Pets are 'easy targets' of domestic violence

July 23, 2004|by PEPPER BALLARD

They're playful, they're cuddly, they're there when you need them, but household pets also are there when their owners fight, leaving the pets at risk of being caught in the middle.

The link between domestic violence and animal cruelty is a connection "a lot of people don't think about," said Julie Draper, promotion coordinator with the Humane Society of Washington County.

Dominic, a 12-week-old kitten, was resting his broken leg in a Humane Society foster care home after a Hagerstown man allegedly threw the black-and-white kitten through a door and kicked him down the hallway steps during a domestic dispute.


Draper said Dominic is had a broken femur, which was set with a pin. She said Dominic will be put up for adoption after he recovers.

Hagerstown Police Department Lt. Richard Johnson said police on July 19 arrested Lamar Vincent Cheatham, 19, who is charged with second-degree assault and animal cruelty in connection with the incident on the afternoon of June 26 in which Dominic and Cheatham's then-girlfriend were injured.

Hagerstown Police Department Detective Steve Hoover, the department's domestic violence coordinator, said that when police take reports of domestic violence incidents, they take note of the condition of the house and whether there are children there, but do not always take note of pets, "unless an animal is mentioned by a victim."

"There is definitely a correlation between domestic violence and animal cruelty," he said.

Paul Miller, executive director of the Humane Society of Washington County, said that when there is violence in the household, animals might be held hostage or used as symbols.

Abusers sometimes threaten to kill a family pet either to keep their victims from leaving them or to ensure that they remain quiet about the abuse, he said.

Hoover said he can vouch for Miller's statement.

"I've had some extreme cases of domestic violence where animals were actually killed," he said.

Detecting an abused animal is much more difficult than detecting an abused person because "animals don't have voices," Hoover said.

And animal abuse is not reported as often.

Hoover said that less than 10 percent of domestic violence situations that involve the abuse of animals are reported to his department.

Both Miller and Hoover said violence against cats is not uncommon.

Miller said he thinks cats are abused because they're outside without owners, making them "easy targets."

When a dog is hit, it will make noise, Miller said, but when a cat is hit, it might run and cower in a corner.

"Something that's dependent on humans for their survival and is cruelly mistreated - it shouldn't happen to an animal. It shouldn't come to this," Miller said.

Draper said anyone who wishes to adopt Dominic can call the Humane Society at 301-733-2060, ext. 237.

57 percent of animal cruelty

According to the Humane Society of the United States Web site, of the 1,373 animal cruelty cases - including dog fighting, cock fighting, animal hoarding and collecting - included in a 2003 report, 57 percent involved intentional cruelty toward animals and 43 percent involved extreme animal neglect.

Findings reported on The Humane Society Web site regarding cruelty to animals include:

  • Men and teenage boys commit a high percentage of intentional animal cruelty.

  • Household pets are the most common victims of animal cruelty, but cat cruelty is not reported as often as dog cruelty.

  • Shooting is the most common form of intentional cruelty.

  • Hanging is the most common method that women use to commit animal cruelty.

  • In connection with family violence, men are more often the abusers of animals.
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