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Research links animal cruelty with domestic violence, other crimes; coalition helps victims, their pets

Posted at 9:55 PM, May 17, 2015

SALT LAKE CITY -- A researcher at Utah State University said abusive behavior toward animals is highly correlated with other types of crimes, especially domestic violence, and an organization is working to provide victims of abuse with a safe place for both themselves and their pets.

“People need to acknowledge that there is a strong correlation between the abuse of animals and the abuse of human beings,” said Frank Ascione, a Ph.D. who is a professor emeritus at Utah State University.

Ascione has researched and written for decades on the psychology of animal abuse.

He said: “It raises a red flag and the question is, how big is the flag and how bright is the red?"

Ascione’s research shows animal abusers are five times more likely to engage in a property offense, violent offense or drug related offense. Research from Michigan State University’s animal center shows 100 percent of sexual homicide offenders had a history of cruelty toward animals, and 48 percent of rapists as well as 30 percent of child molesters reported committing animal abuse during childhood or adolescence.

But Ascione said there’s a big gap in the research.

“We don’t know what actually came first," he said. "Was there violence towards people that simply didn't get picked up by anyone, then the individual hurt an animal and then again, hurt a person."

Changes in state laws, like Henry’s law in Utah, have made many animal abuse crimes a felony. That’s driving a bigger change that Ascione says will drastically shift the field of study.

“In 2016, the FBI will begin tracking animal cruelty offenses in their national incident based reporting system,” Ascione said.

He said we may not know what comes first, but there is a pressing link to domestic violence.

“Over 50 percent of the women who had pets reported that their partner had either harmed or hurt or killed one of their pets," he said.

Pets can also prove an enormous source of strength for the victims of domestic violence.

“I feel like animals have like, another sense, like they are so loyal to their owners, you know--their families--that they just want to protect people,” said Marianna (not her real name) a domestic violence survivor.

She said her 13-year-old, blind dog named Kitty would try to protect her from an abusive husband.

“Sometimes I would get home and she knew I was like sad, no one else could tell because I tried to like hide it," she said.

The ASPCA says 48 percent of abused women delay getting help because of concern over their pets. Clair Desilets, a coordinator for the Purple Paw Project with the Friends of Animals Utah, urges victims not to wait.

"There is help for you," she said. "Contact us, contact shelters. We work together, and we will take care of your pet."

The Purple Paw Project is an effort to pair with domestic violence shelters to provide a place for animals to stay when their owners leave an abusive home.

"Shelters are not specialized to take care of the pets, we are," Desilets said. "We offer rehabilitation to the pets, that themselves are the silent victims of domestic violence."

For Marianna, her dog Kitty provided not just support but also a reason to leave. Fearing for her dog's life, she called a domestic violence shelter, looking for a place Kitty would be safe.

“She told me that, I just couldn’t send Kitty alone, but she may be able to come with me," she recalls.

Marianna left the house, going to the shelter for Kitty’s sake. Marianna never went back.

If you need help, contact your local domestic violence shelter, most will already know about the Purple Paw Project and the resources for your pet. For information on helping the Friends of Animals Utah with the Purple Paw Project, click here.