Animal cruelty tied to family violence

Escrito por Nuria Querol i Viñas.

RED LODGE - Advocates against domestic abuse have long overlooked an important connection between family violence and animal cruelty, said speakers at a conference in Red Lodge this week.
 
Animal cruelty tied to family violence
By DIANE COCHRAN
Of The Gazette Staff
 
RED LODGE - Advocates against domestic abuse have long overlooked an important connection between family violence and animal cruelty, said speakers at a conference in Red Lodge this week.
 
The connection is vital in two ways: Animal abuse can be a sign that people in the home are also being abused, and the fear of what will happen to animals left behind can prevent victims from leaving violent situations.
 
"This concept is not theory," said Dave Pauli, director of the Humane Society of the United States Northern Rockies Region. "There is a direct connection between animal cruelty and human violence."
 
In many instances, abusers use the threat of harm or actual harm to pets as a way to control or intimidate other people in the household, said Mitzi Vorachek, executive director of Domestic and Sexual Violence Services of Carbon County. "If I can do this to the animals, imagine what I can do to you," Vorachek said.
 
She said victims of family violence often tell her that they can't escape abusive situations because they aren't willing to leave behind their pets. In rural Montana, that includes horses and goats as well as cats and dogs.
 
"They might be able to prevent cruelty to animals by putting themselves between the animal and the abuser," she said.
 
Most domestic violence shelters won't take animals, so some family violence prevention groups, including Vorachek's, have begun to find places to house victims' pets.
 
The agency has also begun communicating with other groups, such as law enforcement and animal control officers, about the connection between animal cruelty and domestic abuse.
 
In too many cases, instances of animal cruelty that should be seen as warning signs of human violence are ignored or justified, said Suzi Hansen, assistant director of the Humane Society of the United States Northern Rockies Region.
 
As an animal control officer in South Dakota, Hansen investigated a case in which a pair of boys killed a squirrel by thrusting a stick into it. But she couldn't convince her supervisor that the children's actions were anything more than "boys being boys," and the kids weren't cited or reprimanded.
 
Later on, the boys were charged with a series of burglaries, and Hansen said the inappropriate behaviors were related.
 
"That's why it's important as law enforcement - don't take these things and push them underneath the table," she said. "Take them seriously."
 
Hansen rattled off a laundry list of infamous criminals - including Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, David Berkowitz and several teenage school shooters - who were known to torture or kill animals before they harmed people.
 
"We'd like to think we could get involved early in all these cases," Pauli said. "The problem is these situations are not reported until it gets to a serious level."
 
In one particularly startling instance, a neighbor watched future killer Luke Woodham beat and burn his pet dog, Sparkle, but didn't report it, Hansen said. Woodham later stabbed his mother to death and shot nine students at his Mississippi high school, two of whom died.
 
Animal abuse is almost always indicative of other criminal activity, said Annie Reintsma, an animal control officer in Columbus.
 
"Ninety percent of the time, it has something to do with other types of crime," Reintsma said.
 
According to a Humane Society analysis of almost 1,400 animal cruelty reports in 2003, family violence was present in 15 percent of the cases.
 
It's important that animal-control officers be trained to recognize evidence of other crimes, including domestic violence, Reintsma said.
 
Likewise, it's important for law enforcement officers investigating other crimes to understand that cruelty to animals is also illegal.
 
"Cruelty and abuse of any living thing diminishes all of us," Vorachek said.
 
Contact Diane Cochran at Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo. or 657-1287.
 

Published on Thursday, November 09, 2006.
Last modified on 11/9/2006 at 12:57 am