by Nancy Marano
The child who smothers her cat to protect the animal from an even crueler fate, the man who threatens to stuff his wife’s cat down the garbage disposal if she leaves him, and the abuser who beats a puppy as a lesson to the family are all participants in what is known as “The Link.”
In the 1970’s the FBI established the link between a person’s history of animal cruelty as a child and future crimes committed against people as an adult. Every serial killer studied had experimented with killing and torturing animals before moving on to human beings.
While these raw facts are known, people haven’t always connected the dots between animal cruelty, domestic violence and child abuse. To do that would take a conscious effort on the part of many agencies to see the problems as related and to cross-report findings.
On November 4, 2003, New Mexico took a step toward recognizing these connections and moving forward to do something about ending them. The Hyatt Regency Tamaya on Santa Ana Pueblo hosted what is thought to be the first state event to address the link between animal cruelty and human violence. Sponsored by The Governor’s Office, The New Mexico Department of Public Safety, and Animal Protection of New Mexico this first annual conference drew a large, enthusiastic crowd. Almost 200 animal control officers, social service workers, shelter and rescue workers, and livestock inspectors from across the state gathered to discuss what most have seen too often on their jobs.
The day started with welcoming addresses from Carlos Maldonado, New Mexico State Police Chief, Marie “Sisi” Saenz, Department of Public Safety Deputy Director, actress Ali McGraw, and Bob Schwartz, Special Counsel to Governor Richardson.
Schwartz was quite forthright about proclaiming that the Richardson government will no longer tolerate situations such as the one reported in southern New Mexico where a woman called the Sheriff to report that her neighbor had shot and killed her cat. The reply she received was, “It’s just a damn cat, what do you want me to do?”
“We are here to start the process to protect those who can’t protect themselves. That includes animals. We will make sure judges know the importance of these cases,” Schwartz continued.
In another pronouncement, Schwartz talked about proposed legislation initiated by the Governor’s Office which would authorize the creation of an animal protective services board. This board would set minimum standards for shelters throughout the state and mandate humane euthanasia.
Lt. Sherry Schlueter, who heads the Special Victims and Family Crimes section of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, was one of the featured speakers. Lt. Schlueter is nationally known for her pioneering work in getting recognition for the importance of cross-training of and cross-reporting by various law enforcement and social service agencies concerning the problem of animal cruelty and human violence.
“I have always worked with the premise that people who are a danger to animals are a danger to me,” Lt. Schlueter said.
Her department covers crimes against the disabled, the elderly, children, the abused, or victims of animal cruelty. She views animal cruelty as a precursor of harm to others. “The triggers that cause someone to hurt another being are the same for children, animals or the elderly,” she said.
“Seventy-five percent of families with children have animals, but if you are in a dysfunctional family, the animals can be the first victims of domestic violence. They are ‘safe victims.’ And animals are often the most visible victims of violence,” Lt. Schlueter said.
For this reason Lt. Schlueter has sponsored a bill in the Florida legislature that would mandate that anyone checking on animal complaints, domestic violence complaints, child abuse complaints, or elder abuse complaints must look for signs of other types of abuse and report to the proper departments. Whoever the first responder is must make a report to all other concerned agencies.
The bill has not been enacted into law yet.
Dolores (DeeDee) Stroud, an Associate Director at All Faiths Receiving Home in Albuquerque who works on victim advocacy and community education, was the other featured speaker. Stroud trains police, district attorneys and others on the connection between violence to people and violence to animals.
Stroud provided some truly chilling statistics to illustrate this connection.
-80% of families where child abuse was reported also had incidents of animal abuse.
-30% of abused children become abusers themselves and commit 90% of the crimes against animals, children, spouses or the elderly.
-30% of abused children harm themselves.
-71% of women in shelters who owned pets reported that those pets were abused.
Stroud’s message was clear. Violence cannot be ranked. Violence is violence no matter who it is against and it cannot be tolerated. Abusers have power and control issues. People who abuse others have low impulse control that is often fueled by alcohol or drugs. Abusers also have unrealistic expectations of people and situations.
The family pet can be used to coerce a victim into silence. A parent might threaten to harm a child’s pet if the child reports being molested. Stroud told of a man who threw his wife’s puppy against the bathroom door over and over until it died as a way of punishing her. A child may kill her pet before the dominate adult has a chance to do it. The child believes the animal will have an easier death because the child is in control.
Parents and teachers need to ask the right questions when a child harms an animal. There is often abuse going on within the family or some abuse outside the family that is triggering this reaction in the child.
The afternoon was devoted to various breakout sessions ranging from those devoted to providing technical help with animal cruelty investigations to ones on hoarding and animal rescue. The technical courses covered crime scene management, search and seizure issues, crime scene photography, animal autopsies and law enforcement protocols. One course, facilitated by Animal Control Officer Andrew Jaramillo and Sisi Saenz of the Department of Public Safety dealt with animal control certification and whether animal control officers should become certified law enforcement officers with enforcement powers. Recommendations from this session will be given to the Governor’s Office.
Action needs to be taken at the highest policy level in response to this conference’s findings on the connection between animal cruelty and human violence. No one should hear the phrase, “It’s just a damn cat or dog” used by law enforcement, or anyone else, again. Note: please see "Editorial" for a related story and how you can help.
Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.
HOME NM Resources Archives Links Top