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May 15, 2007 > Violence hurts but kindness heals

Violence hurts but kindness heals

By Nancy Lyon

There are times at the animal shelter that you see such terrible cases of neglect and abuse that you have to ask...why? How does an animal get to be in this horrific condition? Could neighbors or family not intercede on the animal's behalf? What kind of person would let this happen?

One such current case is a stray dog severely matted over his entire body, with skin so inflamed that he resisted shelter workers help to relieve him of the tight harness that must have increased his pain. Fearful and expecting only punishment, he turned away not making eye contact, warning them to keep their distance. After all, why should he trust humans who had made his life a living nightmare?

The mistreatment of animals, usually pets, often occurs in homes where there is domestic violence. A national survey of shelters for battered women done by the Utah State University, reported a consistent pattern of animal mistreatment in the home. They state that they know that animals have been abused by perpetrators in order to frighten their partners, as a threat of potential interpersonal attacks, as a form of retaliation, punishment, or abuse. Significantly, children are often witness to such displays of cruelty.

Randall Lockwood of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) states that about one-third of children who are exposed to family violence will act out this violence, often against their own pets. Behavior of this nature should be a red flag to family members, teachers and others in contact with the child that something seriously wrong may be happening in the home.

We have come to realize that there exists a frightening pattern that shows a direct link between cruelty toward animals as children and violent crimes toward humans later in life. Dr. Lockwood also states, "Researchers, as well as the FBI and other law enforcement agencies nationwide, have linked animal cruelty to domestic violence, child abuse, serial killings, and to the recent rash of killings by school-age children.

According to the Massachusetts SPCA, "While animal abuse is an important sign of child abuse, the parent isn't always the one harming the animal. Children who abuse animals may be repeating a lesson learned at home; like their parents, they are reacting to anger or frustration with violence. Their violence is directed at the only individual in the family more vulnerable than themselves: an animal. Children in violent homes are characterized by... frequently participating in pecking-order battering," in which they may maim or kill an animal. Indeed, domestic violence is the most common background for childhood cruelty to animals.

Most victims of spousal abuse are women, many of whom fear harm will come to a beloved animal if they left. Abusers often hold this over their heads as a means of control, and since most shelters for victims of violent family situations will not take in companion animals, the women often choose to stay. This is an unfortunate situation in our own area that needs to be addressed as no human shelter presently takes in animals involved in family violence cases.

Research has shown that there are consistent patterns of animal cruelty among perpetrators of more common forms of violence, including child abuse, spouse abuse, and elder abuse. The American Psychiatric Association considers animal cruelty one of the diagnostic criteria of conduct disorder. Basically: "Abusing an animal is a way for a human to find power/joy/fulfillment through the torture of a victim they know cannot defend itself."

Children should be taught from a very young age to respect and care for animals. It has been said that the evolution of a more gentle and benign relationship in human society might be enhanced by our promotion of a more positive and nurturing ethic between children and animals. Violence toward any feeling creature, whether it be human or nonhuman, is unacceptable behavior.

Under current State of California law, there are provisions in place to help protect endangered children and animals. Animal control and humane society officers, as well as other agencies, are mandated under California Penal Code (PC) 11165.7 to report cases of suspected child neglect and abuse to the appropriate jurisdiction within 36 hours. These agencies are also mandated under PC 597.f, to take charge and convey to a proper care facility or veterinarian any animal that is being cruelty treated or in need of medical care.

The terrified and abused little Tibetan Terrier mix at Fremont's Tri-City Animal Shelter is being given another chance. He will be anesthetized, his ragged and painful coat will be stripped off, and his ear and skin conditions treated. There are no guarantees, a life of fear and deprivation are not easily overcome, but there is always hope - and kindness heals.

To learn in-depth information on the vicious cycle of animal/child abuse:

HSUS offers local resource information for pets of domestic violence "Safe Haven for Pets."

Tri-City Elementary School teachers interested in OHS classroom sponsorships of the National Association of Humane and Environmental Educator's award winning classroom publication KindNews, can contact OHS at 510-792-4587. The program teaches compassion and respect for all living creatures and the earth, and the non-violent resolution of conflicts.

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