• July/August 2001
  • Vol. 2, No. 4

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Animal Cruelty, Human Violence Linked in Humane Society Study

Abuse toward animals and people go hand in hand, according to a yearlong, national study conducted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). Although other studies have examined the extent of animal cruelty in cases of family violence, the HSUS study is the first to examine the prevalence of human violence in animal abuse cases. Among the findings are that a high percentage of male teenagers commit intentional cruel acts against animals, and a large number of animal cruelty cases also involve some form of family violence.

HSUS compiled information from 1,624 animal cruelty cases around the country that occurred during 2000. Almost a quarter of all cases of intentional animal cruelty involved the following forms of family violence:

  • Domestic violence (13 percent)
  • Child abuse (7 percent)
  • Elder abuse (1 percent).

"You don't have to be an animal lover to see that animal cruelty is a warning sign that an individual could be involved in other violent crimes and could pose a risk to family members as well as the larger community," said Claire Ponder, HSUS's First Strike educational campaign Manager. "Our best hope for preventing violence against both animals and people is early identification and intervention with violent perpetrators."

In cases of child abuse, perpetrators often abuse animals to exert their power and control over children and other vulnerable family members. In some cases, abusers will force children to sexually abuse, hurt, or kill a pet. Threats of animal abuse will often intimidate children to keep silent about being abused themselves.

As awareness about the connection between animal abuse and family violence has increased, animal cruelty laws are being strengthened. For example, thirty-one States and the District of Columbia have adopted felony-level animal anti-cruelty laws. Several States have also passed laws mandating psychological evaluation and counseling for convicted animal abusers. Five States—Florida, Virginia, Arizona, South Carolina, and Massachusetts—have introduced bills this year that mandate cross-reporting between animal control officers and child protective services.

Another trend is foster care programs for companion animals threatened by violence among their owners. For example, Animal Protection of New Mexico's CARE (Companion Animal Rescue Effort) program provides temporary or permanent refuge and protection for animals at risk of abuse or neglect due to violence in their home. The CARE program works in collaboration with domestic violence shelters, animal protection agencies, and other social service programs. A battered woman is more likely to remove herself and her children from an unsafe situation, if she is assured of the safety of her pet as well. Since battered women's shelters usually don't allow pets due to health department laws and liability insurance, foster care programs for companion animals are the solution.

For an executive summary of the HSUS 2000 study of animal cruelty cases in relation to family violence, visit http://www.hsus.org/firststrike/2001week/fs_2000_report.html.

To receive a copy of the full report, contact Karen Allanach at 301-548-7778 or Rachel Querry at 301-258-8255.

The HSUS First Strike Campaign is an educational initiative launched in 1997 to increase public and professional awareness of the connection between animal cruelty and human violence. For more information, visit: http://www.hsus.org/firststrike.

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