Cycle of Abuse Conference Recap

by SAAV Volunteer, Laura R. Perry

SAAV is thrilled to report that the October 5th Cycle of Abuse conference was a sold-out success! Focusing on the link between family violence and animal cruelty, speakers addressed the underlying issues like power and control that connect these abuses as well as the practical steps that we can take to help vulnerable people and animals in our communities.

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The day was bookended by two speakers that highlighted how the connected issues of animal cruelty and family violence touch so many lives and bring together a wide range of professionals and practitioners dedicated to ending the cycle of abuse. Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney opened the conference with a rousing call to action, describing the progress Dane County law enforcement has made in their efforts to support victims and address these crimes and reminding us of all that is still to be done to end the cycle of abuse. In a fitting end to a day of panels about the bonds between humans and animals, keynote speaker Dr. Patricia McConnell made the connection between how humans and dogs experience trauma, bringing in examples from her own life and her own beloved dogs. After Dr. McConnell read excerpts from her book The Education of Will, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house!

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The conference was deeply inspiring, as everyone there was committed to understanding and addressing the cycle of abuse that harms both humans and their beloved animals. Lawyers, humane officers, social workers, educators, veterinarians, veterinary technicians, police officers, domestic abuse advocates and animal advocates were at the podium and in the audience, discussing the links between family violence and animal cruelty and what we can do to address these issues. Animal cruelty and family violence present many challenges across each of our professions and communities, so we all might face them in different forms. But what conference speakers emphasized is something that we truly take to heart at SAAV: we can help humans and animals best when we work together and talk to each other.

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Ending animal cruelty and family violence is a vital goal for SAAV, but it’s not something we can accomplish alone. We need all hands on deck! That’s why we are so grateful to our sponsors, volunteers, speakers, and participants who made the Cycle of Abuse conference such a success, and who helped to shed light on the links between animal cruelty and family violence. Thank you!

Yet Another Example That Violence Against One Of Us Hurts All Of Us

 therapy dogs await students returning to stoneman douglas high school after the mass shooting that occurred on february 14, 2018.  photo credit: totally buffalo

therapy dogs await students returning to stoneman douglas high school after the mass shooting that occurred on february 14, 2018.  photo credit: totally buffalo

By SAAV Volunteer Laura Perry

The former student charged with killing 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida wrote on social media that “toads tended to run away when they saw him” because he had “killed a lot of them.” An anonymous caller to the F.B.I. warning about the threat he posed specifically mentioned the “photos of sliced up animals” the perpetrator posted. Neighbors remember “watching him try his best to use a pellet gun to kill a squirrel,” “shooting at chickens,” and wielding a stick as a weapon towards rabbit burrows, “trying to ram it down as hard as he could to kill any bunnies inside.” Several neighbors also remember him encouraging his dogs to attack a neighbor’s pet potbelly pigs.

A 2013 study by Professors Eric Madfis and Arnold Arluke examined 23 perpetrators of school shootings from 1988 to 2012 and found that 43% of the perpetrators had engaged in acts of animal cruelty before the shootings. The perpetrators of the 1999 Columbine school shooting boasted about mutilating animals. The perpetrator of the 2017 shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas reportedly purchased dogs off Craigslist to use for target practice and was also criminally charged for beating a dog. Animal cruelty is a red flag that must be taken seriously. As Arluke writes, because of documented histories of animal cruelty in mass shooters, it should be seen as “one marker among many of a disturbed individual who may be more likely to commit a mass shooting in the future.”

A history of domestic violence is also common among those who commit a mass shooting, leading many to argue that we need to “examine the patterns of violence” that are driving these tragic incidents. The perpetrator of the Parkland school shooting allegedly behaved abusively towards an ex-girlfriend and was expelled for fighting with that ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend. The perpetrator of the Sutherland Springs mass shooting served time for assaulting his wife and stepson. The perpetrator of the Pulse Nightclub shooting reportedly had a history of domestic abuse. One recent study found that perpetrators of domestic violence accounted for 54% of mass shootings between 2009 and 2016. According to the FBI, at least 57% of the mass shootings (involving more than four victims) between January 2009 and June 2014 involved a perpetrator killing an intimate partner or other family member.  

Guns are also a tool chosen by batterers to inflict domestic abuse. Research confirms that firearms are used all too often to intimidate, coerce, threaten, injure, and kill victims of domestic violence. One 2004 study found that “firearms, especially handguns, are more common in the homes of battered women than in households in the general population.” Researchers conclude by arguing that in order to create better and more responsive public policies, the views of the survivors of domestic violence should be “more fully taken into account.”

Violence should be taken seriously whether perpetrated against an animal or a human. On January 1, 2016, the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) began collecting detailed data from participating law enforcement agencies on acts of animal cruelty, including gross neglect, torture, organized abuse, and sexual abuse. Many groups advocated for the need to collect data about animal cruelty along with other incidents that the NIBRS currently tracks like domestic violence. “If somebody is harming an animal, there is a good chance they also are hurting a human,” explained John Thompson, deputy executive director of the National Sheriffs’ Association. “If we see patterns of animal abuse, the odds are that something else is going on.” 

How can we break this cycle of violence? Those most closely affected by school shootings emphasize helping students and other young people get the help they need, as part of their advocating for gun control legislation and mental health resources. In a recent listening session at the White House, parents of children killed during the Sandy Hook school shooting advocated for “prevention programs that train schools and educators to identify students in crisis and intervene before they attempt to harm themselves or others,” like those provided by the Sandy Hook Promise organization that teach young people to “recognize warning signs and signals, especially within social media” and to tell adults if they are concerned.

SAAV’s mission is to break the cycle of violence. One crucial way to do so is to foster empathy and compassion toward animals. SAAV encourages leading by compassionate example and sharing stories about the importance of kindness to animals within your community, particularly with children and teenagers. When a child or teenager (or anyone) is abusing an animal, it is a red flag that must be taken seriously. SAAV also encourages aggressive reporting by the public to law enforcement whenever someone witnesses animal cruelty or domestic violence. “Violence does not happen in a vacuum,” notes SAAV Co-Founder and President, Megan Senatori, “it is all about the exercise of power and control. Early intervention by law enforcement is critical. Regardless of whether the victim is a person or animal, or the act happens in public or behind closed doors, as a community we must stop perpetrators in their tracks, because research increasingly confirms that violence against one of us hurts all of us.”

An Open Letter From A Foster Mom To Clients Of The SAAV Program

By Foster Mom:  Rachel

Like so many women, domestic violence has touched my life; statistics show that one in four women will be a victim in her lifetime. I’ve always been a strong advocate and supporter of victims’ rights, and in my search for ways to do as much as I could to help end the cycle of domestic abuse, I discovered one of the most phenomenal programs I’ve ever seen in helping victims remove one more barrier to leaving their abusers.

Helping their beloved pets.

I’ve been a Foster Mom for the Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims ("SAAV") Program since 2010, and it’s one of the most fulfilling and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had.

Anyone who has ever had the loyalty and love of an animal understands how strong the bond is between pet and owner. It’s not surprising that a huge percentage of victims are afraid to leave their abusive partners (and often don’t) simply because they can’t leave their pets behind.

But, as a Foster Mom for SAAV, I’ll never get to meet the owners of my foster “fur kids.” To keep everyone safe, we all adhere to a strict code of confidentiality, which means clients of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS) who use the SAAV Program have no choice but to trust that sending their pets off to live with a stranger is safer than leaving them behind with an abuser.

But, if I could talk to these victims, I’d hold their hands and promise I’ll take excellent care of their fur babies. I’ll bring their scared, confused, and lonely animals into my home and shower them with love, comfort and attention.

I take our foster dogs for walks, and throw balls in the back yard. I convince shy foster cats out from behind couches and under beds with tuna and quiet coaxing.

Everyone is allowed on the bed for belly rubs and ear scratches.

Every foster leaves our home a little bit heavier thanks to extra treats tucked in their food dishes.

I take pictures of every foster case we’ve had, and hang them on a bulletin board in our hallway so I’ll never forget the wonderful energy they brought into our home.

The only connection I have with these animals’ owners are the occasional updates and photos I send through my contact at the Dane County Humane Society (DCHS) or SAAV … who passes it along to the appropriate DAIS case worker … who shares it with the client using DAIS services.

There’s a reason people become volunteer foster families for SAAV – we have a crazy amount of love for animals, and we’re equally dedicated to helping victims take the steps they need to build a new and better life for themselves and their families.

Domestic violence impacts the entire family … pets included. SAAV has built an amazing model in providing vital support to victims, and I’m proud to be involved.

In A Gentle Way, You Can Shake The World

In 2009 I attended the Animal Law Conference at Lewis and Clark Law School.  One of the talks I most enjoyed was given by Sheltering Animals of Abuse Victims (“SAAV”) co-founder, Megan Senatori.  I’d never before considered the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.  I was impressed that Megan had helped co-found a foster network to provide safe shelter for the pets of survivors fleeing their abusers.

Three years later, as I attended a luncheon to benefit my community’s domestic violence shelter, I wondered if our local domestic abuse shelter, Middle Way House, offered refuge to the pets of survivors escaping violent families.  Bloomington, Indiana is a forward-thinking college town; I felt sure that the idea could gain traction if a program was not already in place.

I was aware that SAAV was a resource available to help others interested in starting shelter programs for the animals of abuse victims, so I sent Megan an email to touch base.  Then, a friend put me in contact with a Women’s Advocate at Middle Way House named Erin Biebuyck.  I learned from Erin that Middle Way occasionally received calls on the crisis line involving animals, and that they provided help as much as possible on an ad hoc basis.  In a cool ‘Great Minds Think Alike’ moment, it turned out that Erin had already been considering the idea of working to pioneer an official safe haven for pets program.  The second coincidence was that Erin had contacted a group in Wisconsin called SAAV just the week before!  Erin and I laughed when Megan put us in touch with one another.

The stars were aligned and we got to work.  Erin and I formed a planning committee with several other terrific individuals:  Jo Liska, Debra Morrow and Stacy Weida.  Megan Reece joined the team as a volunteer intern.  We hammered out the policies and legal issues of our program.  We crafted administrative forms, wrote proposals for grant funding, sent letters to request product donations, planned a Crowdfunding campaign, trained program volunteers and gathered community support.  Ten months after our first committee meeting, we officially launched Middle Way PAWSS (Providing Animals and Women with Safe Shelter) in September.

In addition to suggesting resources and answering our questions along the way, I am grateful that Megan planted an idea in my mind on a fall day four years ago in Oregon.  We impact those we meet, sometimes in significant ways, by simply doing things that we find meaningful.  It is important to remember that with the right group of people, in the right place and at the right time, much is possible.  In the words of Mahatma Gandhi:  “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

Allison Hess

Middle Way PAWSS - Bloomington, Indiana