Animal abuse and domestic violence: Evidence mounts on link

A compelling piece in the June 13 edition of the New York Times magazine, tells readers what shelter operators - both those that house animals and those that house women and children - already know: there is a strong link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

Among the startling statistics contained in the article: a 1997 survey of shelters in 48 of the nation's largest cities found 85 percent of women and children who sought help reported incidents of animal abuse at home. 

(A friend and trusted animal welfare source points out that most shelters do not allow families to bring pets with them. That is changing in some parts of the nation as shelters in 21 states now offer on-site pet housing, including Domestic Violence Advocacy Center of Treehouse Haven in Mt. Holly, NJ.) 

The author, Charles Siebert, highlights the tragic case of Phoenix, the young female pit bull pictured above who was doused with gasoline and torched on the streets of Baltimore last year. The horrific event set off a wave of local action aimed at addressing all aspects of animal abuse and jump-started the dialogue in that city on the connection between violence against animals and violence against people. Two teenage brothers have been charged in the case and are awaiting trial.

(The article does not mention that it was through the generosity of Main Line Animal Rescue in Chester Springs that Phoenix was treated by some of the top veterinarians in the region. Doctors at Metropolitan Veterinary Associates in Norristown, worked valiantly, but unsuccessfully, to save her.)

Neither does the piece make reference to the slew of new laws sweeping the nation that aim to protect animals when restraining orders are issued against an abusive spouse. According to the group, American Humane, 19 states have such laws. Neither New Jersey, nor Pennsylvania is among them, but state Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester) is hoping to change that.

Dinniman has recently introduced a bill (SB 32) that would add a sentence to Pennsylvania’s Animal Cruelty Law to stiffen the penalty when it happens in a domestic-violence situation. Under the legislation, if a person with a protection-from-abuse order against them commits animal cruelty against the pet of their spouse or partner, they would be charged with a third-degree felony instead of a first-degree misdemeanor, as is now the case.