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Society’s Violent Underbelly Faces Scrutiny


For release: 5 September 2012

Society’s Violent Underbelly Faces Scrutiny

Conference to explore link between animal cruelty and abuse of humans


Society’s violent underbelly will be under scrutiny next month, when a conference on the connection between abuse of animals and of our fellow humans convene in Wellington.

The 23rd New Zealand Companion Animal Conference (see attached brochure) is to take place at the InterContinental on Tuesday 9 October and Wednesday 10 October. Its theme will be ‘The Link’, a term covering both the proven relationship between abuse of animals and of humans and the deep empathy that can exist between our own and other species.

“There’s a whole raft of reasons why 'The Link' has become such a timely topic for investigation, discussion and action. To state the obvious, recent months have been marked by some very high profile criminal cases in which violence towards humans, animals or both has figured in one form or another,” says the conference’s spokesperson and facilitator, Bob Kerridge.

“In addition, this year has seen the publication of an internationally-acclaimed New Zealand study on how cruelty to animals is used to manipulate and terrorise women in abusive relationships.

“The Pets as Pawns study, commissioned by the Royal New Zealand SPCA and Women’s Refuge New Zealand, has reinforced a wealth of overseas data, establishing beyond doubt the connection between cruelty to animals and towards humans, as well as the high incidence of animal abuse in the childhood histories of mass murderers and other violent criminals.

“Pets as Pawns is to be discussed in some detail on the opening day of the Conference, in the presence of the Minster of Justice, the Hon. Judith Collins. We anticipate that the Minister will have something to say on this issue and we’re looking forward to hearing from her,” he adds.

Mr Kerridge says that the Conference’s focus on ‘The Link’ is all the more timely given the Animal Welfare Strategy announced by the Ministry of Primary Industries, as a precursor to a review of the 1999 Animal Welfare Act.

“The closing date for public submissions on this strategy is 28th September. However, our Conference will provide a further opportunity for animal lovers to speak their minds on the legislative changes required. They will do so in the certain knowledge that animal and human welfare are inextricably linked and that the tormented animal is as much a part of society’s violent underbelly as bullied children, abused women or terrified elders.

“One issue that any new animal welfare legislation must address is the need for tougher and more consistent sentencing in cruelty cases. Welfare advocates have been deeply disturbed by the absurdly light sentences handed down this July to two Wellsford men found guilty of massacring 33 dogs. This too is a matter on which we’ll be keen to hear the Justice Minister’s comments,” he says.

The Pets as Pawns study, published in March, found that one in three of the Women’s Refuge clients surveyed had delayed leaving violent relationships because of fears that pets or other animals would be killed or tortured. Of this number, 50 percent said their children had witnessed violence against animals as part of their experience of family violence.

Heather Henare, Chief Executive of Women’s Refuge New Zealand, describes the study as lifting the lid off the interconnectedness between child abuse, domestic violence and animal cruelty. She says that an attitudinal change is urgently needed on all of these issues.

“When a child is killed, there’s, quite rightly, a public outcry. But animals die from abuse every day and a woman loses her life through domestic violence, somewhere in New Zealand, approximately every second week. We must do everything we can to reduce the incidence of all forms of violence. And it’s essential for us to remember that an abused animal may be a sign that a woman or children are also in danger.

“We hope the Minster will encourage Police to recognise the link between these different faces of violence and we would also like to see government funding made available for sharing information and strengthening links between ourselves, the SPCA, Child, Youth and Family, Police and other concerned agencies,” she adds. The need for agencies to work together will also feature in a panel discussion scheduled for the conference’s second day. It will be led by Arnja Dale, a senior academic in animal welfare at Auckland’s Unitec Institute of Technology and chair of First Strike, a campaign focussed on fostering cooperation and cross-reporting between professionals involved in combating violence.

“We know there’s a huge concurrence of child abuse, interpersonal violence and cruelty to animals. It really is time for everyone to take this concurrence seriously and start implementing programmes that are going to be effective in reducing the toll of violence in New Zealand.

“My personal view is that the reporting of animal abuse should be mandatory for agencies involved with families and children, as well as for veterinarians and animal welfare bodies. And we also need to ensure that professionals working in these various fields understand each other’s concerns and know how to look out for signs of abuse and violence,” she says.

“I hope the Wellington conference will increase awareness of the link between violence against humans and abuse of animals, leading to appropriate legislation and genuine social change,” Arnja Dale adds.

The NZ 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.

The keynote speaker at this year’s gathering will be Phil Arkow, a leading US expert on empathy with animals and the relationship between the abuse of animals and humans. Other sessions will focus on the positive role pets play in enhancing our health, wellbeing and sense of community as well as on why human responses to animals can vary so vastly between kindness and extreme cruelty.


What - The 23rd New Zealand Companion Animal Conference When - 9/10 October Where - The InterContinental Wellington, 2 Grey Street, Wellington

Further information about the conference is available at: http://www.nzcac.org.nz/nz-companion-animal-conference/2012-nzcac-conference -details

The ‘Pets as Pawns’ study is available at: https://womensrefuge.org.nz/users/Image/Downloads/PDFs/Pets%20as%20Pawns.pdf

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