Tag Archives: community violence

Violence hurts. Any kind and to any degree. To people and to animals.

I was interviewed on TPPCtv’s “Pets Teach Us So Much” blog talk radio show last Friday (follow the link to listen to the show). Robbie Everitt, one of the hosts asked me about serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer who are known to have started their killing sprees by harming animals.

I told her, yes, Dahmer was known to have tortured animals, and other mass murderers were known to have harmed animals. But it is not only the most extreme serial killers about whom we should be concerned. It is those people who are committing domestic violence regularly in their homes of whom we should be most concerned, as their actions are not as rare.

With information spilling out every day about the recent mass murder in Tucson, AZ and the alleged mass murderer, our fascination with the most extreme of human violence has again reached a fevered pitch. When someone does something so horrible and so dramatic as the Tuscon shooting, we cannot help but be intrigued.

There is still very little known about Jared Loughner, the alleged Tuscon killer. In regards to his relationship with animals, he reportedly enjoyed having his own pet dog, yet was relieved of his dog walking duties at a local animal shelter where he volunteered. According to news reports, he refused to stop walking dogs in an area that was contaminated with the parvovirus, a highly contagious and deadly disease for dogs.

I don’t know if that behavior puts Loughner in the category of what we would call an animal abuser. Certainly he was a troubled young man on many fronts.

But as attention grabbing as the headlines maybe of one person killing six and injuring 14 people, Loughner’s is not the only story of a troubled soul causing harm to others that has played out this week. As tragic as 9 year old Christina Green’s senseless death was, many other children have experienced violence over the past week–in their homes and in their communities. Their stories are going untold.

Yes, Jeffrey Dahmer and Lee Boyd Malvo, one of the DC Snipers, were known to have harmed animals in the lead up to their more serious crimes of serial murder. But these are the extremes that luckily, do not happen very frequently. Sadly, there are folks who are seemingly everyday people, possibly your neighbor or colleague, who DO perpetrate violence daily to animals, to children, to spouses and to romantic partners.

Their behaviors should be every bit as alarming as Loughner, Dahmer and Boyd.

When a person harms an animal, there is a strong likelihood that he or she will also harm defenseless human beings. In rare cases, that person may become a serial killer or mass murderer. In less rare cases, that person may become someone who causes severe emotional and physical pain to his/her family and loved ones. Both are serious, and both deserve our attention.

Will you help me get that message out there? Will you help me tell the stories that are going untold?

Certainly, we want to prevent troubled individuals from becoming mass murderers. But preventing animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence are primary concerns as well.


Please let me know if you know of a story that you would like to share of a child or other person who has been touched by violence, and whose story involves a connection between animal abuse and human interpersonal violence. I will be happy to share the story, and omit any identifying information at your request.

The timing is good for increased awareness.

There are several studies that confirm the link between abuse to animals and interpersonal violence between human beings. It is not a supposition. It is a fact. Abuse towards animals often points to circumstances where children and other vulnerable persons are in danger as well.

Unlike other health and safety concerns, however, these studies simply are not on the general public’s radar. Why not? Probably because there is no trendy PR campaign to promote it. (I aim to change that.)

But there is another ugly reason.

Society tends to operate in an “out of sight out of mind” manner when it comes to messy things. Domestic violence, child abuse and animal abuse are messy things.

We can easily express outrage at horrible things that happen to people and to animals. But getting to the bottom of what leads to the horrible things happening in the first place is not so easy.

Follow my process here.

Increased awareness about a messy thing such as children in risky and dangerous situations leads to better identification of actual children at risk. When a child at risk is identified (or thousands, as the case might be), we are compelled to do something for that child. We are compelled to provide child welfare intervention, physical health care and mental health services. These services cost money – public money.

And right now, public money for child welfare intervention, physical health care and mental health services is VERY scarce.

From a callous and myopic point of view, there is a disincentive for public policy makers to become aware of something that will identify more troubles than they have money to address.

I spoke with Mary Lou Randour,Professional outreach coordinator, Animal Cruelty and Fighting Campaign for the Humane Society of the United States this week, and I asked her about that concern. Her response was that the long term costs of NOT intervening early far outweigh any temporary savings from ignoring the obvious.

Children who witness violence and/or experience violence in their home/community often become the perpetrators of violence and other delinquent acts. They are at high risk for drug abuse and drug related crime. By not putting resources to early identification and intervention, we end up putting more resources towards criminal justice interventions later on with these same individuals.

There is currently a lot of political rhetoric in the public discourse about the funding of health care and government programs. The debate is so polarized, it is difficult to discern what is truly at the heart of the matter. I will make no specific political statement here, nor will I espouse a direct opinion.

I will only state that any cuts to services for children in need likely will lead to forced interventions in criminal justice programming later down the road. Is that what we want?

We need to be aware of children and animals that are in danger in our society, and we need to stop the “out of sight out of mind” manner in which we approach messy societal concerns. We need to identify and we need to intervene. We need to compel our public policy makers to prioritize these issues as they determine funding for essential public programming.

Our children are our most valuable resource, and their pets are often the one thing that brings them joy and a sense of safety. Let’s not let them down.

Does demonizing Michael Vick do anything productive?

A day doesn’t go by–scratch that. An hour doesn’t go by that I don’t see some post expressing outrage about Michael Vick crossing my Facebook and Twitter pages.

Since his story is one of such flagrant abuse to animals, I would be remiss not to enter into the discussion about it. My take, however, may be a bit different than most.

Let me get this straight at the outset. I am no defender of Michael Vick. His abuse of dogs was systematic torture and murder, and there is no defense for that. The animals he harmed are still suffering, and good-hearted rescuers are still laboring to meet the animals’ needs.

I don’t care much for Vick’s accomplishments on the football field either. The game holds little interest for me. Although as a counselor, I believe that people can redeem themselves, I have seen little to show me that Vick has moved towards redemption, other than getting back into the game of football.

With all that said, I wonder if we have missed opportunities to promote real change by focusing solely on our outrage at the man. By demonizing Vick and repeating the animal rights rally calls, are we really making a difference?

I ask you to consider looking deeper at what leads to the perpetuation of abuse to animals in our culture in the first place.

If you read about Vick’s youth, you will see an unpleasant story. Raised in a neighborhood rife with drug dealing and drive-by shootings as the norm, Vick had many red flags of concern in his upbringing. Neighborhoods such as his tend to have negative role models who use dogs for status and protection. Love and care for an animal would be considered “soft”.

Children who experience trauma as the result of domestic and community violence are at high risk for violent and delinquent behavior. Their tendency to perpetrate violence on animals is much greater than children who do not grow up experiencing trauma. Although Vick has not publicly acknowledged a specific trauma history, he has acknowledged using sports as a way to escape the chaos in his neighborhood.

Again, there is no excuse for his behavior, and despite his upbringing, he needs to be held accountable for his choices. Furthermore, I am making no diagnostic presumptions about the man.

My question is, what are we doing to prevent children faced with similar circumstances from taking a similar path?

What are we doing to intervene with children living in such pain that they would develop behaviors that put animals and other human beings at risk?

There are many children in our communities who are being raised in homes affected by violence and trauma. Some of these children live with fear that harm will come to a cherished pet. Some have witnessed an abuser causing direct harm to an animal. Some of these children re-enact their own pain on their own pets.

Although protocols for identification and intervention have been developed, little attention is paid in our society to the very clear connections between animal abuse, child abuse and domestic violence.

Imagine what we could do if we focused our outrage towards Vick towards something more productive–enhancing our child serving systems to be more equipped to deal with the collective concerns.

My hope is that Okey’s Promise is one way that we can redirect the energy towards positive change. Will you join me in redirecting the outrage to a more effective dialog?

We can’t do much to change Michael Vick at this stage in the game. But think of how many others whose lives we could change.

Let’s make a promise to do just that.


UPDATE: I have been challenged on my claim that Michael Vick has done little to move towards redemption. Some claim that he has made efforts though work with the Humane Society of the United States. Others question his authenticity and the Humane Society’s willingness to work with him. I make no judgment on this, as it truly is not the focus of this post. You can read the HSUS FAQ and decide for yourself. My hope, though, is that we will focus on prevention beyond the outrage with Okey’s Promise.