by Anna Cooke
One of the first studies to address the link between child abuse and animal abuse, discovered that 88 percent of homes with physically abused children also included abuse or neglect of the family pet (DeViney, Dickert & Lockhart 1983). In a nationwide study, more than 71 percent of battered women reported that their abusers had harmed, killed or threatened animals, and 32 percent reported that their children harmed or killed animals (Ascione et al, 1997). Children who are exposed to domestic violence are nearly three times more likely to treat animals with cruelty than children who are not exposed to such violence (Currie, 2006). Animal cruelty committed by children is often symptomatic of future abuse toward other animals or people.
The dog who inspired Utah’s Henry’s Law was tortured by a man who was jealous of his wife’s pet. Rhonda Kamper wasn’t aware of the dog abuse her Chihuahua was enduring while she was at work. If Henry was in her lap when the couple was sitting on the couch, it was an issue. If she took the dog for a walk, it was an issue. “I’d ask my husband to come walk with us, but he wouldn’t,” said Kamper. Increasingly suspicious, she warned her husband that if anything happened to Henry, their marriage was over. “You love that dog more than me,” her husband responded. One day, she came home to find the dog injured with burns. After pressing her husband for an answer, he told her the dog had been placed in the oven. “I saw a side of my husband I had never seen before,” said Kamper. By the weekend, she had left.
While awareness of the correlation between domestic violence and animal cruelty continues to grow, only a fraction of shelters for domestic abuse victims allow pets. This means that the victim often remains in a dangerous situation rather than leave a companion pet – sometimes the only comfort that they have had during their abuse.
Recently, Mikkel Becker, a certified dog trainer and Dr. Marty Becker‘s daughter, shared her own story of domestic violence. Mikkel is a contributor for vetstreet.com, USA Today, Woman’s Day and Real Simple Magazine, and the co-author of five books.
“As painful as it is to share my story, I hope other victims and survivors of domestic violence can find hope and reassurance that they’re not alone,” wrote Mikkel. “I continue to pray, deep in the heart of me, that more domestic violence shelters find ways to offer support to help both humans and pets. As I know all too well, the love of our animals can keep us trapped in dangerous situations for far too long.”
Abuse of pets raises concern for the children in these households for several reasons. First, witnessing the abuse of a beloved pet is emotionally distressing for the child. Second, it also models a pattern of behavior that clearly is detrimental to healthy development. In addition, abusers’ unrealistic expectations of pets may lead to abusive incidents such as beating a puppy for urinating on the floor. This is worrisome since unrealistic developmental expectations also are a common trigger for child abuse (e.g., shaking injuries in crying infants, abuse of toddlers associated with toilet-training accidents).
The length of time children remain in these dangerous, sometimes deadly environments may be prolonged by the presence of pets. Concerns about the pets’ safety leads many victims to delay leaving their abusive homes. Abusers whose violence includes abuse of family pets have been shown to be more controlling and to employ more dangerous forms of violence.*
Forty years ago, CASA (Community Action Stops Abuse) began as a simple eight-bed emergency shelter for victims of domestic violence. CASA is the official domestic violence center for southern Pinellas County. By the late 1990s, it had grown into a 30-bed shelter with a 24-hour Crisis Hotline, Outreach Services and the Peacemaker Program. Today, CASA has a beautiful new 100-bed emergency shelter and its Pet Kennel is scheduled to officially open before the end of 2017.
Over the past 12 months alone, CASA has provided 37,000 nights of safety at its shelter. When the new shelter was being built, it was always the vision and immediate goal of Executive Director Linda A. Osmundson, to construct an on-site kennel for pets. Unfortunately, it did not make the initial budget cut and the project was put on an indeterminate hold until after the construction of the much-needed larger domestic violence shelter was complete. Thanks to a generous donation by a local animal lover, a grant from RedRover Relief and Linda’s dogged determination, the 288 square foot pet kennel has been constructed.
We had an opportunity to tour the facility and kennels in March 2017 with John Biesinger and Mo Venouziou. “Every person who comes through those doors presents a different issue. Deciding to leave an abusive situation while a pet remains behind is not something we want these women and children to have to worry about. Thanks to our great staff, like Vanessa Washington, and our volunteers, we’re able to make it work,” said Biesinger. Vanessa is one of the top two advocates in Florida.
“Domestic violence can be so easy for people to ignore, as it often happens without any witnesses and it is sometimes easier not to get involved. Yet, by publicly speaking out against domestic violence, together we can challenge attitudes towards violence in the home and show that it is a crime, not merely unacceptable.” Honor Blackman.
Domestic violence crosses socio-economic divides. You may find out that someone with a successful career, who is making plenty of money, has been a victim and wonder how is that even possible. “Control is part of what an abuser has over his victim,” said Biesinger. “There are women making money, and yet have never balanced a check book. Their abuser takes the money away from them as a means to keep them believing they are powerless to do anything else.”
“Linda was a force of nature. She knew how important it was to have the pet kennel on-site,” added Biesinger. The kennel will allow families to be with their pets on a daily basis. “Indeed. Part of the agreement is that the families feed, walk and clean up after their pets,” said Biesinger. Families are also encouraged to cook and dine together in one of CASA’s two kitchens and dining rooms. The shelter encourages maintaining as much normalcy to family life as possible.
Sadly, Linda Osmundson did not live to see her vision through. She passed away in 2016. However, we’re certain she’s pleased with the results of her vision.
NOTE: The CASA Pet Kennel program will require monetary donations to operate. On November 8, 2017, THE NEW BARKER and Aerie Lane are co-hosting a private event in Safety Harbor to jumpstart the fundraising campaign. From 6:30p-9p, in a quaint, intimate setting, you will meet with friends and like-minded people to create your very own DIY Aerie Lane signature project for the home, holidays or your pet. A portion of the proceeds will go to the CASA Pet Kennel. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. To register, please click on this link: The New Barker+Aerie Lane Present An Evening For CASA PET SHELTER
PAWS – Pets And Women’s Shelters: The Humane Society of the United States has proposed the PAWS Act (S.322/H.R.909). Under the bill, federal domestic violence protections would include threats and violence against pets. In addition, the bill would extend grant funding to domestic-violence shelters to provide pet housing and include veterinary costs in restitution payments.
RedRover Relief grants help domestic violence victims and their pets escape abusive situations together. To find a domestic violence shelter in Florida that accepts pets, visit RedRover Relief’s website: SafePlaceForPets.org. For information on grants, email info@RedRover.org or call 916.429.2457.
CASA 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline: 727.895.4912 TTY: 727.828.1269
CASA-StPete.org CASA Collections Thrift Shoppe 1011 1st Avenue North, St. Petersburg Call 727.828.1233 for store hours. All proceeds are used to fund CASA’s programs and services for survivors of domestic violence.
*Excerpt from American Academy of Pediatrics article by Tara L. Harris, M.D., M.S. FAAP.