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April 25, 2012

DAs Link Pet Abuse, Domestic Violence (New York Daily News)


Thirty-five New Yorkers who were never punished for beating their lovers are now in jail—or in therapy—because they abused the family pet.

And it's all due to a little-known partnership that the Brooklyn and Staten Island district attorneys have forged with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' family vision unit, an anti-violence program that, since 1998, has been educating city agencies about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.



By Roberto Santiago, Daily News Staff Writer

Originally published in the New York Daily News, November 5, 2000

Thirty-five New Yorkers who were never punished for beating their lovers are now in jail—or in therapy—because they abused the family pet.

And it's all due to a little-known partnership that the Brooklyn and Staten Island district attorneys have forged with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals' family vision unit, an anti-violence program that, since 1998, has been educating city agencies about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence.

"A person who tortures or kills an animal is often violent toward people," said Brooklyn Deputy District Attorney Carol Moran, who has prosecuted domestic-violence cases for the last 16 years.

"As a result, animal-abuse convictions are becoming a new means of putting abusive individuals in jail—or in therapy."

National surveys conducted by various universities and the Humane Society of the United States in the past five years found, among other things, that "74% of pet-owning women [in women's shelters] reported that a pet had been threatened, injured or killed" by their abuser.

Moran relates the case of a man who beat his girlfriend for months.

As she was ready to leave him for good, he wrestled her pet bird from her hands, snapped its neck and threw its writhing body at her feet.

"He sneered, 'If you are leaving, take this with you!'" Moran said.

The man was charged with animal cruelty, a class A misdemeanor that is punishable by up to a year in jail—but is usually bargained down to three to 45 days.

"She then moved in with her parents, had the bird cremated, and kept its ashes in her bedroom. All pet owners have strong emotional ties with their pets, but none more so than victims of domestic violence," Moran said. "Well, this guy broke into her parents' house—and stole the bird's ashes."

The parents pressed charges. The ex-boyfriend was indicted for breaking and entering and burglary.

He is now doing five to 15 years.

Heidi Tannenbaum-Newman, an assistant district attorney in Staten Island, said most cases don't result in prison time but in much-needed therapy for the abusers.

As part of their probation, the abusers are required to spend 12 sessions with psychologist Dr. Stephanie LaFarge, senior director of counseling services at the ASPCA.

"All of them are reluctant to undergo therapy," said LaFarge. "They deny or minimize the crime, but after a few sessions the truth comes out—and that is that they killed their lover's pet in order to cause the deepest emotional pain to their lover. And they did that because they felt that they could no longer control their lover the way they once did."

In the past two years, LaFarge said, she has treated 31 men and four women age 16 to 61, but therapy did little good when the abusers were teenagers.

"Twelve sessions, 50, 300 sessions wouldn't be enough," said LaFarge, who points out killing animals is often a "rehearsal crime" for young people. They become immune to torturing or killing animals before they move on to humans.

Family vision coordinator Susan Urban and LaFarge are trying to put together a 26-week intervention program that will teach those convicted of animal abuse or domestic violence to take responsibility for their actions.

"It would take over where therapy ends," said Urban, whose referrals will come from district attorneys' offices, Family Court and other city agencies.

"It will recognize their violence and look for ways to end it."

Original Article

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