learned police are now using suspicious pet injuries as a way to pinpoint previous domestic abuse cases and identify whether violence is likely to escalate.
The poster campaign with Crimestoppers will be discussed this week as one part of a new approach to tackling domestic violence.
Detective Inspector Linda Borland, of the Violence Reduction Unit, said: “We hope Crimestoppers are going to do a series of posters using their number to encourage people to come forward to report pet abuse.
“When a police officer gets sent to a domestic abuse incident they carry out a risk assessment and this allows them to identify high risk victims. They look at issues such as separation, pregnancy, child custody disputes, escalation in violence, stalking and finally whether the pet has been abused by the perpetrator.
“We want to look at and address the prevalence of abuse and the connection to pet abuse. We have already got anecdotal information about this and we’re aware it is an indicator the victim is at higher risk of repeat violence. It is also being looked at as a way of linking previous cases and the abuse of multiple partners.
“It is an issue of control. An abusive partner might abuse the pet if their partner threatens to leave. Interestingly the abusive partner will often still take the pet to the vet to be treated.”
Some 173 cases of animal cruelty were reported to the procurator-fiscal in Scotland last year and 38 people were banned from keeping animals as a result of legal action.
Research in America, meanwhile, suggests 68% of female victims of domestic abuse also reported their partner had been violent towards their animals. A recent study by the Scottish Society for the Protection of Animals said it had dealt with cases where an animal had been beaten, hanged, or even set on fire for revenge when a partner had threatened to leave.
Dr Freda Scott-Park, past-president of the British Veterinary Association and chairwoman of the Links group that brings together different experts to tackle the abuse of animals, children and vulnerable adults, is working with the police on the issue.
“Vets see kittens with broken legs and owners claiming their pet fell off the bed but in reality a kitten could fall out of the top floor of a Glasgow flat and not break its leg,” she said.
“We are now working with the police on this and I have written guidance for veterinary surgeons. We are training veterinary surgeons to recognise non-accidental injuries. We look at scenarios where a cat’s legs have been broken and the owner brings it in wearing dark glasses with bruising all round her eyes.
“There has been a paradigm shift in the way we deal with this and the Crimestoppers campaign is positive evidence of that.”
In Scotland, 38% of households have a pet, with 23% having a dog and 15% having a cat.
Research by the Edinburgh Youth Transitions Study found at least three-quarters of children who were animal abusers had been violent in some other way from age 13 to 15, although this dropped to just over a half at age 16.
The proportion of animal abusers who reported involvement in any other form of offending (whether violent or non-violent) was close to 100% at age 13, 14 and 15, before declining slightly to 88% at age 16.