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Violence Against Pets Rings Alarm Bells

RELEASED: 16 September 2003


THE increasing use of violence against domestic pets is ringing alarm bells within both human and animal welfare groups in New Zealand.

Violent men are using threats to and violence against family pets to control their partners and their families, according to Val Ball of Masterton, RNZSPCA representative on the national First Strike forum.

First Strike brings together groups such as the police, MAF, CYFS social workers and the SPCA. It acknowledges the correlation between animal and child abuse and is developing reporting procedures.

Mrs Ball, president of the Wairarapa SPCA, said concerns were growing over the increase in violence in our communities over the past year.

Research in the United States, where First Strike originated, and Scotland shows that animal abuse is often the first indicator of more sinister goings-on in families.

"Often a woman will not leave the family home for fear that the pets will be abused," Mrs Ball said. In Australia, a study of 104 domestic violence cases 56 percent had reported that the family pet had been killed by the violent partner. In another 46 percent there had been a threat made to the pets and in 68 percent children witnessed pet abuse.

Thirty-five percent of women victims of domestic violence delayed going to a refuge for fear of harm to their pets.

An alarming feature of the Australian survey was that 19 percent of the children who had observed animal abuse had abused the pets themselves, Mrs Ball said.

Early this month the SPCA published a List of Shame, detailing 30 cases of extreme animal abuse this year. They included a kitten which endured a long, painful death by hanging, puppies stabbed to death, an elderly cat tortured and drowned, pet chickens killed by pencil-stabs, ducks blown up by home-made bombs, a kitten thrown from a moving vehicle, a dog which required more than 80 stitches after a botched attempt to slit her throat, a goat dragged more than 50 metres by a car and a duck found with a kebab skewer speared through its beak.

"Many of these acts are carried out by young people," Mrs Ball said.

"Violence of any sort towards people or animals is unacceptable," Mrs Ball said.

Research in New Zealand is being undertaken by members of the First Strike Forum on the numbers of people in prison who have a history of animal abuse and child abuse is being undertaken at present.

SPCA Inspectors are being asked to supply numbers of cases where the child has been the abuser. It is hoped that these statistics will be a base for further investigations.

Many SPCA centres have a good working relationship with their local refuges and with other community groups. Greater involvement with the wider community is to be sought by SPCA centres.

It is not just animals that get abused, Mrs Ball said.

"Often the bully in the playground is a child being abused by either parent or older sibling. The indicators are there from an early age and only with understanding, acceptance and support can the cycle be broken.

"It is no good punishing by using methods that mirrors the behaviour of the abuser," she said.

"The growth in violent crime has many contributors - TV programmes, Playstation games that reflect violence, frustration over loss of wages, lack of money, alcohol and drug abuse, low self-esteem and poor life skills.

"We need to build in our children some values, and a way to do this is for them to spend time working with and caring for animals. This is the other side of the First Strike philosophy, Mrs Ball said.

"Animals have great healing powers and are very forgiving. Children can be healed as well by helping an animal who has been bought into the centre because of abuse. It's about healing animals healing people - something we must all work towards, she said.


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