Expert links animal abuse to domestic violence

By Scott Peterson
Local News - Saturday, October 02, 2004 @ 07:00


Kingston Police, animal care agencies and social service groups must do more to track and identify animal abuse that often is a predictor of violence against people, an American expert told a conference this week.

“This is not a boys-will-be-boys type of situation,” Virginia-Marie Beckett, of the U.S. Humane Society, told 80 people at the First Strike Conference in Kingston. “Sometimes threats to hurt family animals can be used to control people. Animals feel pain. We have to take this very seriously.”

The daylong conference was attended by police officers, animal shelter workers and staff from agencies that work with children. It was sponsored by the Kingston Humane Society in partnership with the Kingston Anti-

Violence Coalition.

The field is one of growing research in which animal cruelty is linked to dysfunctional homes and the likelihood of more violence in future. Beckett said the goal of the workshop was to raise awareness.

“This is something that people have to know about,” she said. “Ideally, we would like to see a tracking system. There has to be tougher laws against animal abuse, and prosecutors have to take it more seriously."

In addition to Canada, campaigns and workshops have been initiated in the United Kingdom, Japan and Australia, Beckett said.

Research has shown that in roughly nine of 10 families involved with youth and family services, at least one family member abuses animals.

It is a problem in Kingston, too, said Angela Cronk, co-ordinator at Kingston Interval House, a shelter for women and children.

“We have a lot of abuse to family pets and there is a correlation between that and other violence,” she said. “When someone ties a cat to a clothesline, or when a father is toughening up a child by abusing an animal, this is a serious problem. We see that it can go from father to child and then from child to animal.”

Cronk said organizations must reach children who abuse animals early to improve the odds of altering the behaviour.

“We have to identify and refocus,” she said, adding that abused animals in a home indicate a deeper problem.

“If you see a red flag like that, you have to get them into counselling as soon as possible.”

Former Kingston Police officer Michael Gobeil, who is now based at the Ontario Police College, where he works on issues related to domestic violence, said police are are being trained to associate animal abuse with other trouble in a home.

He said the conference allowed everyone to come together and share information.

“Since 1990, officers have a much better understanding of all the different elements in a domestic situation,” he said. “Conferences like this one raise awareness. You’d think in this computer age it would be easier to share information, but it’s not. That’s one of the things we have to work on, that we’re working on today.

“We’re talking about it now.”

Const. Lillian Brooker, of Kingston Police’s domestic violence unit, said it’s easier for officers to pinpoint abuse if they understand domestic violence and animal abuse.

“All officers are required to fill out a domestic violence supplementary report form,” she said. “It’s a two-page report that can be used at a bail hearing. One of the questions on it is if the accused has injured or killed an animal. Kingston Police have enhanced the form slightly to include if the accused threatens to harm an animal.”

Brooker said an officer can now choose from a variety of shelters and children’s agencies in Kingston.

“This is an amazing town for its support services,” she said. “We have an array of community services in Kingston. Many of the agencies come in and talk to the officers to make sure they know the range of options there are.”

Erin Merry, of the Children’s Aid Society, said children who abuse animals, for whatever reason, need to realize the consequences of their actions.

“We have to teach children to be humane to pets and humans,” she said. “Some children were never taught. Maybe teaming up with animal sanctuaries or humane societies to partner children with animals is a good idea.”

As a reminder of the reality of animal abuse, Kimberly Kent-Rodgman, founder of Sherlock’s Maple Haven animal sanctuary, brought a dog to the conference that had its eye gouged out by a screwdriver.

“I didn’t just want to rescue animals,” she said. “I wanted to do something else. Like this conference.”