In our third and final interview of the incredible Dr. Lila Miller, VP of the National Veterinary Outreach Department at the ASPCA, we are bringing to you the petrifying facts about how animal abuse is directly related to humans and the home environment. Is it really a predictor of sexual assault? And most importantly, what can you do if you see animal abuse? What can you do if you are a victim of this “link” between human and animal abuse?
WILD: Every year we hear about terrible cases where dogs are left in a car, overheated, and died. Which states charge people for this abusive act?
MILLER: 14 states prohibit leaving dogs in cars including AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, SD, VT, and WV. In other states people may be charged for animal cruelty if the animal is left in the car and it dies.
WILD: What are the myths that keep some veterinarians from reporting animal abuse? How are those reasons totally unjustifiable?
MILLER: 1) Standards for reporting are unclear as they may require direct knowledge (AL), known or suspected cases (MN), reasonable knowledge (WV)-however veterinarians should report good faith suspicions that an animal is a victim of a nonaccidental injury or animal cruelty regardless of the exact wording of the reporting statute but in accordance with the statutory definition of animal cruelty. 2)Violation of some state confidentiality rules regarding medical records – however medical records are not confidential by law in every state, and many states make exceptions for breaking confidentiality when reporting cases where an animal’ s safety or the public health is concerned. 3) No medical guidelines or training is available – however,this is no longer true as many textbooks and continuing education in forensics medicine are now available. 4) No immunity from prosecution for false reports – however many states now provide immunity for filing false reports and good faith reports seldom result in punitive action. 5) Fear that nothing will happen or the situation could get worse – however, this is a possibility whenever a crime is being reported; there is never a guarantee of a positive resolution but that is no excuse for ignoring criminal activity. 6) Clients who neglect or abuse animals need education and guidance, not arrest-however, most reports of suspicions of abuse do not result in arrest, but may help in a situation where an intervention or education is warranted. Veterinarians may choose education or guidance instead of reporting in situations that they judge will benefit from such actions. Reporting animal abuse should be viewed as helping animals and families rather than just meting out punishment 7) Other professionals should deal with the problem of animal abuse – however, the veterinary profession is only now seeing an interest in veterinary social work, so, for now, the management of most animal abuse cases falls to veterinarians and law enforcement 8) Owners would refuse to seek medical care in questionable circumstances for fear of being reported-this was a fear that was articulated by the medical profession when they were mandated to report child abuse but did not materialize. 9)Fears for personal safety-however,if they are valid fears for personal safety then it would seem imperative to file a report to try to get help and prevent violent behavior from the suspect.10) Fear of loss of clients and damage to the practice-however, there is no reason to believe that clients would refuse to come to a practice demonstrating the highest standards and ethical behavior that the public has come to expect from the veterinary profession
WILD: A very unique study has been shown that animal abuse is the first point of intercession of human abuse, known as the “link”. Could you please describe this more?
MILLER: There are many studies about the “link” between animal abuse and human violence. It has often been found that an investigation into an allegation that are animal has been abused has uncovered child abuse, domestic violence, or other violent behavior. One good resource is the book,” Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence” edited by Randall Lockwood and Frank Ascione” published 1998 by Purdue University press.(See answer 16 below for other resources) It details many of the studies that have been performed that support the idea of a” link” that asserts when animals are abused, humans are at risk and vice versa. In many cases it has been found that serial killers and people exhibiting violent or criminal behavior began their careers by brutally torturing and killing animals.
WILD: The New South Wales Study (2002) showed that animal abuse is a better predictor of sexual assault than previous convictions for homicide, arson, or firearms offenses. What other statistics are thus encouraging more legislation against as animal abuse?
MILLER The national link coalition maintains a website (nationallinkcoalition.org ) that has many of the reports that link animal abuse to violence and other criminal activities. Merz Perez (2001) found that violent offenders in a maximum security prison were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have a history of prior acts of animal cruelty. A study by the MS PCA found that men who were prosecuted for animal cruelty were five times more likely to have been arrested for acts of violence against humans and four times more likely to have committed property crimes. A paper published in October 2005 in the Journal of Community Health found that pet abuse is one of five factors that predicted who would begin other abusive behaviors. These studies should be of interest to all law enforcement personnel who are charged with not only fighting crime but preventing it, and who do not take animal abuse seriously and brush it off as just being an animal
WILD: What role does the ASPCA do to curtail animal abuse?
MILLER: The mission of the ASPCA is to prevent animal cruelty and it has many programs whose goals are to fulfill its mission. Programs generally fall into the categories of law enforcement, education, and legislation. Its humane law enforcement department in New York is charged with enforcing the laws regarding animal cruelty in New York State, although its primary focus is in New York City. ASPCA agents have peace officer status and can investigate and arrest suspects involved with animal cruelty in New York. They sometimes work together with the local New York Police Department or federal authorities on certain investigations, in particular, large dog fighting operations that may cross state lines. It has run and continues to run programs and issue statements to fight cruelty in puppy mills, and is become increasingly active on issues regarding horse slaughter and farm animal cruelty. The ASPCA anti-cruelty center assists with investigations of animal cruelty around the country and provides training for prosecutors, law enforcement agencies, veterinarians and animal welfare professionals. The ASPCA runs a cruelty intervention program that works with animal hoarders to help improve the lives and conditions of both the animal and human victims. The ASPCA sponsors, supports and proposes effective anti-cruelty legislation. The ASPCA is also engaged in teaching about responsible animal care through its written materials and on its website. For more information on ASPCA activities go to www.aspca.org
WILD: How can people seek assistance through the ASPCA?
MILLER: The most effective way to fight animal cruelty is on a local level, by identifying issues of concern in the community and working together with local shelters, humane societies and the police department to report and fight the cruelty. To seek assistance through the ASPCA, go to the website at www.aspca.org and go to the tab prominently displayed and entitled fight animal cruelty.
WILD: What are other ways people can report animal abuse?
MILLER: People who suspect an animal has been abused should make contact with their local animal control agency, Humane Society, or Police Department to file a report of their suspicion. The ASPCA has a searchable database on its website, www.aspca.org under fight animal cruelty to help identify local resources. One should always remember that animal cruelty is a crime in every state and therefore should be investigated and treated as any other crime would be. It does not have to be reported only to animal control or humane societies.
A million thanks and a standing ovation to Dr. Miller for her insightful interview. The next steps are to support the ASPCA’s efforts to help both people and animals fight cruelty. Feel free to comment on this blog or message me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or concerns and or want to help get involved and active!