Pursuing the Link Between
the Prevention of Pet Abuse and
the Prevention of Child Abuse
by Gale Landingham

(nineth article)

(Gale Landingham)
Thursday evening I was reminded of a presentation I attended several years ago. The speaker was a Florida animal regulation officer who participated in a pilot program with local law enforcement and social work agencies to identify and investigate cases of possible child neglect or abuse. He stated that his agency had initiated the program
based on reports received from field officers, detailing what they saw while conducting animal welfare checks. Too often, children living on the same property with neglected or abused pets or farm animals showed obvious signs of neglect or abuse, as well.

This relationship isn’t a Florida phenomenon; it’s been documented extensively in many places.. Studies have uncovered evidence of what professionals in animal welfare, law enforcement, domestic violence and other groups had suspected for quite some time: There is a strong link between animal abuse and violence against humans. Because domestic abuse is directed toward the powerless, animal abuse and child abuse often go hand in hand. Parents who neglect or abuse animals may also abuse or neglect their own children.

I don’t mean to imply that where animal abuse occurs there will automatically also be abuse of children or vice versa. But, mistreatment of animals in a family can sound a warning bell that, in some cases, another form of family violence is occurring, and that a child may be at risk of abuse. Human victims of abuse may react to their pain and feelings of helplessness by hurting animals. This is why it is important for family physicians as well as veterinarians to be aware of this link and file a report if they suspect abuse within a home.

I’m not going to list statistics, but here’s a quote that sums the situation up pretty well. Mary Marsh, the Chief Executive of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, says: “Children and animals have one thing in common – both are easy to hurt. Interagency collaboration is crucial to effective systems of child and animal protection. We need to encourage cross reporting between child, family and animal protection agencies, police and social services. To achieve that we need to work together to help professionals working in animal and child protection to recognize the links between what they see in their line of work and possible connections to either child abuse, animal abuse or domestic violence.”

Alaska is not yet one of the many states with formal programs or policies requiring interagency collaboration, but we will be, eventually. In the meantime, the rest of us can do a lot to help.

* Take animal neglect and abuse seriously. It is a definite indication of a problem in the home. Even minor acts of cruelty can be a sign of trouble.
* Report neglect and abuse to Mat-Su Animal Care and Regulation, and to the Division of Family and Youth Services if children are involved.
* Document what you see and any conversations you might have that can help show the pattern of abuse towards animals and people.
* Show and encourage children to be kind towards animals. Children learn behavior, and compassion, from the adults around them.

Animal welfare organizations are taking a pro-active role to prevent animal abuse and cruelty with humane education programs. This movement aims to teach children and adults about proper animal care and, more importantly, the ability to relate to animals in a caring and compassionate manner. Rays of Hope is now developing its own humane education curriculum, with the aim of fostering compassion and respect for all living beings.

Back to
Voice for the Animals
articles list