Understanding the connection between violence towards animals and violence towards people

This guest blog was written originally for the SPCA of Texas by Marlo Clingman. It is part of a series; Part I can be found here.

WARNING: In this series of posts, the SPCA of Texas addresses some deeply serious issues surrounding the connection between violence towards animals and violence towards people. Some of the graphic information below may be disturbing to some readers.

Devin Kelley, the Sutherland Springs shooter, was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty for allegedly beating and starving his dog long before he killed people. However, he was merely given a deferred sentence and fined, allowed to walk free with the charges dropped at the end of his probation. The National LINK Coalition has found that animal abuse rarely occurs in isolation, but rather, according to the National LINK Coalition, “animal abuse and neglect are often part of a complex constellation of family dysfunction and a ‘red flag’ for other violent behaviors.” When someone is discovered to be committing violence against animals, there is a significant chance that the individual is also acting violently towards other family members.

Devin Kelley had also made death threats to his superiors in the military, sent threatening text messages to his estranged wife and had a protective order out against him. Kelley was court-martialed for beating his stepson so hard he fractured the boy’s skull and caused internal bleeding, as well as kicking and choking his then-wife. Kelley nearly killed his infant stepson, yet only served 12 months in military prison.

Animal abuse. Domestic violence. Child abuse.

The signs were there, but our current legal system and methods of keeping tabs on dangerous individuals allowed Kelley to end up with a semi-automatic rifle, which he used to go on a killing spree. Until cruelty to animals as an indicator for future violence within the home and out in the community is universally recognized and addressed, violent individuals will continue to slip through the system. So what do we do? There are several steps communities can take to address these linked acts of violence in the home before they escalate to acts of violence that affect the entire community. These include:

  • Cross-training: The National Link Coalition “encourages child welfare, animal care & control, adult protective services, domestic violence, and other community agencies to provide training programs for each other, advising them of what the signs of violence are and how such cases are handled in the community. Animal care & control agencies should be included in child abuse and domestic violence fatality reviews and multidisciplinary teams.” Both civilian and military law enforcement and social services should be trained to recognize the link.
  • Cross-reporting: Memoranda of understanding between different agencies and protocols for screening all types of violence that occur within the home can help keep all forms of law enforcement and social services up to date on the overall environment where there is cause for concern. If all agencies in the community have knowledge of violence occurring within any given home, they are better equipped to respond to future situations.
  • Legislative action: Domestic violence victims often make decisions that compromise their own safety because of what they fear will happen to their animals or children. Lobbying for legislation that protects domestic abuse victims from legal retaliation, strengthening animal cruelty laws and pet protection orders, and increasing minimum sentences for animal, child and domestic abuse will help keep violent individuals from inflicting suffering on more humans and animals.

To learn more about the LINK, please visit the North Texas LINK Coalition website. To learn about how to lobby your local representatives to pass humane legislation, visit Texas Humane Legislation Network.

About the SPCA of Texas
The SPCA of Texas is the leading animal welfare organization in North Texas. Founded in 1938, the non-profit operates two shelters, three spay/neuter clinics, two mobile spay/neuter vehicles, one mobile adoptions vehicle and an animal rescue center, all located in Dallas and Collin Counties, and maintains a team of animal cruelty investigators who respond to thousands of calls in seven North Texas counties. Moreover, the SPCA of Texas serves as an active resource center for an array of services that bring people and animals together to enrich each other’s lives. The SPCA of Texas is not affiliated with any other entity and does not receive general operating funds from the City of Dallas, State of Texas, federal government or any other national humane organization. The SPCA of Texas is dedicated to providing every animal exceptional care and a loving home. To learn more about the SPCA of Texas, visit www.spca.org. DONATE WITH CONFIDENCE – Tax ID: 75-1216660