Okay, this really shouldn't be news, because I've been aware of Frank Ascione's work for over a decade. A professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Dr. Ascione has studied the topic of animal abuse and its relation to child abuse, spousal abuse, and even serial killing for many years. Yet this article appeared in the New York Times only last week, reporting that "animal abuse is a clue to additional cruelties."
I don't know where the disconnect has been, but I'm glad that finally states are paying some attention. The article reports that counties and states are increasing the penalties for animal cruelty and trying to develop better methods for tracking convicted animal abusers. They are including animal hoarders in the animal abuse designation.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is quoted as saying that animal abuse is not more prevalent, but "what has changed . . . is the recognition that animal abuse is often a warning sign for other types of violence and neglect." They also note that in these times of economic crunch, states also have less money to handle the costs associated with caring for animals of busted hoarders. Franklin County, Ohio, reported that caring for more than 170 dogs from a hoarder cost over $1 million.
The majority of states now have legislation that shifts the payment of care for abused or neglected animals to convicted defendants. Most states now also authoritze vaterinarians to report suspected animal abuse (something I'm sure vets are still not eager to do).
Tennesse and California are considering bills to create online registries of animal abusers, similar to what is done with sex offenders. It would cover adults convicted of felony-level animal abuse. Arkansas, Illinois, and Oregon have recently enacted laws requiring investigators of human abuse and animal control officers to inform one another when they find instances of abuse in a home. One of the sponsors of a similar bill in Connecticut noted that animal abuse is one of the four indicators used by FBI profilers to assess risk of future violent behavior.
Professor Ascione noted that "Often children are not willing to talk about what is happening to them, but they will talk about their concerns about what they are seeing done to their pets." Recent case have demonstrated that when children hinted at animal abuse to their teachers and the teachers alerted animal protection workers, the workers found warning signs of other types of abuse and social workers went in and found that the children were being abused.
All but foud states now have felony-level animal cruelty laws. May they use them well.