March 1, 2013
By: Milica Zivkovic
Guest Writer, Grand Rapids
The Cooley Animal Law Society (ALS) hosted its annual symposium on February 16, 2013 in Grand Rapids, MI. The keynote speaker was Phil Arkow, an internationally respected lecturer, author, and animal-welfare educator. Mr. Arkow specializes in the link between animal cruelty and human violence. He serves as a coordinator of the National Link Coalition, as a link consultant for the ASPCA and Animals & Society Institute, and as the chair of the Latham Foundation’s Animal Abuse and Family Violence Prevention Project.
Mr. Arkow provided an informative analysis about “The Link”
– the common area shared by animal abuse, child maltreatment, domestic violence, and elder abuse. He suggests that there is an inseparable connection between human and animal welfare and this link should be used as a catalyst to prevent future community and family violence. He further explored three key areas for understanding this connection: the common types of abuse, the underlying reasons for it, and public awareness in the courts and criminal-justice systems.
Mr. Arkow first explained that the type of abuse depends on the perpetrator’s underlying motive for the abuse. He addressed some common types of abuse based on the perpetrator’s intent:
- Neglect: where the perpetrator gains no satisfaction from his or her actions. There are two types of neglect: simple neglect, which is not enough to prosecute; and gross, willful, intentional, or malicious neglect of an animal, which can be prosecuted. If the perpetrator’s intent is unknown, then it is more difficult to prosecute.
- Physical abuse: where the perpetrator gains satisfaction from exerting dominance over the animal.
- Cruelty: where the perpetrator gains satisfaction from seeing the animal suffer.
- Sex abuse: such as bestiality.
- Hoarding: where the perpetrator gains satisfaction from caregiving.
The underlying reasons for the animal abuse depend on the perpetrator and the surrounding facts. Adults are cruel to animals for wide-ranging and complex reasons. The perpetrator may: lack the ability to empathize with animals; lack adequate coping skills, be socialized to abuse; use the abuse to threaten, intimidate, or control ; or have some underlying psychopathology. The reasons why children are cruel to animals, in addition to those listed above, also include re-enacting their own experience, imitating adult actions, regaining a sense of power after abuse, coercion by a more powerful person, and even curiosity and boredom.
Researchers have learned that there is a strong link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence.
- A child’s witnessing or participating in animal abuse is a predictor or indicator of future domestic violence.
- Batterers tend to threaten or kill pets to control their victims in homes of domestic violence.
- Animal neglect, e.g. hoarding, is a strong indicator that elderly individuals are in need of social service or mental-health assistance.
The two key challenges that face the criminal-justice system and social services are the lack of reporting systems sharing information among agencies, and the lack of cross-reporting between animal-welfare organizations and human-services agencies. Mr. Arkow offered three potential solutions.
(1) The perception of animal abuse must change to be seen as a human welfare issue.
(2) Re-define animal abuse as family violence.
(3) Require cross-training among the animal-welfare and human-services agencies to recognize and report all forms of family violence.
Mr. Arkow’s premise, that any people don’t recognize the link between animal abuse and human violence, is unfortunate. Fortunately, there are solutions. One reporting system among community caregivers that would include all types reported – animal abuse, domestic violence, child maltreatment, and elder abuse – would be a welcome development.