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Animal abuse concerns county officials

By Staff | Aug 24, 2011

Is there a connection between incidents of domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty? Many experts say so, as do local officials. And, recent acts of violence perpetrated closer to home, serve as an early warning of things to come.

Last week, a small, gray kitten narrowly escaped the grasp of a pair of young boys at the Sistersville City Park. Linda Henriksen, president of the Olive Branch Animal Rescue and Refuge, received a call from a lady who reported an incident of animal cruelty in Sistersville. “She told me there were two young boys in the area of the Sistersville Park burning a screeching kitten’s tail,” Henriksen explained. “She said she ran toward them, and they threw the kitten down and ran off. Needless to say, the poor kitten ran as well.” Unfortunately, the caller was so shaken, she hung up before leaving her name. Therefore, no charges were filed with the Sistersville Police Department.

The kitten suffered burns on his tail and back leg. It was later found by a group of people from a neighboring church, who brought it to the Olive Branch. The animal was immediately treated by a local veterinarian, however, the burns were so extensive, the kitten’s tail had to be removed.

Named ‘spirit’ for his will to survive, Henriksen reported the kitten is recovering well. But the malicious nature of the “crime” still remains, as residents ask themselves, “Should we be worried?”

Toni Vancamp, Tyler County’s victim’s advocate, says yes, and the evidence connecting animal abuse to personal violence is continually growing.

According to a report put out by the American Bar Association, ACTION for Child Protection, American Humane Association, and the Humane Society of the United States, children and the society in which they live pay a high price for witnessing violence – whether the violence was directed at a parent, sibling, or pet – and too often they pay it the rest of their lives.

The report, titled “A Common Bond: Maltreated Children and Animals in the Home,” was created to provided a framework where individual agencies can work more closely to protect animals and people. Vancamp says the statistics cited in the report are undeniable.

The report found that found that animal abuse occurred in 88 percent of families that were under state supervision for the physical abuse of their children. State and national surveys of domestic violence victims consistently find that as many as 71 percent of battered women report that their male partners had threatened to or had, in fact, harmed or killed their pets.

The effects of such violence don’t just go away. If witnessed by young children the behavior is often passed down. Thirty-two percent of the women with children reported that one of their children also had committed acts of animal cruelty. Other studies reinforce the findings that animal abuse often is a child’s response to witnessing domestic violence and that children exposed to domestic violence are at significantly increased risk for behavior problems.

It’s becoming a bigger problem in West Virginia, so much so that domestic violence shelters often include questions about pets in their in-take procedures. Vancamp notes that far too often, women and children fail to recognize animal cruelty as a warning sign.”When you ask a victim of domestic violence if they have ever witnessed animal abuse by their abuser, its often times like an ‘aha’ moment for the victim, and typically, their answer is yes,” Vancamp said.

Tyler County Prosecuting Attorney D. Luke Furbee isn’t surprised by connections between the acts of violence, as one form of violence is often a step up to another form.

“It’s not a big step from being cruel to an animal to being cruel to other people,” said Furbee. “I would imagine it’s similar to the correlation between juvenile fire starting and people with distinct anti-social features in their personalities.”

Furbee points out that most crime share the same roots in hate and anger.

“It would indicate to me an inability to control one’s anger and would also be indicative of anti-social behavior, which is the root of most criminal activity,” remarked Furbee. “Our penal laws have been designed to sometimes chastise and other times correct anti-social behavior.”

Fortunately, Tyler County has access to resources to help battered women and abused children through the Family Crisis Intervention Center.

“Not only do they give a physical shelter to victims of domestic violence, but they also have supportive counseling, children’s programs, and regular victim advocacy just like I do,” said Vancamp.

She noted several cases wherein victims have refused leave their abusers because of the animals having no where else to go and their fear that they will not be properly cared for.Many victims also feel their abuser may injure the animal as an act of retaliation. And, while the shelters operated by the Family Crisis Intervention Center don’t allow animals, Vancamp says they work to make sure the pets of families are taken care of. “We know it’s a problem and we have partnerships with people that we can protect most of those pets,” said Vancamp. “It is complicated, but we always find someone to take them and usually, just like the adult victim, family members will take in their pets whenever they realize how important those pets are to the victim. Pets are the crutch and they have a positive psychological connection to these pets.”

“It also shows how much a person fears for their safety when they actually do leave their animals, even if only for a couple of days, until they can get an Emergency Protective Order, and get custody of the pets,” Vancamp said.

Furbee adds that victims of domestic violence and child abuse are not helping themselves by not reporting the crime

“Domestic violence is a insidious problem and a lot of it goes under-reported,” said Furbee. “In a good portion of the cases that do get reported the victim later decides they don’t want to continue with the prosecution. All of those things are a part of psychology that goes into these types of cases. It’s important for people who have become victims of domestic violence to report it. It’s also important to allow the courts to deal with the matter properly so it doesn’t become a prison for the victim..