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Norwich Bulletin - 2/12/2006

Cruelty Link

I have seen horrendous cases of animal abuse that have made me sick to my stomach and given me nightmares, years after they have occurred. The memory of the beautiful red tabby Adonis, who was stolen by an angry roommate, tortured and eventually killed still haunts me.

Helping Paws own rescue, the tabby and white kitty Chance, whose legs were broken in multiple places at the age of eight weeks by a group of pre-teen boys – and my own little Wink, whose eye was gouged out by someone with severe anger management issues. And we can’t forget AJ, the young Pit Bull that Helping Paws took in after his back was burned to punish him for his failure to be a proper fighting dog.

Who are these people who can commit such horrendous deeds and not feel a shed of remorse? They are abusers, young people starting their pattern of abuse, or adults who are starting with the most vulnerable member of their family, until they work their way up to their human victims. Studies have shown, that where at one time, animal abuse by children was viewed as “boys will be boys,” experts now see a very definite correlation between the young animal abusers and their transformation to family abuse, whether directed at their children, their spouse or their parents.

Animal abuse is often used to control or manipulate other family members. On a small scale, parents may threaten to get rid of the family cat or dog if the children do not do their homework and on a larger scale, the boyfriend hurts the pet in order to hurt the girlfriend who has done something to make him angry. The fact that this type of behavior is being recognized as a beginning for eventual human violence, has forced lawmakers to strengthen actions against animal cruelty. Forty-two states now charge extreme cruelty to animals as a felony, and many state agencies (child protection, mental health, etc.) work more closely with animal welfare advocates to address the correlation between the abuses.

But we still need more. A national database of animal cruelty cases should be available and we should have mandated reporting of suspected animal abusers, much the same way we have mandated reporters for suspected child abuse.

While we have all read about the link between serial killers and early animal abusers, there are far more domestic abusers. They are just not deemed worthy of the same media attention a serial killer warrants. And yet it is important to remember that someone who is cruel to animals may graduate to worse crimes, i.e. crimes against people (which in my humble opinion is not necessarily worse, but on an even keel).

It is important that law enforcement and social services start taking a harder look at animal cruelty and the people who are responsible for these actions. Animal abuse may indicate domestic abuse in a home or mental illness in a child or adult. We need to have strong animal cruelty laws and we need to find a way to protect the pets of domestic abuse victims so that the human victims will not have to worry about their animals if they finally leave their home.

Many women have reported that they have stayed longer in their abusive relationship than they might have because they were worried about their pet and they did not have anywhere to go that would take the cat or dog. Also, the children would get terribly upset if they left their home without their furry friend. Perhaps one of the answers would be for battered women’s shelters to find a way to allow the victims who seek help, to bring their pet with them, along with their children.

Animal abuse is not a pretty sight. It is not anything that we want to even consider could happen in our neighborhood, and yet it does. Animal abuse crosses all walks of life; it happens in wealthy homes, as well as low income families. There are educated animal abusers, as well as people who have never gotten past the eighth grade. They can be our neighbor, our child’s teacher or our daughter’s boyfriend. But whoever they are, they need to be stopped – and only we can stop them.

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