The Kent County Domestic Violence Community Coordinated Response Team (DVCCRT) hosted a speaker today in Grand Rapids who addressed the link between animal abuse and human violence. Rachel Newland–a health education worker with the Kent County Health Department–was the first speaker that the organization hosted as part of a new series of quarterly talks.
Newland began with a quote from John Caruso of the Anti-Cruelty Society, “When we talk about the cycle of abuse, we’re not talking about a problem that’s just a people problem and it’s not just an animal problem, it’s a violence problem.” She emphasized the need for the public to see the links between violence and the importance familiarizing ourselves with what the law states in Michigan about animal and human abuse.
The state of Michigan defines animal neglect as “failing to provide sufficient food, clean water, clean and safe building/enclosure, veterinary care, ventilation and light.” Gross neglect is “failing to provide the above for extended period of time causing severe harm, dehydration, starvation, disease and/or death.” In Kent County, there are numerous acts of abuse that can result in a misdemeanor, such as beating, injury, confinement, abandonment, and even teasing. For things like malicious abuse, torture, neglect, providing animals and even attending animal fights, felony charges are a possible result. The laws that enforce such charges are a recent phenomenon in several states, including Michigan.
Some of these charges can result in up to four years for gross neglect and abuse, but the speaker said that people are rarely ever given a serious sentence. The fall back position of the system is always if there is a choice between locking up someone for human abuse or animal abuse, the human abuser will always get locked up first. The problem with this dynamic, according to the speaker, is that most often people who abuse spouses or children are also abusing animals. When looking at who is committing such crimes, the overwhelming amounts of animal abusers are men (over 90% of the cases). Quite often, the men who abuse animals abuse spouses and even use the threat of hurting pets as a way to control their partners. The Humane Society reports that 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters report that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims.”
The speaker then addressed why people abuse animals. As with the abuse of spouses or children, animal abuse is primarily about power and control. Abusing animals can be a form of coercion and punishment. Batterers regularly employ these methods to control or terrorize their spouse/partner by saying things like, “she loves the dog more than me, so I’ll get rid of the dog.” The presenter did say that spouse/partner abuse does not necessarily lead to animal abuse, but it is a good indicator when looking for patterns of abuse. Rachel then gave examples of high profile people who have abused humans and animals, such as Jeffrey Dahmer, Albert DeSalvo (The Boston Strangler), and numerous cases where high school boys shot fellow students. In all of these cases, the perpetrators abused animals and in many cases bragged about it.
Finally, the speaker addressed the issue of what can be done to deal with the cycle of violence with domestic abuse and animal abuse. She suggests that animal treatment should be included in the screening done with those entering domestic violence shelters and that law enforcement agencies should be doing the same. Understanding these links needs to be incorporated into the training material for those who work in the domestic violence field. The speaker also stated that there needs to be more resources and emphasis put on providing education around this issue, with both victims and batterers who are in treatment programs. Rachel said the legal system must stop viewing human abuse and animal abuse in a hierarchy of violence; therefore sentencing must reflect the cycle of violence and not minimize or overlook animal abuse when human abuse is committed. Lastly, she said that there is a general need for more public education on this issue so that a greater number of the public will see the links between domestic and animal abuse.