Criminals in the making

Debbie Jacob
Debbie Jacob

POLICE STORIES usually make me cringe or cry, but a police story last week had me celebrating. Police Commissioner Gary Griffith’s promise to “crack down and charge pet owners who ill-treat, abandon, neglect and abuse animals” is cause for rejoicing.

This could be one of the most important decisions Griffith will make as police chief. It certainly was far more than a story about an animal-loving police commissioner and a photo op with his four Rottweilers. This is serious, crime-fighting business.

There are hundreds of important studies that say identifying, intervening and charging people for animal cruelty is an effective way to stop a pattern of escalating crime. Animal abusers are not just uncaring or cruel people. They are budding criminals whose heinous mistreatment of animals will escalate into other forms of abuse if they are not stopped early on. There are many studies that show that.

A good place to begin is an article by Phil Arko entitled “The National Resource Center on the Link between Animal Abuse and Human Violence” because Arko includes studies from several countries.

Arko focuses on animal abuse as a “possible indicator and predictor of interpersonal violence.”

Where one sees animal abuse, studies say, one often sees family abuse. Arko speaks about “battered pets” syndrome, and work that has been done with veterinarians in recognising and reporting animal abuse. Many nations have introduced polices and legislation requiring veterinarians to report animal abuse in much the same way medical doctors report child or spousal abuse to the police.

“The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association recognises animal abuse as an important social issue affecting families and communities due to the link between animal abuse and human violence and states this has an impact on an entire community.”

Law enforcement agencies and the medical community see clear links between animal abuse and other crimes.

“Animal abuse is part of the spectrum of family and community violence which should be viewed as a leading worldwide public health problem,” Arko writes.

In Australia, animal abuse is looked at as “an important sentinel for domestic violence and child abuse, and raises important questions about the type of society we wish to live in.”

Animal abuse is indeed a reflection of society. Crime spirals out of control when we turn a blind eye to it and do not seek to intervene. To turn our backs on violence because it is happening to animals means we are missing a key initial stage in the development of criminal behaviour.

A New Zealand study on women refuge clients described pets as “pawns” in domestic violence. It said animal abuse “creates a culture of normalised violence and psychological and emotional abuse, and it is conducted purposefully by batterers who believe that police will not see animal cruelty as warranting taking action.”

Harming an animal is often seen as a way of controlling or instilling fear in family members. “Orchestrated harm to animals creates a level of intimidation that secures families’ obedience,” says Arko.

In one study, 32.7 per cent of surveyed participants with children said the children had witnessed threats to injure or kill an animal while 24.5 per cent had witnessed someone actually killing or injuring an animal. Similar findings were reported in studies in the US, Canada, Australia, the Bahamas and Ireland. I won’t go into the section on sexual crimes involving animals, but it is more prevalent than you might think.

“Partners of women living in domestic shelters were reported to be 11 times more likely to hurt or kill pets compared to partners of non-abused women,” says Arko. “A history of pet abuse was reported to be one of the four most significant risk factors of becoming a batterer.”

When it comes to animal abuse, the innocent suffer. This has a spillover effect. One study showed that “21.1 per cent of 256 canine attacks resulting in human deaths involved dogs that had been abused” and “families under investigation for child abuse experienced 11 times more dog bites than did non-abusing households.”

Clearly animal abuse is an indication of family abuse so Griffith’s directive to take it more seriously is important. If Griffith requires his officers to keep proper statistics from the beginning of this initiative, we will be able to garner much information about developing crime.

Griffith says he can assist animal activists, but he cannot form a dedicated cruelty unit in the Police Service. I am hoping research, which I can gladly provide, will convince him to find a way to create that cruelty unit.


"Criminals in the making"

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