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|Barked: Sun Jan 6, '08 3:26pm PST |
|Nearly half of the women entering shelters for protection from domestic violence say their pet has been threatened, injured or killed by their partner, according to several surveys. Perhaps even worse for the women involved, others report they have delayed leaving their homes because they feared for their pets' safety.
If that's not enough evidence to suggest that animal cruelty is part and parcel of domestic violence, consider this one example from Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse, edited by Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow.
"A victim entered the domestic violence center seeking a restraining order; she had been beaten the previous evening and had several bruises on her face and upper torso. The crucial factor in her deciding to seek help was that the abuser had hit her oldest child who had tried to intervene when an argument began. The victim also noted on the checklist that household animals had also been abused," the book notes.
"Upon further inquiry by the case manager, the victim stated the fight had begun when the children's new puppy soiled the carpet, and the perpetrator had yelled and kicked the puppy, picked it up and threw it against the wall. The perpetrator became verbally and physically abusive toward the victim, and the child who was trying to protect the puppy."
Such stories are not unusual. Family violence advocates hear them frequently from victims. That's in part why The HSUS has designated April 18-24 as the Fourth Annual Animal Cruelty/Human Violence Awareness Week and has selected the theme "Animal Cruelty IS Family Violence" to bring more attention to pets who are mistreated in the course of domestic violence.
"We want to bring this message to all communities while also offering solutions to help human service and animal protection professionals establish Safe Havens for Animals™ programs," says Virginia-Marie Beckett, manager of The HSUS's First Strike® campaign..
These programs involve collaborative relationships between domestic violence shelters, animal care and control agencies, animal shelters, veterinarians, and even private boarding kennels to provide safe, temporary housing for pets who come from violent homes.
"We know some victims of domestic violence stay too long in a violent home to protect their family pet. Safe Havens for Animals provide a critical, community-based approach to stopping violence," notes Rita Smith, executive director of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), a supporter of the Awareness Week.
How badly are Safe Havens for Animals needed? In a recent sample of some of the largest domestic violence shelters around the country, The HSUS found that 91% of advocates who work with victims of domestic violence say they have heard adult victims talk about incidents of pet abuse. Seventy-three percent of the same group of advocates say they have heard children talk about pet abuse too. And yet: Only 18% of the shelters surveyed routinely ask about pets when a victim comes to them for services.
"This finding indicates that some domestic violence shelters may be missing a critical opportunity to assist victims in finding a safe place for their companion animals," says Beckett.
The Pathology of Animal Abuse
The connection between animal abuse and human violence is still a relatively new field of study. As Randall Lockwood, vice president of research and educational outreach for The HSUS, noted in the introduction of Child Abuse, Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse: "A decade ago, stories of animal cruelty and human violence were not a significant part of popular culture and did not attract major media attention. That has changed dramatically."
So has our understanding of why batterers threaten, abuse and/or kill animals. Among the motivations:
To demonstrate and confirm power and control over the family
To isolate the victim and children
To force the family to keep violence a secret
To perpetuate the context of terror
To prevent the victim from leaving or coerce her/him to return
To punish the victim for leaving
To degrade the victim through involvement in the abuse
To help expose this shadowy world of animal violence as family violence, The HSUS, with the help of the NCADV, has distributed a new poster with the “Animal Cruelty IS Family Violence” message to several thousand animal shelters and domestic violence groups around the country.
Two other domestic violence advocacy organizations, the Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) and Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) are also highlighting this issue to their members. In addition, Advocate EAP, a Maryland based employee assistance program, is sending information to their network of mental health professionals.
The HSUS is also featuring an online listing of more than 90 Safe Havens for Animals type programs, and will introduce guidelines to assist animal care professionals, domestic violence advocates, and veterinarians in starting such programs.
How You Can Help
Here are a few ways you can raise awareness in your community about the connection between animal cruelty and family violence:
Collect pet-related items such as bowls, leashes, toys, carriers, food, and treats, which can then be donated to a local Safe Haven for Animals type of program. Consider asking a local pet supply store to donate these items or invite co-workers, friends, and neighbors to contribute. (First, contact your local animal shelter or domestic violence agency to see if they have such a program, and, if so, what kind of items they need.)
Contact your local animal shelter or domestic violence agency to see if they have a temporary sheltering program for pets who come from violent homes, and, if so, volunteer to be a foster caregiver. (The program may require a criminal background check and require you to successfully complete an orientation program.)
Ask local veterinary clinics, pet supply stores, groomers, and other businesses to display The HSUS poster, which reflects the theme "Animal Cruelty IS Family Violence." To order a free 81/2 x 11 poster, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and include your mailing address or call First Strike toll free at 1-888-213-0956. Bulk orders of 11-20 are $3. Send your check or money order, payable to The HSUS, to the address below.
Create a visual display of the theme "Animal Cruelty IS Family Violence" at your local animal shelter, police station, library, school, county government building, shopping mall or other appropriate public area.
For more information on the animal cruelty/family violence connection write to:
2100 L Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
Or call: 888-213-0956.
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