APNM’s CARE Program Addresses the Link Between Human and Animal Abuse

September 22, 2015

New Mexico nonprofits and state agencies participate in the 2015 New Mexico Conference on the Link Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence

Albuquerque, N.M. – It’s a startling number — 71 percent of domestic violence victims state that their abusers threatened, injured or killed their family pets. In addition to that staggering figure, 76 percent of batterer-perpetrated animal abuse occurs in front of children.

It’s these very numbers, and more, that fueled the Positive Links 2015 New Mexico Conference on the Link Between Animal Cruelty and Human Violence. Held on Sept. 14, 2015, at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the conference brought together organizations from across the state, including several employees from Animal Protection of New Mexico (APNM). Daniel Abram, APNM’s deputy director, spoke in a joint presentation with Pam Wiseman, executive director of the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence, about the direct impact of the Companion Animal Rescue Effort (CARE) program.

“One to three calls a month to APNM’s animal cruelty hotline are domestic violence related,” Abram explained. “More than half of domestic violence victims say that their animals are vital sources of support, so many of them choose to linger in these violent situations because they are worried about the welfare of their companion animals. That’s where CARE comes in.”

CARE is a foster care network that provides confidential housing and care for the animals of domestic violence victims. This program allows domestic violence victims to flee their abusers without worrying about their companion animals’ safety. In 2014, APNM partnered with the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Senator Nancy Rodriguez (D-Santa Fe) to acquire recurring state funding for CARE, which allows the program to make a significant statewide impact.

“For someone in a violent relationship, support and emergency sheltering options are very limited when trying to escape to safety with a beloved cat or dog,” said Sharon Jonas, program manager for CARE. “In the past year, CARE has assisted 82 callers with referrals and/or direct services for almost 150 animals.”

When humans and animals are abused in front of children, a self-perpetuated cycle of abuse forms. Children who witness abuse have a greater chance of becoming abusers themselves, according to the National Link Coalition. In addition, animal abuse can be a way for abusers to threaten or silence their victims, a situation Jonas has seen far too often.

CARE came to the rescue when an enraged husband threatened to kill his wife’s dogs if she left him. A victim of his violence as well, she felt trapped. When she contacted a nearby domestic violence shelter, they reached out to the CARE program, which found a foster home that cared for the dogs until she was able to secure a job and move into a new place.

The link between animal abuse and human violence isn’t a myth; it’s a reality that thousands of New Mexicans face every day. According to the website for Positive Links, research suggests “that an individual’s mistreatment of an animal parallels unhealthy, and sometimes even violent, relationships with other humans.” Understanding the need for collaboration, prominent speakers from around the state shared their experiences, including Jared Rounsville, director of protective services for New Mexico’s Children, Youth & Families Department, who mentioned in his presentation the value of and need for the CARE program.

“CYFD’s mission is to improve the quality of life for our children and any kind of violence in a family and home environment impacts children living in that environment in many profound ways,” Rounsville said. “When children witness or experience violence against their pets, their family members, or themselves, they experience profound trauma. Working together across systems is very important to preventing this type of trauma to children from occurring.”

Rounsville’s presentation included heart-wrenching stories about the link between child and animal abuse. In one situation an abuser forced children to watch as he set fire to their family pet. In another example, an animal control officer called to a home about animal abuse also found four children who were being physically and sexually abused.

The collaboration that comes from the Link Conference benefits both humans and animals. Jonas, who has attended and presented at many past Link Conferences, sees the event as a valuable networking resource for everyone working toward an end to domestic violence and animal cruelty.

“There is always something new to take away from this conference, and it’s a great place to meet some of the domestic violence prevention advocates and others I usually work with over the phone,” Jonas said. “The good news is that more and more professionals across the country and in New Mexico are beginning to acknowledge and address the realities of the link.”




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