Animal Abuse and Developmental Psychopathology: Recent Research, Programmatic and Therapeutic Issues and Challenges for the Future

, Marie S. McCabe , Allie Phillips , Philip Tedeschi

University of Denver

American Humane Association

18.1 Introduction

As animals become a more significant component of therapeutic interventions with children and adolescents, greater attention is being paid both to the benevolent and the problematic relations that exist between animals and young people. The field of animal welfare has a long history of attempts to enhance children’s attitudes toward and treatment of animals (see Ascione, 1997, 2005b for overviews). But as society focuses on the persistent challenge of violence in human relationships, renewed attention is being given to animal abuse as a correlate of and potential precursor to human mental health problems (Ascione and Maruyama, in press; Green and Gullone, 2005; McPhedran, 2009a; Petersen and Farrington, 2007). The roles of animals in preventing and treating mental health dysfunction in children and adolescents are also receiving increased scrutiny (Ascione and Shapiro, 2009) as are animal welfare issues implicated in elder adult maltreatment (Peak and Ascione, in press).

This chapter provides (a) an updated overview of research on the relation between animal abuse and interpersonal violence (Ascione), (b) a discussion of efforts by animal and human welfare organizations to use this information to expand their scope to areas of common interest (McCabe and Phillips), and (c) an illustration of the unique role animals may play in assessment and therapeutic intervention with young people who are psychologically at risk (Tedeschi). Each of us approached this project from our own varying perspectives of developmental psychology, child and animal welfare, and child clinical intervention and animal-assisted social work. Yet a common thread in all of our work is the belief that collaboration among professionals is the most fruitful avenue to solving complex human (and animal!) problems.

18.2 The confluence of animal maltreatment and interpersonal violence

18.2.1 How do we define animal abuse?

Throughout this chapter, we will refer to non-human animals as “animals” for simplicity. Defining animal abuse is a challenging endeavor due to the variety of statuses that animals acquire in different human cultures (Kaufmann, 1999). When we define animal abuse, are we referring to farm animals that provide food for humans, animals used in research (in human and veterinary medicine), wildlife, animals maintained in zoological parks, assistance animals, or companion animals? As cultures, we condone or condemn various practices depending on which status an animal occupies. Clearly, we are faced at the outset with a task more difficult than defining human abuse and one in which international and cross-cultural comparisons must be approached with caution (Pagani et al., 2007, in press).

Agnew (1998) has suggested that attempts to define animal abuse share a number of features—“…the harm inflicted on animals should be (1) socially unacceptable, (2) intentional or deliberate, and/or (3) unnecessary (see Ascione, 1993; Baenninger, 1991; Kellert and Felhous, 1985; Vermuelen and Odendaal, 1993).” Animal abuse may include acts of commission or omission, paralleling types of child maltreatment such as child physical abuse and neglect of a child’s nutritional needs. In fact, we can easily borrow classifications of child maltreatment and apply them to animals (Munro, 1996; Munro and Thrusfield, 2001a,b,c,d)—physical and sexual abuse, neglect, and emotional abuse (see Beetz and Podberscek (2005) for an extensive exploration of the sexual abuse of animals, Blevins (2009) for a related and informative case study, and McMillan (2005) for an analysis of the emotional maltreatment of animals).

In judging the significance of animal abuse by young people, we must always determine whether the youth’s behavior violates community and cultural standards and whether sufficient cognitive maturity is present to indicate that the behavior was intentionally harmful. Both of these factors are relevant for clinical assessment and may also be related to legal statutes pertaining to the treatment of animals.

How have scientists attempted to measure animal abuse, especially since this behavior often occurs secretively?

In some jurisdictions, especially those where animal abuse may be a felony offense, one could examine official records to determine the incidence of animal abuse reported to authorities. However, animal abuse misdemeanor offenses may not be recorded separately or cannot be extracted from official criminal records (H. Snyder, personal communication, Jan. 22, 2001). Animal welfare organizations also vary widely in their tracking of animal abuse cases. The current situation is similar to our inability to track the incidence of child maltreatment before mandatory reporting became law.

In cases where official records are available, checklists of different types of maltreatment can be used for categorization, a method employed in South Africa by Vermuelen and Odendaal (1993). A similar process can be applied to the clinical case records of children and adolescents. However, as will be noted later, it is only in the past decade that animal abuse has been highlighted as a symptom of certain psychiatric disorders in young people. Prior to this, clinicians may not have asked about the presence of animal abuse in a child’s history. A clinical history that does not contain animal abuse may reflect that no one asked about this symptom as distinct from its actual absence.

Structured interviews about animal abuse have also been used with respondents old enough for verbal questioning. This method has most often used retrospective reporting and been applied to adult clinical and criminal samples (e.g. Felthous and Kellert, 1987; Merz-Perez and Heide, 2004; Schiff et al., 1999). As with all self-report methods but especially with sensitive topics, issues of social desirability, reluctance to disclose, or false disclosure to enhance one’s reputation for violence must be considered in evaluating such reports. These cautions also apply to the use of a structured interview protocol for children and adolescents developed by Ascione et al. (1997a)—the Cruelty to Animals Assessment Instrument (CAAI).

The CAAI is designed to elicit reports of abusive and kind treatment of pet, farm, wild, and stray animals either observed or performed by children at least five years of age. A rating system based on CAAI responses attempts to quantify a child’s animal abuse in terms of frequency, severity, chronicity, and level of empathy. However, it has yet to be applied to large samples of young people at risk for psychological disorders.

More recently, three questionnaires based, in part, on the CAAI have been developed by Australian researchers (Dadds et al., 2004; Guymer et al., 2001; Thompson and Gullone, 2003). These assessments show great promise for the more efficient and standardized assessment of animal abuse as well as the positive treatment of animals (see also Baldry, 2003).

We especially recommend that therapists and researchers (and those wearing both these hats!) consider use of the Dadds et al. instrument for assessing animal abuse since it has been shown to have excellent psychometric properties and correlates with other antisocial behaviors such as fire setting (Dadds and Fraser, 2006).

Unstructured interviews and qualitative methods (Fitzgerald, 2005) have also been applied to assessing animal abuse. Examples include a police interview of a pedophile who admitted to repeatedly trying to suffocate and then revive a cat by sealing it a plastic garbage bag and the 1998 Herbeck case where the convicted perpetrator said he used animal abuse to soothe himself. (Jones, 1998).

The most commonly used clinical checklist that contains information, albeit meager, on animal abuse is the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL) developed by Achenbach and Edelbrock (1981). One form of this assessment is administered to parents/guardians and asks about a number of symptoms, including “physical cruelty to animals” over the past six months. Respondents rate children on whether each symptom is never, sometimes, or often true of their child. Unfortunately, a youth self-report and a teacher report form of the CBCL do not ask about cruelty to animals. This makes assessment of correspondence between parent and child reports problematic. Offord et al. (1991) found poor correspondence using a variation of the CBCL. One factor that may account for the lack of correspondence is that animal abuse may occur covertly, especially for older children, and parents may be unaware of such acts (the Dadds et al. instrument may be valuable here since it includes both a parent report form and a child self-report form). In addition, since “cruelty” is not defined for respondents, we do not know the standards they use in making their judgments. Teachers may not see animal abuse but may hear reports of it from their students.

A cruelty to animals item is also included in Kazdin and Esveldt-Dawson’s (1986) interview for antisocial behavior and responses to this item differentiate conduct-disordered (see description below) from non-conduct-disordered children.

Two other instruments have been developed specifically for assessing animal abuse in domestic violence situations. The Battered Partner Shelter Survey (BPSS; Ascione and Weber, 1997a) and the Children’s Observation and Experience with Pets (COEP; Ascione and Weber, 1997b) assessment were designed for use with women and children who have entered a shelter for women who are battered. These structured interviews allow assessment of threatened and actual animal abuse as well as other information about pet care. A recently released assessment of children’s exposure to intimate partner violence also includes one item related to exposure to pet abuse (Edleson et al., 2008).

How prevalent is animal abuse in adults?

Since national records on animal abuse are not available, we must rely on clinical case control studies to estimate its prevalence (i.e. any incidents of abuse within a particular time frame) in adult samples. Felthous and Kellert’s (1987) review suggests that in psychiatric and criminal samples, animal abuse is reported by up to 57% of respondents in contrast to near zero rates for respondents in normative comparison groups. In a study of serial sexual homicide perpetrators, prevalence rates approached 70% for men who said they themselves had been sexual abuse victims (Ressler et al., 1988). These estimates must be viewed with caution since definitional and measurement variations between studies may affect self-reports (Vaughn et al., 2009). The MMPI also contains some items related to the treatment of animals but we are not aware of any investigations on animal abuse using this instrument.

How prevalent is animal abuse in children and adolescents?

Ascione (1993) reported that between 14 and 22% of adolescent delinquents at facilities in Utah admitted to torturing or hurting animals in the past year. Using norming data from the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL; Achenbach and Edelbrock, 1981), children and adolescents seen at mental health clinics display rates of animal cruelty between 10 and 25%, depending on the sex of the child. Comparable rates for non-clinic children are under 5%. Recall that animal abuse is not measured on the self-report form of the CBCL. That these percentages may be underestimates is suggested by data from Offord et al. (1991) in which maternal reports of cruelty to animals in a non-clinic sample of 12–14 year olds was 2% but the children’s self-reports yielded a prevalence rate of 10%. Again, definitional issues, reduced parental surveillance as children get older, and parental reluctance to admit their children’s animal abuse may all contribute to such discrepancies.

International data are now available on animal abuse perpetrated by young people, both from normative samples in Japan, Australia, and Malaysia (Mellor et al., 2009) and a sample of Japanese youth residing at correctional facilities (Tani, 2007).

Do children and adolescents “outgrow” abusing animals?

Behaviors that emerge and then “disappear” with increasing age are usually the result of complex interactions between maturational and experiential processes. Animal “abuse” by an older infant or toddler may be a matter of poor motor and impulse control that can easily be dealt with by parental monitoring and intervention. More recalcitrant animal abuse by a child may require more intensive assessment and treatment. An important theoretical analysis of adolescent antisocial behavior may be applicable here. Moffit (1993) suggested that adolescents who engage in antisocial behavior likely fall into one of at least two groups—adolescence-limited and life-course persistent. In the former group, acting out only becomes prominent during the adolescent period and might even be considered normative. When adolescents leave this period of development, they also leave their antisocial behavior behind. In the latter group, antisocial behavior emerges early in childhood and, if untreated, may persist into adolescence and adulthood (Eme, 2009). This categorization may also be true for animal abuse as a specific form of antisocial behavior. It should be noted that abusive behavior could shift from an animal to a human victim and/or may become more covert as a child gets older.

When a young child abuses animals, it may allow for early intervention but may also be an indicator that a child may be on a life-course persistent path for antisocial behavior. Therefore, early detection is critical both for separating normative from pathognomic animal abuse and for targeting scarce intervention resources.

What is the significance of animal abuse as a symptom of the childhood and adolescent psychological disturbance known as conduct disorder?

Although animal abuse has been considered potentially symptomatic of psychiatric disturbance for centuries (see Pinel, 1809), it is only within the past 12 years that animal abuse has been included in standard psychiatric classification manuals. “Cruelty to animals” made its first appearance in the revised third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-IIIR) in 1987 and has been found to be one of the earliest symptoms of conduct disorder to appear in childhood (Frick et al., 1993). At that time, it was unclear whether animal abuse, as a symptom of conduct disorder,1 was more similar to property destruction or interpersonal violence. This confusion was resolved in DSM-IV and DSM-IV-TR (American Psychiatric Association, 1994, 2000) in which physical cruelty to animals is listed among the symptoms in the heading “aggression toward people and animals.” This change makes intuitive sense since animal abuse involves harm to sentient creatures capable of experiencing pain, distress, and death and speaks to potentially impaired capacity for empathy in the perpetrator. Animal abuse is also listed as a correlate of antisocial behavior in the International Classification of Diseases (World Health Organization, 1996). Recently, Gleyzer and colleagues (2002) reported that criminal defendants who abused animals were more likely to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder (37%) than those who did not abuse animals (8%). The relation between animal abuse, conduct disorder, and antisocial personality disorder was also explored by Gelhorn et al. (2007). Dadds et al. (2006) also report that animal abuse is related to callous and emotional traits in children, traits that may be implicated in more serious forms of conduct disorder.

These developments now make it more likely that clinicians and other mental health professionals will attend to this symptom during assessment and diagnostic work. Although research has not specifically addressed how often animal abuse is one of the symptoms present in diagnoses of conduct disorder, one estimate suggests that animal abuse may be present in 25% of conduct disorder cases (Arluke et al., 1999). This estimate received confirmation in a study by Luk et al. (1999).

What biological factors appear related to animal abuse?

Although no research, to our knowledge, has been specifically addressed to physiological and biochemical processes that may underlie animal abuse, the importance of such research should not be overlooked (see an instructive case study reported by Kruesi (1989)). As noted by Lockwood and Ascione (1997), “…we will need to attend to brain-behavior relations as we seek a better understanding of the phenomenon of cruelty to animals” (p. 151). Even in cases where young people’s genetic vulnerability for risk behaviors may be present, prevention may nevertheless be successful (Brody et al., 2009). Information on physiological and biochemical processes that may underlie animal abuse will be valuable for both diagnosis and intervention and would also help identify circumstances when engaging in animal abuse causes significant biochemical change in the perpetrator or cases where pharmacological agents may prompt animal abuse (Jimenez-Jimenez et al., 2002). Pharmacological interventions for violent behavior in general should also be examined for their effectiveness in reducing animal abuse.

How is animal abuse specifically related to the physical and sexual abuse of young people?

Although attention to the overlap between animal abuse and child maltreatment is increasing, few existing studies have addressed this issue. DeViney et al. (1983) found a 60% pet abuse and neglect prevalence rate in a sample of families with substantiated child maltreatment. Friedrich (cited in Ascione, 1993) found that 27 to 35% of female and male child sexual abuse victims displayed cruelty to animals (the rate was less than 5% in the non-abused samples). More recently, Ascione and colleagues (2003) reported a study of 1,433 children 6 to 12 years of age some of whom were victims of sexual abuse and others who were psychiatrically disturbed. Subsamples of these children had also been physically abused and exposed to domestic violence. In these cases, cruelty to animals was as high as 60%. Duncan et al. (2005) reported that among conduct disordered youth, those with animal abuse as a symptom (in contrast to those not displaying animal abuse) were more likely to have been maltreated or exposed to intimate partner violence. These data support anecdotal reports of the overlap and case study examples (see Tapia, 1971 and Section 18.4 below) as does recent retrospective research with incarcerated sex offenders (Simons et al., 2008). Animal abuse has also been implicated in cases of severe inter-sibling abuse (Khan and Cooke, 2008).

What might motivate a young person to abuse animals?

Understanding the motivations underlying animal abuse will be essential for designing effective prevention and intervention programs. Ascione et al. (1997a) discovered a variety of motivations in a sample of at-risk children. These included identification with the aggressor and imitation, modifying one’s mood (animal abuse creating excitement), peer-facilitated and forced animal abuse, and sexually-reactive animal abuse. The question, “why is the child doing this?” cannot be answered using behavioral checklists (Pinizzotto, 2008; see Ascione, 2005b for an extensive discussion of both adult and child/adolescent motivations for abusing animals). More in-depth assessment will be required as illustrated in the case study in Section 18.4.

What role does empathy play in preventing animal abuse?

We are only beginning to explore human capacity for empathizing with other species (Westbury and Neumann, 2008). The development of empathy between humans is believed to have its roots in early infancy (Eisenberg, 1992; Goleman, 1995) and be dependent on the quality of relationships a child experiences. It is believed that empathy enables humans to help each other and that its absence makes harming others easier. We must explore these phenomena and their applicability to human/animal relations. For example, Magid and McKelvey (1987) note that children with distortions in their attachments may lack empathy and be likely to abuse animals; the relation between empathy and a lower likelihood of violence toward others has been documented by developmental psychologists (Hastings et al., 2000). Two recent studies confirm an inverse relation between empathy toward humans and propensity to engage in animal abuse (Dadds et al., 2008; Thompson and Gullone, 2008). Empathy to people and empathy to animals are not identical but are sufficiently correlated to command our attention (Ascione, 2005b; Pagani, 2000; Weber and Ascione, 1992). McPhedran’s (2009b) review explores these issues in greater detail.

Is there a relation between domestic, or family, violence and animal abuse?

Research on the overlap between violence between intimate partners and animal maltreatment is still in its infancy (Ascione, 2005a,b, 2007; DeGue and DeLillo, 2009). Despite numerous anecdotal references to this overlap, Renzetti’s (1992) research was the first to document the overlap in a study of violent lesbian relationships. In this study, 38% of abused respondents reported that their pets had been hurt by their partners. Ascione (1998) studied this phenomenon in 38 women seeking safety at a shelter for women who are battered. Nearly three-quarters of the women had pets (currently or in the past year) and over half of these women reported that their pets had been hurt or killed by their partner (similar results were reported in studies from Wisconsin and Colorado (Arkow, 1996)). A recent replication with 101 women who were battered (see Ascione et al., 2007) and a comparison group of women who did not report intimate partner violence (all of whom had companion animals) found similar results. In the replication study, over 60% of the children in these homes had witnessed animal abuse suggesting one mechanism by which some children might acquire and imitate animal abuse. However, it is also important to note that many children tried to intervene on behalf of their pets when violence erupted in their homes. More information about the potentially deleterious effects of exposure to animal abuse can be found in papers by Ascione (2009), Currie (2006), and Thompson and Gullone (2006).

Volant et al. (2008) have also completed a replication of the Ascione et al. (2007) study with similarly sized samples of abused and non-abused Australian women and documented that 52.9% of abused women reported harm to their pets. (For more extensive discussions of animal abuse and domestic violence, see the volume edited by Ascione (2008) especially chapters by Flynn, by Faver and Strand, and by Gullone and Clarke, and recent articles by Simmons and Lehmann (2007) and Strauchler et al. (2004).)

Why is information about animal abuse as a form of domestic violence important for the welfare of animals as well as the welfare of women and children?

The studies just described suggest that women, children, and animals are at risk in families experiencing domestic violence. In fact, Ascione et al. (2007) found that nearly one-quarter of the women reported that concern for their pets’ welfare had kept them from seeking shelter sooner. In some cases, women may be forced to endanger themselves and their children because they do not know how to insure their pets’ safety if they decide to leave a violent partner. This issue is reinforced by the inclusion of pet abuse on a number of instruments used to assess risk of danger from a violent partner (Walton-Moss et al., 2005).

Is the information about domestic violence and animal abuse being applied and, if so, how?

The results cited above have prompted a number of animal welfare agencies to collaborate with domestic violence programs to provide free or low-cost pet sheltering (either at the shelter facility or with foster caretakers) when a women decides to leave an abusive partner. The degree of need for such programs is still difficult to determine since only a minority of domestic violence shelters may ask women clients about pet abuse (Ascione et al., 1997b; a replication of this study is needed to determine if this is still the case).

As these sheltering programs emerge, a number of practical, programmatic, and ethical issues arise (Ascione, 2000; Ascione et al., 1997b; Kogan et al., 2004). For example, funding such programs may become problematic if pets are left for significant periods of time (e.g. months), designating personnel to direct these programs may divert animal shelters from other missions, and animal welfare/human welfare conflicts may arise such as: how long should sheltering last before adoption or euthanasia is considered? What if a woman is reclaiming her pet but is returning to her abusive partner who had harmed the pet? How does the animal shelter deal with reports that the children in these homes have abused pets?

Other animal-related issues have yet to be addressed. Although we know that children growing up in violent homes may display behavior disorders, how are the pets affected by such an environment? Are these pets less adoptable if given up by their owners? Will domestic violence shelters accept an assistance animal if a client has a handicap such as blindness? Since many battered women will return to their partners, can we assist them in developing a safety plan that will keep the women and their children’s welfare paramount but also consider pet safety? Howard Davidson (1998) noted that an animal abuse history was used in a parental rights termination case. Is such information relevant for a woman if she is considering a permanent break from her partner but hopes to retain custody of the family pet(s)? Should she have on file a detailed complaint against her partner that could be used at a later time? Are there ways of easing the pain of separation from their pets when women and children must enter a shelter (see Section 18.3)? A strategy developed by the Baltimore Police Department was to take photos of the pets as a reminder that the pets will be well cared for (Ascione, 2005b, p. 146). Can animal welfare programs assist women to find transitional housing that allows pets? What is the extent of training about domestic violence issues such as confidentiality and safety factors that should be provided to animal shelter personnel and foster caretakers?

When children and adolescents abuse animals, what steps should be taken to address this behavior?

We recommend that animal abuse by young people be addressed like any of the other serious symptoms of conduct disorder. Comprehensive and developmentally sensitive assessment will help determine the context of the abuse and its seriousness as well as the child’s level of culpability (Hindman, 1992). One could model animal abuse interventions on programs for dealing with childhood fire setting (Kolko, 2002). Curiosity fire setters will likely respond to educational interventions and humane education can be effective with some children who maltreat animals. Pathological fire setters require more intensive therapy similar to the therapy for animal abuse illustrated by the case study described at the end of this chapter (see Section 18.4). Interventions will need to consider exposure to family and community violence as well as a child’s possible victimization (physical, sexual, emotional) by parents, other caretakers, and siblings.

Faver (2010) has recently made a case for humane education as a violence prevention strategy. Correlations between bullying and animal abuse have also been reported (Gullone and Robertson, 2008); it would be of interest to determine if effective bullying prevention and intervention programs could be adapted to reduce animal abuse.

What are the continuing needs for the assessment and tracking of the problem of animal abuse?

In the USA, the child welfare movement benefited dramatically from public acknowledgment of child maltreatment and legislative attention. We can now obtain documentation of the number of child maltreatment cases reported each year and the percent that are substantiated. Similar data are unavailable, on a national basis, for animal abuse cases. Without such data, we will never know if animal abuse is becoming more or less prevalent and we will lack a baseline against which to measure the effectiveness of prevention and intervention programs.

Congressional legislation resulted in a national system for reporting child maltreatment including designation of mandated reporters. This model is currently absent for animal abuse. Likewise, the Uniform Crime Report tracks incidents of juvenile perpetrated crimes, such as vandalism, but does not track animal abuse. Thus, those interested in animal welfare cannot use these reporting systems to assess animal maltreatment.

It would be an advantage if animal welfare professionals such as veterinarians and organizations such as animal shelters, at a minimum, were required to keep nationally comparable records on animal abuse reports and investigations. Other sentinels who may note animal abuse include groomers, postal workers, meter readers, and other neighborhood workers. Their watchfulness could also be used to document cases of animals at risk. The standard inclusion of questions about animal abuse on all risk of danger assessments for domestic violence cases would also be valuable. Since research on animal abuse and domestic violence has relied exclusively on the reports of women who are battered, there is a critical need for questioning batterers about their treatment of animals; to date, only one such study has been reported (Ascione and Blakelock, 2003).

In the area of research, the need for longitudinal analysis of animal abuse, especially in childhood and adolescence, is critical. We need to be able to differentiate transient from chronic animal abuse since animal abuse may only predict serious mental health disturbance when observations are aggregated over time (see Loeber et al., 1993). Recent retrospective research also suggests that the age of onset for animal abuse may be related to its seriousness and persistence (Henry, 2004a,b; Hensley and Tallichet, 2005).

Finally, despite the inclusion of animal abuse in the most current version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association, there are indications that mental health professionals do not always ask about this symptom of conduct disorder (see Schaffer et al.’s (2007) exploration of this and related ethical issues in a survey of practicing psychologists). In a recent study by Nelson (2001), only 14% of clients were queried about animal abuse. Similar results have been reported by Bell (2001) when she surveyed child welfare and mental health agencies in England.

18.3 Programmatic responses to the “link” between violence to people and animals

In the USA, more than two-thirds of homes with children have pets and 98% of people consider their pets to be companions or family members (American Veterinary Medical Association, 2007). Recognition that families include both people and animals is causing researchers and practitioners to view animal abuse as a “red flag” for other harmful behaviors and may be the first clue that families are in need of intervention, services, and support. Many studies indicate that animal maltreatment is part of a complex constellation of family violence that often manifests in more ways than one creating overlaps among child maltreatment, domestic violence, elder abuse, and animal abuse. Today, this knowledge of The Link® (the potential overlap between animal abuse and other forms of interpersonal and family violence) informs a larger model of family violence prevention. Thorough family assessments are necessary to determine the potential risks to the safety and well-being of children, adults, and animals, and to ascertain whether one form of identified violence may be linked to another. It is important to incorporate questions about pets and their care and the behavior of family members towards animals, in intake forms and assessments. Such inquiries may provide useful information about the family and could help to identify patterns of violence that may exist, as well as other family members who may be at risk. Whenever possible, engaging the entire family to identify their needs and strengths can result in long-term positive change for all family members, including pets. Officials in child welfare, domestic violence, adult protective services, and animal care and control are coordinating their efforts. A model of this is American Humane’s Differential Response and Family Group Decision Making program and can be accessed at

To achieve this, it is essential that communication and cooperation between all relevant agencies and organizations be developed and enhanced. In recognition of this need, a National Town Meeting on Strategizing The Link was convened by the American Humane Association, the Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust, and The Linkage Project, a program of Youth Alternatives Ingraham. One hundred and eleven people came, as they say in Maine, “from away.” They came to Portland, Maine, from 22 states, two Canadian provinces, and the United Kingdom as a “brain trust” of researchers, practitioners, and organizational leaders addressing The Link between animal abuse and human violence.

Their goal was to evaluate the current state of affairs and strategize future directions for Link research, public policy, and programming. A New England-style town meeting encouraged maximum input from all participants, with no breakout sessions, so the entire group could hear as one and grow in the knowledge. An overarching objective of the National Town Meeting was to invite representatives from as many community Link coalitions as could be identified to share their successes and challenges in order to identify strategies to improve coordinated community responses and enhance the sustainability of these groups. It was noted that there is no database of communities that have established Link coalitions or the status of coalition-building efforts. Representatives of coalitions from Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Ohio, and Texas provided an initial inventory of organizational issues. Another overarching goal of the National Town Meeting was to identify strategies that can overcome barriers affecting several professional groups whose level of engagement in Link activities has been sporadic. Two panels led audience discussions to address these issues (Summary Report of the “Strategizing the Link” National Town Meeting, June 8–9, 2008, Portland, Maine;

The town meeting was followed by an invitational summit of experts who synthesized the input from the field and set forth a pathway for the future to sustain and grow the movement. Participants represented national organizations, local agencies, and community coalitions. All brought a wealth of knowledge, experience, and interdisciplinary perspectives to address the challenge posed by the organizers. The group worked with a facilitator to identify critical issues and sow the seeds of a national coalition. With a steering committee appointed and critical issues identified, work began to create the National Link Coalition. It was determined that this coalition should be independent rather than part of an existing organization, with ad hoc coordinators representing both national organizations and local practitioners. A vision statement was created to read: It is understood that there is a link between violence against humans and violence against animals. Through the recognition and integration of this understanding into policies and practices nationwide, people and animals are measurably safer. The group worked to prioritize the most critical issues and to identify future directions. The five key strategic goal areas identified were:

  • Building Public Awareness About The Link: Marketing, Messaging and Communications

  • Overcoming the Fragmentation of Systems Through Network-Building

  • Education and Training for Professionals

  • Addressing the Root Cause: Prevention, Intervention, and Prosecution

  • Engaging Academics for Research and Data Collection.

Today, we are seeing a growing number of publications, community programs, and national initiatives relating to The Link. These developments are no longer coming exclusively from the fields of animal and child welfare, but are also being generated by sociology, criminology, domestic violence, psychology, child development, criminal justice, veterinary medicine, adult protective agencies, and many other fields. Domestic violence agencies can work with local animal care agencies, veterinarians and rescue groups to establish temporary foster care support for clients’ pets. These may be either off-site, in “Safe Haven”-type programs, or on-site in American Humane’s Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS™) facilities ( Professionals working with children can consider the use of trained and registered therapy animals with children who have experienced abuse or loss ( Children who have been harmed and/or have witnessed family violence are often more comfortable talking about their situations in the comforting presence of a therapy animal, and this technique is being used in many Children’s Advocacy Centers. We can all encourage community and government leaders to support initiatives that include The Link and use a multidisciplinary approach to support families and end family violence.

18.3.1 Protecting pets from domestic violence

In recent years, there has been greater awareness for pets caught in the crossfire of domestic violence. American Humane’s Link® program, and growing research on The Link, acknowledges that pets can become targets of domestic violence in order to exert silence and/or compliance on human victims. With over 71 million homes having companion animals (2009–10 National Pet Owner’s Survey, American Pet Products Association) and approximately 1.3 million women being victims of physical assault by an intimate partner each year (NCADV Fact Sheet), it is logical that pets may get caught in the center of the violence, or be specifically targeted.

A 2007 study found that women seeking refuge at a family violence shelter were nearly 11 times more likely to report their partner had hurt/killed their pet and that shelter women were more than four times higher to report their pet was threatened (Ascione et al., 2007; Volant et al., 2008). Twelve independent surveys have reported that between 18 and 48% of battered women have delayed their decision to leave their batterer, or have returned to their batterer, out of fear for the welfare of their pets or livestock (Ascione, 2007).

As a result of this growing recognition linking domestic violence and animal abuse, there has been greater recognition for removing family pets from abusive homes when their victimized family members are fleeing for safety. American Humane’s Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS)® Program acknowledges this issue head-on and is the first and only national initiative to provide guidance on how to safely house family and pets together at domestic violence shelters. The PAWS Program is unique in that it acknowledges the human/animal bond of keeping people and their pets together during a time of crisis, and sets forth guidelines in the PAWS Start-Up Guide on how domestic violence shelters can make on-site accommodations for family pets. The PAWS Start-Up Guide is available from the American Humane website (

The PAWS Program was launched in February 2008 with only four known shelters housing pets on-site. Two years later, the program has grown to 35 known PAWS shelters, with seven more in-progress. Twenty states are covered under the PAWS Program. Yet with approximately 2,500 domestic violence shelters in the USA, the PAWS Program must continue to expand until a PAWS shelter is within reach of any needy family member and pet.

The PAWS Program was created by co-author Allie Phillips, who, as an assistant prosecuting attorney in the mid-1990s, witnessed domestic violence victims return to their abusive homes in order to keep the family pet safe. Since its national launch, the PAWS Program has already assisted numerous family members and their pets. In Arizona, an abuser withheld food and water for two weeks from a dog named Tigger, and a cat named Kimba was used as BB-gun target practice by the abuser’s son. The owner had fled once before for her safety, but was unable to take her pets. When she returned, knowing she and her pets would continue to be abused, she then learned of a PAWS shelter nearby. In late 2009, she fled the home with Tigger and Kimba and found safety at a PAWS shelter.

A PAWS shelter in California, which is expanding its on-site housing program to include doggie doors from two resident rooms to an outdoor run area, found the PAWS Program to be simple to implement. PAWS Program grantees, Meg’s House in Greenwood, South Carolina and the Mt. Graham Safe House in Safford, Arizona, implemented their PAWS Programs in less than six months. A Community Safety Network shelter in Jackson, Wyoming, created their PAWS Program in just one month. The common theme among PAWS shelters is that they aimed to keep the process simple, as outlined in the PAWS Start-Up Guide, and therefore implementation was not time consuming or difficult.

The PAWS Program outlines three housing styles for family pets, and discusses various issues and concerns that should be addressed upfront, such as allergies, pet noises, zoning and permits. The first housing system involves placing the pet directly with its family in the sleeping quarters. Approximately 12 PAWS shelters house pets inside the resident’s rooms. The second method involves creating an indoor kennel by utilizing a spare room within the shelter. The Shelter for Abused Women and Children in Naples, Florida, created an indoor kennel by changing a utility room into a kennel. With the placement of six large dog carriers in the room, the shelter is able to house animals of most shapes and sizes. The shelter expanded to an outdoor kennel area, with a dog run, to accommodate larger animals.

Lastly, many shelters are building outdoor shelters for animals so that allergies, noise or fear of animals are not an issue. Approximately 22 PAWS shelters have opted for the backyard kennel. Quigley House in Florida built an outdoor dog facility with ten dog runs. The runs have a grassy area around them, and this area is fenced in to enable families to let their dogs run and play with them. This grassy area includes benches, and a dog bath. Each run has a “licksit” system that enables the dogs to have fresh water on demand. The runs are covered, and are in a shaded area. There is metered mosquito control spray that is meant for kennels and barns to reduce the problem with pests. Their feline facility is climate controlled, and provides a place for the families to let the cats out of their cage and spend bonding time with their family. The Community Safety Network shelter in Wyoming, a PAWS grant recipient, opened their outdoor PAWS kennel and dog run in Fall 2009 and immediately started helping families with pets.

Grander versions of the PAWS concept have been implemented in Las Vegas and Howell, Michigan, where larger animal shelters were built on-site. Through a capital campaign, Noah’s House in Las Vegas opened in October 2007 and has 16 cat cages/condos and 15 dog kennels, six of which are indoor/outdoor. Most days, the shelter is at capacity.

Domestic violence shelters interested in the PAWS Program are guided through the process from start to finish. PAWS grants are available to help provide some start-up funds to approved shelters. The PAWS Program has been embraced by communities and is bringing together a variety of individuals and professionals because of its unique aspect of housing pets. Many PAWS shelters discover that local businesses and individuals offer their time, money and handy-work to help build their local PAWS shelter. The PAWS Program also engages local animal shelters, animal rescue organizations, and veterinarians to provide assistance and guidance to the domestic violence shelter.

The PAWS Program serves an important need for communities by providing clear and concise guidelines on how to effectively house pets on-site. The PAWS Program concept is reaching more domestic violence victims who know that options are available for being sheltered with their pets. Yet, PAWS shelters are out of reach for too many victims.

Complementing the PAWS Program is the Safe Havens concept for off-site housing of pets of domestic violence (Ascione, 2000). It is estimated that between 700 and 900 Safe Havens programs exist in the USA. The housing may consist of the domestic violence shelter establishing a foster care program where pets are housed in homes until they can be reunited with their family, housing pets at animal shelters, veterinary offices or boarding facilities through a cooperative agreement, or simply providing information to victims on where to place pets. Safe Havens is an important option for a community that has not implemented the PAWS Program. Yet, less than half of the domestic violence shelters offer any type of referral or off-site housing for pets of their clients.

Ahimsa House in Atlanta is an organization that works to safely house pets of domestic violence. Ahimsa House undertook the task of creating and maintaining a website of off-site housing programs throughout the country. This directory is invaluable since it often provides hope and options to a domestic victim who is too far from a PAWS Program, yet needs to get herself and her pet to safety. To read a comprehensive assessment and guide on the Safe Haven’s concept, please visit the Ahimsa House website.

We are closer to the day when domestic violence shelters will either have a PAWS Program or Safe Havens Program out of recognition that families of domestic violence have pets that also need protecting. Great strides have been made in recent years to acknowledge this issue involving pets, yet more work needs to be done.

18.3.2 Incorporating therapy animals with maltreated children

For those professionals who work with maltreated children, providing a sense of safety and security to the child during the legal process can be challenging. The legal process can be frightening to adults, and particularly for children who may not understand what is happening. The concept of incorporating therapy animals to help these particular children is in its infancy, yet is growing in popularity in courtrooms, prosecutors’ offices, and child protection agencies throughout the USA.

The bond between children and animals is undeniable. Animals are naturally a part of a child’s world. Even if their family does not have a cat, dog or other companion animal, children are surrounded by animals from an early age. They have puppies, kittens, giraffes, monkeys, and teddy bears on their clothing and floating above their crib in a mobile; their books feature the Blue Clues dog, Clifford the Big Red Dog, Berenstain Bears, Dora the Explorer and her friends; and their TV shows and movies feature Big Bird, Simba and Nahla, Nemo, Winnie the Pooh, and many animated animal characters. As part of healthy growth and development, a child’s bond with animals teaches empathy and compassion. When a child has been abused or traumatized, it can be the non-judgmental comfort from an animal that helps the child heal.

We often hear of the human/animal bond and people’s personal bonds with their own family pets. However, the child/animal bond is something pure when witnessed. It can bring a withdrawn child out and provide emotional healing to a child that has been maltreated. Understanding this bond is essential to believing that animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can help children.

American Humane recognized the need for guidance in this sensitive area involving maltreated children being integrated with therapy animals. In August 2009, America Humane launched the Therapy Animals Supporting Kids (TASK) Program. The TASK manual was written to encourage professionals within the criminal justice and child welfare systems to incorporate trained and registered therapy animals into their programs. Children’s advocacy centers (CACs), child protection service agencies, hospitals, prosecutors’ offices, and courthouses are well suited to welcome a therapy animal. The TASK manual was written to set forth the proper handling of therapy animals around children who have been abused in a manner to keep both child and animal safe, as well as to avoid any unpleasant situations that may negatively impact on a civil or criminal case involving child abuse.

The manual emphasizes that incorporating an animal in therapy, particularly in the case of child abuse, is a specialized field which requires training in development and clinical application, animal handling skills and having an animal trained for therapy work. Without proper knowledge and experience in these areas, involving just any animal in a therapeutic setting could create issues of liability and compromise the child.

The TASK Program was created by co-author Allie Phillips and Diana McQuarrie, Director of Animal Assisted Interventions for American Humane. Together, Allie and Diana merge two important areas of expertise in co-authoring the TASK manual: the practical issues involving setting up an animal-assisted therapy program and safely working with therapy animals, along with the legal implications of how to effectively incorporate therapy animals to help children through an often difficult court process.

The TASK manual identifies six stages in which therapy animals can be beneficial to children, and thoroughly details the benefits and drawbacks to each stage as well as potential legal objections and responses. The six stages include: greeting children, the forensic interview or evaluation, the medical examination, individual or group therapy, court preparation and courtroom testimony. The manual features children’s advocacy centers and prosecutors’ offices that currently incorporate therapy animals to assist children. It also contains sample forms which can also be downloaded from American Humane’s website.

The TASK manual was peer reviewed by nationally recognized leaders in child protection, prosecution and animal-assisted therapy, as well as agencies that have effectively incorporated therapy animals to benefit child victims and witnesses. It has also been endorsed by national leaders in child advocacy and prosecution.

The benefits of AAT with maltreated children are shown in stories like this. Isabelle is a Newfoundland therapy dog who helps with the Tarrant County (Texas) Kids In Court Program. In one instance, she was helping a 9-year-old girl prepare ready for court. The girl was shy, but warmed up especially after finding Isabelle’s ticklish spot. Isabelle’s handler told the girl one of Isabelle’s stories about secrets and that it is okay to talk about secrets. The girl then disclosed to Isabelle more than she previously had about her abuse. As a result of her work, Isabelle was awarded the Volunteer of the Year Award in 2009 from the Alliance for Children, the children’s advocacy center in Tarrant County, Texas.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office in Houston, Texas, created the Paw and Order SDU: Special Dog Unit Program in 2009. The program has six registered therapy dogs that accompany children and other witnesses to court twice monthly. The therapy dogs sit with children and other victims of domestic violence or abuse prior to having to testify. The therapy dogs keep the victims and witnesses calm during the process.

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Feb 16, 2017 | Posted by in GENERAL | Comments Off on Animal Abuse and Developmental Psychopathology: Recent Research, Programmatic and Therapeutic Issues and Challenges for the Future

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