Animal Abuse Linked to Human Abuse

July 9, 2004

WHEN the Health Ministry announcedearlier this year a decree to prevent theabuse and neglect of pets, some quippedthat dogs and cats had more rights thantheir owners.However, the Humanitarian Associationfor the Protection of Animals has launched acampaign to show that the abuse of one isoften a sign of abuse of the other.Not only do abusive parents and spousesoften take their aggression out on pets asmuch as they do family members, but achild’s violent behavior toward animals cansuggest propensity for future violence,according to the Humanitarian Association.The logic then follows that the preventionof pet abuse can lead to the preventionof domestic abuse, and vice versa, accordingto the Humanitarian Association,which runs an Heredia animal shelter.WITH prevention in mind, theHumanitarian Association brought thisconnection to the attention of judges, publicdefenders, prosecutors and social workersat a forum earlier this year.The efforts took on international significancelast month when shelter officialswere contacted by the U.S.-based Peoplefor the Ehtical Treatment of Animals(PETA). PETA wants to use a HumanitarianAssociation video made by Dr. FranzVega, a forensic scientist for the CostaRica’s Supreme Court, which demonstratesthe correlation between pet anddomestic abuse.Shelter officials hope that by educatingplayers in Costa Rica’s judicial systemabout the correlation, they can help curbboth animal abuse and domestic violence.“When they first invited me (to theforum), I thought it was a joke,” saidRolfedo Chaves, a public defender inCartago, who attended the forum. “But Ican already see the relationship.”Chaves was hesitant to say he wouldbegin considering animal abuse a seriouscrime, but he did say the information wasimportant to take into consideration amongall the evidence of a case.Others were more convinced.“THE mistreatment of animals can bea key, if a judge sees violence against petsin a home, it gives him another piece ofevidence about what is happening there,”said John Walter Acosta, a psychologistwith the Judicial Branch.Social workers can use the correlationbetween pet abuse and domestic violence ina similar manner when observing homes,said social worker Rosario González.Instead of just observing children andparents, social workers should look at thecondition of animals to see if they are wellfed and groomed, or injured and afraid.Social workers could be tipped off to othertypes of violence, she said.IN 88% of pet-owning families wherechild abuse is present, at least one familymember had abused animals, according toa survey of New Jersey’s Division of Youthand Family Services.In two-thirds of those homes, the abusiveparent had injured or killed a pet.In addition, surveys of women seekinghelp for domestic abuse reveal that up to70% of those who owned pets reported theirabusive partner also hurt or killed their pets.Pets often keep victims of abuse in theabusive situation, according to DianaFernández, secretary of the HumanitarianAssociation’s board of directors. Victimsare afraid to leave their beloved pets inviolent homes and cannot take the animalsto shelters, she explained.Domestic abusers also exploit familymembers’ – particularly children’s – bondswith pets by threatening to hurt or kill animalsif they are not quiet about domestic orsexual abuse.Violence against animals is used toexpress and maintain power and scare peopleinto submission, González said.ABUSE against animals not only servesas a sign of other violence that may be happeningwithin a home, it can also be an earlymanifestation of violent tendencies when achild is the abuser, according to Acosta.U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) research of serial killers in the 1970srevealed that most, as children, killed ortortured animals.“This does not mean that everybodywho commits violence against animals willbecome a serial killer,” Fernández said.“But there is a common link.”Recognizing this at an early age willnot only help prevent additional violentacts against animals, but the possibility ofmore serious crimes in the future, she said.IN February, the Ministry of Healthissued the Regulation of Reproductionand Responsible Ownership of Pets (TT,Feb. 20).This decree says pet owners are responsiblefor providing pets with healthy livingconditions, a sufficiently long tether whentied up and rabies vaccinations.In addition, owners can be held liable fortheir pets’ attacks or aggressive behaviortoward others. As a regulation, rather than alaw, this does not set specific punishmentsfor non-compliance, according to Fernández.Punishments for animal abuse areinstead described in the penal code, she said.The current law says people who mistreat,injure or cause the unnecessary death of animals,or force animals to do excessive work,will be punished from five to 30 days.THE connection between animalabuse and other violence is a relativelynew concept in society, Fernández said.

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