The Cruel Truth About Cruelty

People have a tendency to think about violence and abuse in terms of the categories of victims in society. It’s an approach that has yielded separate areas of study and statistics, such as child abuse, animal abuse, domestic violence and abuse of the elderly.

These categories have their uses, allowing organizations and individuals to focus their research and philanthropic efforts. But the sad truth is people who intentionally inflict injury usually do so indiscriminately. Anyone or anything caught in their paths can become targets. In many instances, the categories that have been so carefully delineated break down, leaving us with just two: abusers and the abused.

For example, American Humane recently awarded a Second Chance Fund® grant to help an animal shelter caring for 36 dogs found in a severe state of neglect. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that investigators discovered the dogs when responding to a domestic violence report that pointed to the same home.

Such instances of overlapping acts of cruelty are common, and have been for centuries. Back in 1894, American Humane was already aware of what we call The Link® between violence to people and violence to animals. At our annual convention that year, a delegate noted: “The man who was cruel to his beast would be unkind to his wife and child.”

Today, the issue is just as important. Did you know that children who abuse animals are more likely to abuse other people later in life? Or that domestic violence victims with pets often stay in abusive homes for fear of leaving their animal companions behind — because abusers frequently threaten to harm or kill the animals if their victims flee?

Given The Link’s prevalence, I think it’s critical that all of us concerned with victims’ welfare work together. I just returned from an event in Portland, Maine, that represented an exciting step toward this goal. Several leading experts in animal welfare, veterinary practice, humane operations, social services and child protection, criminal justice, education, and domestic violence prevention all convened to share ideas and form a strategy for building state coalitions focused on The Link.

American Humane will be leading the way to create such a coalition in our home state, Colorado. By partnering with other victim advocacy organizations and professionals, we will present a unified force that recognizes and fights all forms of violence — wherever and whenever they may intersect. I think this will help us reach out to victims more effectively.

In addition, American Humane was responsible for recently getting a resolution introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to designate September 2008 as National Link Awareness Month. This will draw more attention to The Link among legislators as well as the general public.

I look forward to updating you on the progress of the coalition and resolution in the months ahead. In the meantime, I urge you to learn more about The Link and spread awareness of it in your community.

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