Oklahoma Link Coalition
THE LINK BETWEEN ANIMAL AND HUMAN ABUSE
THE LINK BETWEEN ANIMAL AND HUMAN ABUSE
Advocacy group helps protect people and animals in abusive situations
by Kathleen Romero
“When animals are abused, people are at risk. When people are abused, animals are at risk.” How well does this statement from animal welfare professional Judy Johns resonate with you? In the past, this connection hasn’t always been readily understood, but a growing body of research is making it clear: abuse and neglect of animals is inextricably linked with maltreatment and violence against people. Often cases of animal cruelty have been treated as isolated incidents, with only an animal victim. Now, more and more professionals are recognizing that acts of animal cruelty are often the predictors and indicators of escalating acts of violence against the human members of the family, with serious implications for society as well. Recently, a movement has started to shine a light on the intersection of animal abuse and other forms of family and community violence.
Animal abuse is highly prevalent in homes marked with child abuse, and childhood animal cruelty increases in homes where children have witnessed domestic violence. Domestic violence survivors regularly report that concern for their animals prevented them from leaving an abusive situation, because their partner threatened, harmed, or even killed their pet. Family members may threaten or harm pets in order to coerce or control vulnerable seniors. Rather than a tangential incident, animal cruelty is part of a complex constellation of antisocial behaviors that have resonating effects on all members of a family ecosystem.
These sobering facts speak to a deep, long-lasting bond between people and animals of all kinds. The impact of having experienced the unconditional love of a dog or the healing joy of a cat’s purr as a child can stay with us as we grow into adults and citizens who move through the world. Pets can act as emotional allies or even life-rafts when we are in crisis or sorrow. Unfortunately, due to this close relationship, these pets can become involved in family systems of dysfunction and violence. According to the 2015 Oklahoma Animal Study, there are more than 2 million companion animals in Oklahoma homes alone. This fact, coupled with Oklahoma’s high rates of child abuse, domestic violence, and incarceration, illustrates a clear picture in which pets could be at the center of interpersonal violence in homes across the state.
The Oklahoma Link Coalition endeavors to address this larger context, bringing in professionals and community members who regularly see “the Link” threaded through their work. Founded in 2014, the Oklahoma Link Coalition was inspired by the National Link Coalition movement, which began in response to mounting evidence that animal cruelty can be a red flag that other family members are at risk for abuse. The Coalition’s mission is to promote collaboration, cooperation, public awareness, and education to end violence against people and animals by recognizing the link between human and animal abuse.
The Oklahoma Link’s goal is to promote advocacy, cross-training, and networking across disparate fields, and spreading awareness of “the Link” to as many professionals as possible, as well as to the public. On November 7, the Oklahoma Link Coalition will host a conference, aptly titled Intersection, at the Oklahoma History Center. This conference will provide opportunities for training, education, and ways to the improve life for people and animals in Oklahoma communities. The cost is only $15 (lunch included), and scholarships are available.
Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of ASPCA Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects, will be a featured speaker. "By helping communities form coalitions,” Dr. Lockwood states, “we are creating a more effective approach in breaking the cycles of violence and protecting vulnerable members of our society.” Outreach to varied professionals whose work touches Link issues is vital to the Oklahoma Link. Professionals encouraged to join the Coalition, and attend the conference, include those who work in the fields of veterinary medicine, criminal justice, law enforcement, animal control, child welfare, elder and vulnerable adult services, law, education, children’s advocacy and services, domestic violence, animal welfare, tribal services, behavioral health, faith-based, social workers, and cultural and civic groups that do work in the community. There is no cost to join, and members simply commit to receiving a monthly newsletter with information about “the Link” and opportunities to become more involved.
A main component of the Oklahoma Link is to bring together different voices at the table -- to share information, cross-train, and build relationships across fields. This multi-disciplinary, collaborative approach builds healthier families and therefore, stronger communities in our state. The Oklahoma Link is supported by the Kirkpatrick Foundation as part of their Safe and Humane initiative, which seeks to make Oklahoma the safest and most humane place to be an animal by the year 2032.
To find out more about the Oklahoma Link Coalition, the conference, or to inquire about joining the Coalition, visit www.oklahomalinkcoalition.org and find us on Facebook and Twitter.