Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Relation Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Response Part III of III regarding "There are so many awful things happening to people in the world. Why do you focus on animals in crisis?"

I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer alongside Summer Wyatt, West Virginia HSUS Director this past autumn. During a break in our day, we fell into a discussion about her job duties, the prevalence of horse abuse and neglect occurring in her state, and how she became involved in animal welfare. One of the key points she kept bringing up was the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

This was a topic that had always interested me and is always in the back of my mind when I see an animal that has been neglected or abused. One of the newer rescues at Paws For Life is Sloan, a white shepherd-husky mix. He is a shy and sweet 10-month old who is active and loves to play. He is also still recovering from a severe laceration that at one point was two inches wide and four inches long. As the injury was mostly healed by the time he came to the rescue, the vets are unsure if it had been a bite wound from another dog, piece of jagged metal, or some kind of stabbing incident.

I always wonder in cases like Sloan. I wonder if the wound was caused by a person, what the life of that person is like.

According to this downloadable .pdf from the National Coalition of Domestic Violence, we have a pretty good picture of that life:

  • 71% of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32% reported their children had hurt or killed animals.
  • 68% of battered women reported violence towards their animals. 87% of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75% in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them.
  • Between 25% and 40% of battered women are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets should they leave. The percentage increases for women who have pets but no children.
  • Only 12% of domestic violence shelters offer shelter for pets.
  • Women who do seek safety at shelters are nearly 11 times more likely to report that theri partner has hurt or killed their animals than women who have not experienced domestic abuse.
Again, animal issues are people issues. And in this case, identifying abuse in animals can save human lives.

Referenced and related articles:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Animal Issues Are People Issues

In training for animal disaster relief, one thing phrase that gets repeated frequently is, "Animal Issues Are People Issues."

This sounds like second nature to animal lovers. I can see, however, how those who don't have an animal or don't view animals as family members might not make the connection. Consider the following statistics:

  • 57% of households in the United States have at least one companion animal. 67% of those homes have dogs, 33% have cats, 9% have exotics or small animals.
  • This equates to close to 93 million cats and 77 million dogs.
  • 9 of 10 families consider their pets to be "a member of the family".
  • 1 in 3 pet owners have photographs of their pets displayed in their homes.
  • Over 80% of pet owners admit to talking to their pets, a significant amount report that they believe their pets seem to 'sense' or 'understand' their moods.
  • 25% of those surveyed say they have missed a day of work to care for a sick pet.
  • 90% of Americans believe that senior citizens, the handicapped, and special-needs children will have more satisfying and complete lives if they have a companion animal.

What does this mean? It means that companion animals are a huge part of our lives, economy, and emotional well-being. Helping animals means helping their people. Bringing people and animals together means building families.

Referenced articles:

Monday, March 14, 2011

My animal history

Part I of III in response to "There are so many awful things happening to people in the world. Why do you focus on animals in crisis?"

Most children have an imaginary friend. As an only child, I was no different. Except that my friend was not another little girl to play with or an imaginary little brother. He was a dalmatian named Spot.

Now, this might not be so odd if I had been an only child in a home with no pets, longing for her first puppy after her mother read Dodie Smith's 101 Dalmatians out loud as a bedtime story. But my house had no lack of animals. We had a cat, occasionally two. We had two dogs: a labrador-husky mix named Captain and his best gal pal, some kind of black setter mix named Bess. I had a hamster named Herb after a Burger King commercial campaign. My dad kept fish tanks with fat ancient goldfish that were older than I was. At one point we had a mudpuppy.

Like most little girls, I loved Disney movies but I wasn't a Disney Princess girl. I had the VHS and read-a-long cassette and picture books for Lady and the Tramp and The Fox and The Hound memorized. I still cry at the scene with the poem when Widow Tweed drops Todd off at the nature preserve.

I grew out of my invisible friend stage and lost myself in friendships with new fictional critters through books. I would read them all, my cats Mittens or Murphy curled up behind my knees as I read by flashlight under the covers on my canopy bed long after lights out.

My favorite books were White Fang; Kavik the Wolfdog; The Incredible Journey; Beverly Cleary's Ribsy, Slider, and Socks; Ursula K. LeGuin's Catwings. Small animals were heroes in Bunnicula, Beverly Cleary's The Mouse and the Motorcycle and the entire Houdini series about an escape-artist hamster. My mom would play all the James Herriot books on audiotape on long car trips. Oh, and don't forget the horse books: Black Beauty, Misty of Chincoteague series, and all the Black Stallion books.

My late teen and adult life was relatively absent of animals and focused on my collegiate studies in foreign language and education until my husband (boyfriend at the time) bought me a bunny in 2001. My world had been missing a furry friend and Winston was my best pal. Eventually our furry family grew to include Ollie, Marshall, Gus, and foster friends.

I could say all the often repeated reasons that people love animals: Animals just get it. They don't know how to be immoral or mean. They are not passive aggressive. They have no ulterior motives, they just do what works. Tomorrow is a new day, all is forgiven, and they hold no grudges. Ultimately, you see what you get. They live in the present.

I help them translate our crazy primate way of communicating into their own language. But they help me so much more: Animals are my teachers as I strive to learn patience, compassion, presence.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Why I Care About Animal Rescue

There are so many awful things happening to people in the world. Why do you focus on animals in crisis?

I get this question a lot. The answer is fairly simple and breaks down into three parts.

In the next three posts, I'm going to talk about all three separately.