The connection between animal abuse and domestic violence has long been known and is an ongoing problem that is being brought to light in New Mexico.
Referred to as “The Link,” groups are now trying to understand and call attention to the relationship between abusing animals and violence in homes in hopes that these efforts will create an opportunity for prevention and protection for animals.
Nationwide studies have shown that, “up to 71 percent of women (with companion animals) entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened their animals for revenge or to psychologically control them.”
Lawmakers in New Mexico have responded to this problem in their state with the passage of a joint memorial in the last legislative session, which will make February 10 New Mexico Link Awareness Day.
An effort to include animals in orders of protection didn’t make it through under the state’s Family Violence Protection Act, but supporters will push for it again in the next session.
Some states have already changed their laws to include animals under protective orders, including Maine, Vermont and New York. Similar laws have been adopted in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Louisiana, Nevada, Puerto Rico, Tennessee and Washington.
Nationwide studies have also shown that up to 40 percent of battered women can’t leave abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their companion animals.
It’s a difficult spot to be in, and victims should not have to make the choice between saving themselves and their children or saving their pets.
According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s 2004 National Directory of Domestic Violence Programs, over 700 shelters across the country provide some assistance or referrals for placement of pets. However, there are only 54 that are equipped to provide a safe haven for both human and animal victims of violence in the same place, according to American Humane.
American Humane is one group making strides with their Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) program that advocates keeping victims of abuse and their pets together for the safety of both, not to mention the emotional benefits that pets can provide during turmoil, by providing grants and encouraging shelters to allow victims to bring their pets.
With a greater understanding and an ability to identify abusers, law enforcement agencies mental health professionals, criminal justice systems and the public can work together to prevent abuse.
More studies have shown that, “disturbed children often kill or harm animals to emulate their parents’ conduct, to prevent the abuser from killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions on another victim.”
Programs such as Anicare Child, which is the first published treatment method that focuses on working with children who abuse animals, can be used to stop the cycle of abuse.
It’s time to start taking animal abuse seriously, not only for the voiceless animal victims, but for people as well.