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The Link-the Connection between People and Animals and Preventing Violence

Every day we hear about violence in one form or another. Active shootings at public places and schools, family violence and that against the most vulnerable of our communities, elderly and children. When an animal is abused and there is neglect or cruelty involved, historically, it has not been connected to the violence one sees or experiences when it involves a human being.

There is now a new philosophy and way of viewing this that addresses the “link” between violence against animals and other forms of human violence. Today, it is not a surprise for social service professionals to learn that when there has been one form of violence within the home that an animal has also been abused.

Animal abuse and any cruelty in any form should be a “red-flag” and an initial “first” sign of other forms of violence within the home or community. It should never be taken lightly and should always be looked at seriously.

For agencies that are involved in preventing abuse, neglect, cruelty and violence within the community and for animals, understanding the “Link” and working collaboratively together will create a more proactive and effective response.

How is Violence/Abuse Linked?

When social workers are involved in cases of abuse, they often find other types of family violence, such as those abusers that are involved in elder, child and sexual abuse as well as,Domestic Violence. The abusers may threaten, harm and even kill animals to exert their dominance and power over the victim and to create fear within them and to produce silence in regards to the abuse.

It is not uncommon for a victim of abuse to remain silent, if a family member or domestic partner is abusing them. The dominance of an abuser covers many variables involving a victim, but one of the most vulnerable is a beloved pet.

Animal abuse silences elder, child, Domestic and Sexual abuse victims. It creates a serious risk to pets and is a major barrier that prevents victims from leaving or disclosing about a violent relationship. Also, children that are abusive or cruel to animals are not necessarily in an exploratory stage of their development, it could be an early indication of conduct disorder, emotional or mental health issues. It may also be a way for an abused child to exert power over something that in their own lives, they have no control of.

Allowing children to be exposed to forms of animal abuse, may desensitize them to other forms of abuse in the future. Our senior population may also be at risk of not caring for their animals adequately or even neglecting their own needs in order to take care for their pets. They may also be exploited by others and taken advantage of due to their attachment to their pets. Some seniors may even end up in hoarding conditions which creates inhumane animal situations.

What are the effects of animal abuse? Besides creating suffering and pain to the animal, animal abuse is one of the earliest “red flag” warning signs of futuristic acts of violence. When abusers and children that are impressionable witness or act on abuse, they become desensitized to violence and often to the ability to empathize with victims.

Why should social service professionals pay attention when animal abuse is also involved? Many times victims may be reluctant to discuss abuse directed at them, but are comfortable in talking about a pet that has been abused, this in turn can break the ice about disclosing their own abuse.

When an elder or child talk about “many” pets that have disappeared or died, they may be saying that their pets have been abused or killed, and further investigation by the worker is necessary.

When an Animal Services agency receives a report of suspected animal abuse, it is important to remember that many people report abuse of an animal before they report elder, child or Domestic Violence.

Therefore, this makes the local Animal Services agency a vital point of contact for the Social Services agency to assist the individual or family in crisis.

Law Enforcement, social service, education, human and animal health professionals as well as, the courts should recognize animal abuse as a major dynamic in their daily work and should screen for any animal welfare issues. What can we do?

Violence prevention is a complex societal challenge and requires agencies to work together towards a solution based and collaborative initiative. The National Link Coalition is working on the local, national and international levels to:

-Educate the public about “The Link”

-Train professionals in many fields about how a multi-disciplinary approach can assist them, their clients and the community

-Help communities organize and sustain interdisciplinary coalitions against all forms of individual and family violence

Through education and public awareness such as: community presentations, special events, humane education inschools and in service trainings for professionals, awareness will occur and intervention methods can be put into placebefore violence begins or escalates.

Animal abuse is now considered as part of the continuum of violence. “The Link” between animal abuse and elder, child, individual abuse and Domestic Violence provides both professionalsand the community with an important tool to understand this continuum.

By working together to create a more effective program, awareness will be gained and this in turn will lead to a saferand healthier community for all.

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