Activist targets link between child, animal abuse
Compassion for Camden
Thursday, January 20, 2005
By KEVIN RIORDAN
"I've talked about this for 12 years," Marion Churchill is saying.
If the indefatigable founder of the organization known as Compassion for Camden is talking, more than likely it's about matters humane. As in, matters of animal rights, and particularly, the rights of animals to be free of neglect and abuse.
But what the well-known activist is referring to during this particular conversation at her stylish Cherry Hill home is the connection between the abuse of animals and the abuse of children.
And what Churchill has been talking about for a dozen years is specifically an ordinance, now in Camden City Council's pipeline, to provide for "cross-reporting" of incidents of apparent animal and child abuse.
The measure, which Churchill calls "Sarah's Law" in memory of the beloved pooch she rescued in the city - a rescue that gave rise to Compassion for Camden - would require municipal fire, police and child welfare agencies to notify the city's animal control office of potential abuse cases, and vice-versa.
In other words, if a police officer called to a house on a domestic complaint noticed an animal in some sort of distress on the premises, he or she would have to pass the information along to animal control. Likewise, animal control personnel who encounter what appears to be an abused or neglected child while on call would have to notify the police or child welfare authorities.
(Sounds like common, not to mention, good, sense as far as I'm concerned).
"It's so logical," Marion says. So, too, she notes, is the demonstrated link between abuse of animals and abuse of human beings. Although known for decades, the connection received serious study in the 1990s, and is now widely recognized.
Churchill has seen the connection first-hand, including an incident some years back in which a little girl "with burn marks on her arms" showed the activist a pet rabbit in her household that had been burned by cigarettes. She recalls being frustrated that while she was able to take the animal and get it care, her calls to various agencies about the condition of the child were not returned.
The ordinance, which Churchill based on a similar measure in San Diego, is the third to be taken up by Camden. Previous ordinances regarding spaying and neutering and chaining pets have been adopted. These help put Camden at the forefront of humane legislation, she says.
The cross-reporting ordinance "will put the city on the map," Churchill declares. "It will say to the world, `we're very progressive.' "