Jan 062011
 

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.

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