Written by Katrina Daniel Thursday, December 09 2010
Laurie had decided to spend one more night at the women’s shelter. She had been there since Saturday night after what she promised herself was the last time Ron was ever going to hit her. Her eye was just beginning to clear up, the bruising turning a dull yellow; the scratches on her arm were scabbed over and hidden under a sweatshirt. She had been at the shelter for a week now, returning to her home a few miles away early every morning to change into her work clothes and feed her dog at a time when she knew Ron was already out of the house.
She pulled into her driveway, saw that his car was gone, and felt reassured, safer. She unlocked the front door, waiting for Rusty, their 5-year-old golden retriever/lab mix to greet her in his usual way, jumping up, even though he knew better.
Rusty was the bright spot in her life. Ron knew how much she loved that dog. She went running with him when she had time on the weekends. She took him to the dog park. She was even thinking of training him to be a therapy dog for hospital visits.
But Rusty didn’t come to greet her this morning. In fact, the house was strangely quiet. She looked through the sliding glass door to the backyard, thinking maybe Rusty was in the back.
He was. Rusty was floating in the pool. Drowned.
There was a note on the deck chair: “This is what happens when you leave.”
The American Humane Society says that 71 percent of pet-owning women entering shelters to escape their abusers state that the man who beat them also injured or killed their pets.
Sixty-eight percent of battered women report violent acts against their animals, and most of the time the batterers force their wives and children to watch while they torture and then kill the family pets.
Marsha Millikin, who realized her situation too late to save her pets – or her daughter – knows this all too well.
“About a hundred miles down the interstate, he opened the car door and ordered my daughter, Christine, to kick our dog, Dusty, out. When she refused, he told her he would do to Dusty what he did to Rocko, only he would do it right this time, and she could watch while he tortured and killed Dusty and dumped her off the side of the road. Then he said he would come home and kill me and Christine would be left alone with him,” Milliken wrote in the book Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention by Frank R. Ascione and Phil Arkow. Milliken’s chapter is titled “Life and Death Inside the Cycles of Violence.”
“He raped Christine her first night alone in our new home while I was at work. She had just turned 8,” Milliken recalled.
While law enforcement has known since the 1970s that serial killers and violent criminals almost always start “small,” by torturing and killing pets, only recently has it come to the attention of the public that the pets – dogs, often cats, and other animals belonging to abused women and children – are the first victims of abusers.
Upstate South Carolina veterinarian Dr. Tom Maiolo says he’s very careful when he suspects domestic violence-related animal abuse – for fear of making the situation even worse.
“I have hinted at times about my concerns about some injuries, but the legality of accusing someone makes me tread very carefully. I would rather give the pet the necessary care than to embarrass the owners and have them take the pet home without seeking further care,” he says.
“When men bring in a pet with suspicious injuries, they are very distant with information and usually in an irritated mood,” Maiolo says. “They are angry that the pet needs care and will require a monetary commitment. There have been a few occasions when children have blurted out the truth by exclaiming that the dog got kicked out the door or hit with a stick. These comments are quickly refuted by the parent, and the conversation is changed.”
Animal welfare activists Phil Arkow and Tracy Coppola, who say that domestic violence-related animal abuse is now a national epidemic, seek to expand protective orders to include companion animals.
Coppola and Arkow say that since 2006, three states – Maine, New York, and Vermont – enacted laws that include companion animals in domestic violence protection orders. In 2007, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Nevada, and Tennessee followed suit, and in 2008, pets-in-protective-orders legislation was signed into law in the District of Columbia and Louisiana.
“It wasn’t just the cats and dogs; it was the sheep and the chickens. I was terrified for their welfare. I knew if I were to leave, he wouldn’t hesitate to kill them. He had done it before.”- Susan Walsh, whose testimony before the Maine legislature was instrumental in enacting the first state law in the United States that includes animals in domestic violence protective orders. (The New York Times, April 1, 2006)
Twenty-five to 40 percent of battered women are unable or unwilling to leave their abusive situations, according to the American Humane Society, because they worry about what will happen to their pets or livestock if they leave.
There is now a growing movement to provide protection for pets in danger of domestic abusers. The fight is being fought on several fronts.
First, and most far reaching, there are at least 700 domestic abuse shelters in the country that are now giving some kind of help, perhaps referring the animals to a sympathetic veterinarian or sheltering pets anonymously at local shelters while their female owners get settled in new lives.
Women’s shelters are also increasingly becoming even more proactive, enlisting in the PAWS program – Pets and Women’s Shelters, created by animal advocate and attorney Allie Phillips.
She created PAWS while she was vice president of public policy and later vice president of human-animal strategic initiatives at the American Humane Association.
“PAWS is the first and only national initiative to provide guidelines to domestic violence shelters on how to house family pets on site. I came up with the concept for PAWS around 1996 when I was a prosecuting attorney and had one particularly memorable domestic violence case set for trial, but the woman would not testify because she had returned home to her abuser in order to protect her two dogs and a goat,” Phillips says. “She told me that her husband had already killed one of her dogs and that she would rather die than allow him to kill another one of her pets.”
The PAWS Program has caught on around the country as more and more shelter managers and their governing boards recognize the need.
“When PAWS was launched in February 2008, I knew of only four shelters (out of 2,500 in the country) that were housing pets on site. Today, I have grown the program to 56 shelters, with nine more in the process of implementing, she says. “But that is not nearly enough. My goal is to have a PAWS shelter in every state in the next three years.”
Here’s what you can do if you suspect a person or a pet is being abused.
- Of course, your first instinct is to offer help. But be careful. The abuser could target you. Report it. Call the police. Get a guarantee of anonymity.
- Spread the word. Many people are still unaware of the correlation between violence against women/children and animals.
Katrina Daniel is an award-winning journalist and broadcast reporter/anchor. She has worked in Miami, Los Angeles, New York, and as a national correspondent for several networks. She commutes between Miami and the Carolinas, writing for magazines and news organizations. She lives with one horse, four dogs, and a cat. Daniel is on the board of directors of a shelter for victims of domestic violence. That shelter is looking to implement the PAWS Program.