Abuse is often cyclical and inter-generational. The more cases of human and animal abuse that are reported, and the earlier that professionals can intervene to break the cycles of violence, the higher the rate of success.
The National Link Coalition encourages child welfare, animal care & control, adult protective services, domestic violence, and other community agencies to provide training programs for each other, advising them of what the signs of violence are and how such cases are handled in the community. Animal care & control agencies should be included in child abuse and domestic violence fatality reviews and multidisciplinary teams. Link training should be routinely included in social services agencies’ pre-professional and continuing education, and the National Link Coalition has a speakers’ bureau of experts on a wide range of topics. The goal is to have counterpart agencies’ personnel become generally familiar with the scope and processes of handling all forms of family violence and to establish a clear channel of communications so that when a case suggests Link issues, each agency knows who to call to investigate that aspect of the case further.
Once these channels of communication have been opened, the National Link Coalition recommends that agencies establish memorandums of understanding and protocols to routinely screen for all forms of family violence and neglect on crisis lines, intakes, referrals, assessments and other procedures, and to report such suspected family violence to the appropriate agency for further investigation. Such screening should include, at a minimum, three questions:
- Are there animals at home?
- How are they cared for?
- Are you worried about their welfare?
The National Link Coalition has guidelines to help agencies address issues of client confidentiality.
Community Coalitions Against Violence
Many communities in the U.S. and other countries are addressing these issues by forming community Link coalitions. Started by humane societies, law enforcement agencies, government leaders, prosecutors, animal law advocates, social services agencies, veterinarians and other concerned groups, these coalitions are increasing public awareness and professional training and response to The Link. The National Link Coalition has a Toolkit and trainers who can help facilitate the formation of a local Link coalition in your area.
Victims and witnesses may feel helpless to stop violence in the home, whether against a human or animal family member. But there are things you can do to prevent and cease the suffering:
Legislation: Advocates in both human and humane services are pooling their resources and working together to advance public policy that protects all family members from violence. Successes in recent years have included passage of:
- “Pet Protection Order” laws, which allow judges to include family animals in domestic violence protection-from-abuse orders;
- Cruelty felony laws. All 50 states now have felony punishments for some forms of animal abuse.
- Cross-reporting statutes: An increasing number of state laws now mandate or permit veterinarians, animal control officers, child protection and elder abuse officials to report other forms of violence to counterpart agencies with immunity from civil and criminal liability.
- Animal abuse = human abuse: Seven states include acts of animal cruelty intended to coerce, control or intimidate another person within their statutory definition of domestic violence or elder abuse.
Care for Pet Survivors of Domestic Violence: In response to tragic situations in which battered women do not leave their abusers in fear for what would happen to their animals, 900 women’s shelters have “Safe Havens” programs. These are referrals where animal shelters, breed rescue groups, veterinarians or others provide foster care for women fleeing domestic violence. Several dozen shelters have built SAF-T (Sheltering Animals and Families Together) facilities whereby women can bring their pets with them to the safehouse, thereby keeping the family intact. The National Link Coalition recommends that domestic violence agencies modify their Safety Planning materials to routinely include provisions for the safe removal of companion animals.
Humane education: Through educational programming in schools and public awareness about animal welfare and how it is linked to human violence, we can try to intervene before violence begins or escalates. A key component of humane education is developing empathy, which helps children transfer empathy toward humans.
Acknowledging the link between animal abuse and other forms of family violence provides professionals in all fields with another tool to prevent violence in our society. By working together and sharing this information with others, public awareness will be raised which, in turn, will increase intervention and effectiveness in the prevention of violence and family maltreatment in all its forms.