Monday, January 23, 2006

Animal Abuse Can Be A Sign: Children’s Violence Against Pets Is Way To Identify Possible Family [and Psychological] Problems.

A great reminder – animal abuse is usually carried out by those who are sick in some way. It is usually a sign that something is wrong, and usually is a cry for help. So, do not ignore any such signs and intervene as soon as you can.

Animal abuse can be a sign

Children’s violence against pets is way to identify possible family problems.

By Cindy Larson

Two local organizations are joining forces to heighten awareness to the link between animal cruelty and human violence.

While stories of animal abuse and neglect are horrifying on their own terms, experts say they often are an indicator of even more serious problems. To educate mental-health and social-service professionals, veterinarians and others involved in animal protection, Parkview Behavioral Health and Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control are presenting a workshop called “The Circle of Violence: The Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence.”

Dr. Randall Lockwood, who has a doctorate in psychology and is senior vice president for anti-cruelty initiatives and training for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, will be the keynote speaker.

He said society is “moving away from the idea that somehow animal abuse is normal.” Instead, animal abuse and neglect is a “true warning sign that must be taken seriously.”

“Abuse reactive” behavior is that which is exhibited by people who are reacting to something else going on in their lives. “A kid who is abusive to a pet is quite often acting out violence directly experienced or witnessed in the home,” Lockwood said, adding that about one-third of children who are exposed to family violence will act out this violence, often against their own pets.

Others either abuse pets or threaten to abuse them as a way to control an individual.

“So much of animal cruelty … is really about power or control,” Lockwood said. Often, aggression starts with a real or perceived injustice. The person feels powerless and develops a warped sense of self-respect. Eventually they feel strong only by being able to dominate a person or animal.

Sometimes, young children and those with developmental disabilities who harm animals don’t understand what they’re doing, Lockwood said. And animal hoarding – the practice of keeping dozens of animals in deplorable conditions – often is a symptom of a greater mental illness, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Lockwood said 95 percent of intentional crimes against animals involve men. When women abuse animals, they “almost always have a history of victimization themselves. That’s where a lot of that rage comes from.”

In domestic-violence situations, women are often afraid to leave the home out of fear the abuser will harm the family pet. Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control has had a policy in place for several years that assures the shelter will transport and hold for seven days at no charge a family pet caught in the middle of a domestic dispute.

Those who abuse animals for no obvious reason, Lockwood said, are “budding psychopaths.” They have no empathy and only see the world as what it’s going to do for them.

Treatment, protection essential

Whether a teenager shoots a cat without provocation or an elderly woman is hoarding 200 cats in her home, “both are exhibiting mental health issues … but need very different kinds of attention,” Lockwood said.

Cases of animal abuse or cruelty often require intervention both from law-enforcement officials and mental-health professionals. Lockwood urged anyone aware of animal abuse to report it. “Take it seriously. Don’t assume someone else is going to report it.”

Those who see evidence that their child is abusing an animal should seek professional assistance from a family counselor or psychologist.

Belinda Lewis, director of Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control, hopes local animal-control officers take away from the workshop a sense of what to look for in a variety of instances.

“It’s not always going to be obvious,” she said, and she wants officers to know “what their potential options may be when they run into one of these situations.

“I think it’s important that we be concerned. We are a public-service agency, and we’re here to help people as well as animals.”

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