National Directory Makes Reporting Animal and Human Abuse Easier
By PHIL ARKOW
Coordinator, The National Link Coalition (USA)
(The National Resource Center on The Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence)
A cross-disciplinary movement began taking shape within the animal protection field in the 1990s that parallels One Health. This movement, called “The Link,” focuses on areas where animal abuse and interpersonal violence intersect. Fueled by empirical literature demonstrating that animal abuse often predicts or indicates co-occurring child maltreatment, domestic violence and elder abuse, significant achievements in public policy, community services, and public and professional awareness have ensued.
The newest development is the National Directory of Abuse Investigation Agencies. Currently, 36 states mandate or permit veterinarians to report suspected animal abuse, paralleling the imperative among physicians to prevent child abuse. Diagnostic literature, training curricula, veterinary associations’ support, and practice management guidelines have facilitated such reporting, but the last missing link was widespread confusion on the local level among practitioners who do not know where to report their suspicions.
The free Directory, available at http://nationallinkcoalition.org/how-do-i-report-suspected-abuse, solves this problem. It lists specific agencies in over 6,500 cities and counties that investigate allegations of animal cruelty, abuse and neglect.
The Directory also identifies each state’s hotlines to report other family violence. Veterinarians are mandated reporters of child and elder abuse in 23 states. Humane and animal control officers are similarly mandated in 29 states.
The Directory is needed because the investigation of animal welfare complaints is not systematized. Depending on the jurisdiction, reports may be investigated by a humane society, SPCA, animal control/services, police, or sheriff. Meanwhile, contrary to popular opinion, local humane societies and SPCAs are not branches of national organizations.
“Veterinarians often encounter a bureaucratic runaround,” said Phil Arkow, National Link Coalition Coordinator. “Unlike the simplified hotlines for child, domestic and elder abuse, animal protection is fragmented with no statewide coordination. Each agency operates independently with varying degrees of enforcement, resources, training, capacity, and priorities.
“A caller to an animal shelter may be told to call law enforcement; the police or sheriff may say they are not trained in animal welfare issues and to call animal control. The result is a veterinarian who gives up in frustration and animal abuse that goes unresolved. The Directory cuts through the confusion.”
The Directory cautions that in many under-represented areas, cruelty investigations default to police or sheriffs whose enforcement may not be vigorous, particularly in smaller communities. “But animal cruelty is a crime like any other they are required to investigate, and law enforcement officers need to know this,” he said.
Veterinarians are reminded that they are medical, not legal, experts, and that determining whether a situation is prosecutable can be determined only by the courts. Veterinarians do not have to “know” if a condition is cruelty: their role is to be the animals’ first line of defense; to report and document findings for further investigation; and to present them in a court of law if necessary.
Awareness of the links between animal and human violence has resulted in:
- All 50 states now define some animal abuses as felonies, compared with only 5 in 1990.
- 32 states allow courts to include pets and livestock in domestic violence protection orders.
- Alaska and Illinois now allow courts to award custody of pets in divorce settlements in the animals’ best interests, similar to child custody provisions.
- Over 100 domestic violence shelters now also accommodate pets, and 600 others have off-site foster care, to eliminate the barrier to safety for women who fear what will befall their pets if they leave abusive situations.
- The FBI now includes physical abuse, animal hoarding and neglect, animal fighting, and animal sexual abuse in its National Incident Based Reporting System. These data will illuminate, for the first time, the prevalence of animal abuse in the U.S.
- Prosecutors and law enforcement agencies are assigning personnel to investigations and prosecutions of cruelty cases.
- Veterinary forensic science has become a specialized discipline to train veterinarians in crime scene, histopathology, necropsy and diagnostic skills long employed in human medicine.
- Veterinarians, dentists and hairdressers have been identified as the three professions most likely to encounter abused women. Veterinarians in Scotland and New Zealand are ardently supporting programs to end domestic violence.
- Veterinary Social Work addresses the “human side” of veterinary medicine and the “animal side” of social work. Social workers are learning that the definition of family often includes companion animals and that social services interventions often involve animal issues.
Phil Arkow is Coordinator of the National Link Coalition, a network of 3,400 multidisciplinary professionals which since 2008 has served as the National Resource Center on the Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence. He may be reached at email@example.com.
-- Writings/Vets-One Health 2018.doc