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Animal Abuse Provides 'Red Flag' for Family Violence

For release: 13 August 2012

Animal Abuse Provides 'Red Flag' for Family Violence

We can reduce violence in our families and communities if we pay more attention to the abuse of animals, says a prominent US expert.

Phil Arkow is to lead a discussion on the tools available for combating community and family violence at the 23rd New Zealand Companion Animal Conference, in Wellington on 9th and 10th of October (see below for details).

The internationally acclaimed lecturer and author is also to deliver the conference's keynote speech on 'Empathy Education'.

"There's no doubting the link between animal abuse and violence towards our own species. Study after study shows a high incidence of animal abuse in the childhood histories of violent criminals and in the lives of families affected by violence, be it towards partners, children or elders. "It's also increasingly clear that animal abuse can act as a 'red flag' for the likelihood of violence towards humans. This can and should prompt social agencies to investigate and intervene on behalf of those abused. And that requires close and regular cooperation between animal welfare bodies and those caring for children, elders and family violence victims.

"Victims may be reluctant to discuss the violence directed against them but may nevertheless talk about the abuse of their pets. Neighbours are also more likely to report suspected animal abuse than violence to humans. And the abusers themselves may not see animal abuse as criminal and may therefore more readily admit to it than to family violence," he says.

Mr Arkow is Coordinator of the National Link Coalition, which promotes awareness of the connection between animal abuse and violence against humans and encourages cross-reporting and cooperation between organisations and individuals involved in combating violence, across and beyond the United States.

He is also the chair of the Latham Foundation's Animal Abuse and Family Violence Prevention Programme, conducts tertiary courses on Animal-Assisted Therapy and has written or edited ten key reference books and innumerable articles on this and related fields . Phil Arkow says that new insights into the link between animal abuse and family violence have emerged from 'Pets as Pawns', the groundbreaking research commissioned last year by the Royal New Zealand SPCA in partnership with Women's Refuge. One in three of the women surveyed reported delaying leaving violent relationships because of fears that pets or other animals would be killed or tortured. These findings are consistent with American, Canadian and British reports.

Threats and violence towards much-loved pets are, Mr Arkow points out, also beginning to be recognised as factors in many cases of elder abuse.

"As it's now clear that animal abuse and family and community violence are inherently linked, no individual or agency can legitimately brush aside cruelty to other creatures. If animals are being abused, it's highly likely that humans are also suffering. And that should matter to you, even if you don't think animals themselves matter.

"But, apart from anything else, the notion that animals don't matter fails to take account of the significant role they can play in our health and wellbeing. For example, for over 30 years, I've been taking animals on visits to retirement homes and the response is often overwhelming. People who've felt cut off from all forms of nurture and affection will just break out in tears when a loving pet makes contact with them," he says.

"Similarly, I've come across large numbers of people with disabilities who won't participate in other forms of physical therapy but look forward avidly to their weekly therapeutic riding session. And, for so many of us, pets get us off our sofas and out of the house, exercising, meeting people and becoming firmly part of our communities.

"Animals can play their therapeutic role because they are both like us and not like us. They combine 'us-ness' and 'other-ness'. And they're ambassadors for nature, adding a valuable dimension of healing to our lives," Mr Arkow adds.

The Companion Animal Conference is held each year by the New Zealand Companion Animal Council (NZCAC), an organisation that brings together welfare bodies, veterinarians, academic researchers, animal control agencies, breeder organisations and others involved with companion animals.

A key NZCAC focus is on understanding, promoting and celebrating the human-animal bond and the benefits of companion animal ownership.

"This year's conference will be devoted to 'The Link', a term covering both the empathetic relationship between animals and ourselves and the much darker connection between animal abuse and violence to humans," says NZCAC spokesperson, Bob Kerridge.

"Recent court cases have focussed New Zealanders' attention on many different aspects of violence, making it all the more important for us to hear what Phil Arkow has to say and to learn from his experience," he adds.


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