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Pets and Children in Violence 2002 In-service. Marie Suthers McCabe, DVM Extension Specialist, Human-Companion Animal Interaction Center for Animal Human Relationships VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

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Pets and Children in Violence 2002 In-service

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Pets and Children in Violence2002 In-service

Marie Suthers McCabe, DVM

Extension Specialist,

Human-Companion Animal Interaction

Center for Animal Human Relationships

VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

“Anyone who has accustomed himself (or herself) to regard the life of any living creature as worthless is in danger of arriving also to the idea of worthless human lives.”Albert Schweitzer, humanitarian


Freedom from terror is an essential

component of a healthy state and a

fundamental right in a free society.


  • Pets are members of the family.

Links Between




Compelling evidence links people

with homicidal tendencies to

acts of severe animal abuse.

“While not everyone who abuses animals will become a serial killer, virtually every serial killer first abused animals…”Dr. Randall Lockwood, Vice President, The HSUS

  • Jeffrey L. Dahmer

  • Kip Kinkle

  • Luke Woodham

  • Eric Harris &

  • Dylan Klebold

Physical cruelty to animalsis listed as one of the earliest symptoms indicative of Conduct Disorder.

  • DMS IV, American Psychiatric Association

“One of the most dangerous things that can happen to a child is to kill or torture an animal and get away with it.”Anthropologist Margaret Mead

Curiosity or exploration

Peer pressure

Mood enhancement

Forced abuse

Attachment to an animal

Animal phobias

Identification with the child’s abuser

Posttraumatic play




Vehicle for emotional abuse

Child and adolescent motivations for animal abuse

Animal Cruelty is one of a cluster of juvenile behaviors associated with increasingly violent behavior

  • FBI

“Animal cruelty is not a harmless venting of emotion in a healthy individual: this is a warning sign…”

FBI Supervisory Special

Agent Allen Brantley

Anti-Violence Study

  • 1997

  • 153 subjects - committed intentional abuse against animals

  • 70 % - criminal records

  • 40% - violent crimes against people

  • cf 22% - control group

Someone who severely mistreats an animal is likely to Abuse a child Beat a partner


Preying on the vulnerable

Children & Pets

  • Totally dependant on parents/owners

  • Cannot speak for themselves

Children & Pets in Families

  • In U.S. Households, Pets are found in:

  • 67.4% of households in which the youngest child is < 6 years old

  • In 78.7% of households in which the youngest child is > 6 years old

    JAVMA 1994

“The good news about human experience

is that we can cope with almost anything.

The bad news is that we will tolerate

almost anything” James Garbarino


animals suffer

domestic violence


Saving Grace

The day Grace was found

At VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine

After surgery

Healed and at peace

Helping Others Now


  • Because a family pet may be the sentinel for other violence occurring within a home, are veterinarians morally obligated to recognize and report animal abuse?

Veterinarians do see the pets of families involved with child abuse

In one study of 53 NJ pet-owning families involved with child abuse or neglect, researchers found that the use of veterinary services did not differ noticeably from acceptable standards.

Veterinarians do see the pets of families involved with child abuse

In 60% of these families, pets were also abused or neglected.

The percentage (88%) was even higher when physical child abuse took place (in contrast to sexual abuse or neglect).

Of 23 British families who abused animals, 83% endangered their children also.

Ways a Veterinarian Might Learn of Potential Abuse:

  • Suspicious behavior or physical injuries

  • Comments by family members

  • Confiding

  • Witness

Diagnostic Features of Abuse

  • History

    • vague

    • implausible

    • the account of the incident does not fit the injury

Diagnostic Features of Abuse

  • Physical Signs

    • Fractures

    • Bruising

    • Ocular Injuries

    • Burns and scalds

Difficulties with Diagnosing Abuse

  • No published comprehensive account of the clinical signs and pathology of the “battered pet”

  • Emotional block

  • Lack of information (or misinformation) about animal cruelty

  • Diagnostic criteria not well established

Why Veterinarians Do Not Want to Get Involved

  • Afraid of being on the witness stand

  • Resent time in court for which they are not properly compensated (loss of income)

  • Offend client or lose business

  • Unwanted publicity

Why Veterinarians Do Not Want to Get Involved

  • Danger to practice

  • Lose contact with animal

  • Concerned about liability

    • Breaching veterinarian-client confidentiality

  • Ability to advocate on behalf of animal or fear animal may be euthanized as a result of report


Minnesota, California, West Virginia, and Idaho are the only states that require veterinarians to report cases of animal cruelty. West Virginia and Idaho grant veterinarians immunity from liability and criminal prosecution.

In Colorado and California, veterinarians are mandated reporters of child abuse, but not for animal abuse.

Taking the Issue to Court

  • VA - Class 1 Misdemeanor

    • first time offense

      • $1000

      • up to one year in jail

    • second offense

      • if first offense resulted in death

      • $2500

      • up to five years in jail

Keep an eye out for the most visible victims - Pets

  • They can lead to the hidden victims

    • Children

    • Elders

  • They can serve as sentinels for unhealthy home environments.

Red Light

Malnourished animal may lead to malnourished children or elders.

Warning sign of household that is not nurturing - or maybe that doesn’t have the resources to care for dependents.

“Social welfare officials and animal officials sometimes are working on the same case and don’t even know it.”

Randall Lockwood

  • Many feel that animals are not as important as people and therefore do not want to spend time and resources on animal welfare issues, but it is important to realize that abused animals may lead you to abused people.


Become aware of the significance of the Human-Animal Bond.

Clarify and articulate your personal responsibility to both patients and clients.

Take reports of cruelty to animals seriously.

Do not be afraid to become involved.

Participate and take leadership in community coalitions against violence.

Community BasedMultidisciplinaryCollaborative Effort

SAFE PETS PROGRAMfor victims of domestic violence


Woman’s shelter does

not allow animals


  • Some women will not leave the abuser because they fear for the pet who would be left behind

  • Some pets are indeed abused and even tortured, maimed and murdered by the abuser in attempt to further hurt the victim


  • He perpetuates the context of terror

  • He demonstrates his power

  • He announces through his actions,

    you may be next


  • He eliminates an important source of constancy, comfort and affection

  • He demonstrates to her that there is nowhere she can be safe

  • He provides a strong incentive for her to stay with him

25% of women stay in in abusive relationships

to protect their pet from:

  • Physical

  • Emotional

  • Neglect

  • Sexual


  • Pet may indeed be the woman or child’s only source of safety and love

  • Children may succeed more if access to pet is allowed


The Center for New Beginnings



Community Correction Center


Humane Society of Licking County


Local Veterinarians


  • Meet with director and Aftercare Coordinator of New Beginnings

  • Document problem with new inquiry and intake form

  • Form Steering Committee

  • Search for existing programs

  • Literature search

Residents 3-C

  • Logistical

  • Screening tools

  • Educationanimal care appropriate training and discipline the link

Therapeutic Advantages of Contact with Pets

  • Opportunity to nurture

  • Pets are source of comfort

  • Learn to touch appropriately

  • Outlet for healthy affection

  • Daily responsibility for persons needing structure

  • Animal Assisted Therapy

“Abusers are just aged victims”

Lynn Loar

San Francisco Child Abuse Council

Animal Assisted Therapy


  • Grace and Ben



Humane Education Interventions

  • Children are poorly supervised and lack training on the physical care and humane treatment of animals

  • Teach children to be kind, caring and nurturing towards animals


Child Development

Healthy Start

  • Starts before conception with a healthy community structure

  • Family unit includes the pet

Healthy Lifestyles

  • Nutrition

  • Exercise

  • The social support system of human patients includes their living environment

    • pets

    • gardens

Parents often obtain a pet

for their children because they feel

the pet will be good for them.Why?

Social - Emotional Development

  • Responsibility

  • Positive self esteem

  • Social lubricant

  • Companionship

  • Non-judgmental affection

Facilitate language acquisition

Enhance verbal skills

Critical importance of animals in the nursery

Classrooms- pets, art, dance, music, plants not seen past 3rd grade

Cognitive Development


  • Beneficial to development

Depriving children of interaction with nature and animals may have negative effects on child development.

Questions from the Surgeon General:

  • Are children with a pet better adjusted than children without a pet?

  • Is there a tie to the increase of violence in classrooms?

  • Are pets necessary for normal human development?

Web resources





First Strike Train the Trainer

  • Friday April 26, 2002

  • Blacksburg – VMRCVM

  • Contact Lila Wills:


  • First Strike Kit

    • (888) 213-0956


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