In July in Las Vegas, a tiny Chihuahua puppy named Chewy was left in an airport bathroom with the following note: “My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford to get me on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me, with all her heart … but she has no other option.”
Rather than keep the puppy in danger, the puppy’s owner thought he’d be safer in a busy public airport bathroom than traveling with her. Unfortunately, those who would abuse their families are also prone to abusing their pets, and when people abuse animals, it can be a marker for violent tendencies.
In the East Bay, the Alameda County Animal Cruelty Task Force is working to highlight that link to protect pets and people. This summer, the task force gathered experts to train police, prosecutors, and animal welfare and domestic violence workers on the link between and animal abuse and interpersonal violence in a one-day conference at the East Bay SPCA.
“Animal abuse is the tip of the iceberg for child maltreatment, elder abuse, and domestic violence. When animals are abused, people are at risk,” Phil Arkow of the National Link Coalition told a room full of municipal officials, police, and prosecutors. “When people are abused, animals are at risk.”
Hosted by the Latham Foundation and the East Bay SPCA, the conference was organized by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Berkeley Animal Care Services, and Arkow’s National Link Coalition, an informal collaboration with 3,300 members in 50 states and 53 countries.
Conference speakers said not all those who hurt animals will also hurt humans but urged attending law enforcement officials and social workers addressing domestic violence to pay attention to those who would hurt animals and enforce punishments to prevent future crimes. Arkow cited studies showing a history of animal abuse was a better predictor of sexual assault than were prior convictions for homicide, arson, or firearms offenses.
“There is an undeniable and concerning correlation between domestic abuse and animal abuse,” said O’Malley. “Our goal is that professionals are looking at the abuse and understand the link.”
O’Malley shared some terrifying statistics:
• Among school shooters in the ’90s, studies correlated 43 percent of the shooters as those who had tortured animals.
• Serial killers such as the Boston strangler, David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz, Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer all had histories of childhood animal abuse, according to the FBI, torturing dogs, cats, squirrels, and turtles.
Many states, including California, have made certain acts of animal abuse a felony. Two bills in Congressional committees: H.R. 909 and S. 322 would address this link. Called the Pet and Women Safety Act, they would expand domestic violence protections to help safeguard women and their pets across state lines and establish a federal grant program to assist in securing safe shelter space for endangered pets.
Meanwhile, the Alameda County Animal Cruelty Task Force has scheduled a follow-up training teaching local animal control officers to spot animal abuse and notice other domestic violence. In California, animal control officers are mandated to report child and elder abuse. California veterinarians are mandated to report animal and child abuse.
At the event, forensic veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Woolf called violence to animals “the elephant in the veterinary exam room,” saying animal doctors aren’t trained or accustomed to spotting or reporting abuse.
“Animal abuse is like pornography,” Arkow said. “It’s impossible to define, but you know it when you see it. It can be anything from simple neglect and withholding food, shelter, or water to abandonment. When it is gross, willful, intentional, or malicious neglect, it can be prosecuted. Animal cruelty, when it is intentional abuse or torture, is of the greatest concern because it is most likely to escalate to other violence.”
Grace Reddy is the vice president of marketing and development at the East Bay SPCA. Learn more at EastBaySPCA.org.
Main article photo by: Tom-Creative Commons