The Link Coalition Works Toward the Well-being of Children,
Elderly and Their Pets
by Paulette Black
They have endearing names like Margaret, Holland, Mango, Blossom or Honey. Some even have designer names like Gucci, or unusual names like Josephus, and we spend lots of time and money spoiling them. When we go on overnight trips, we worry about them as much as we do our kids. We know them so well, but science is helping us understand them even more, shedding light on animal intelligence and emotion. We brag about how smart and humorous our pets are, and we acknowledge their pouts, jealousy and silly behaviors to demand our attention. They are part of the family.
Far too often, however, these beloved pets can be the first victims in an environment of family and domestic violence. In the past 30 years, research into the human-animal bond has led social scientists to understand the direct link between child maltreatment, animal abuse and elder abuse.
An important voice in this growing field of research is the National Link Coalition, formed several years ago and coordinated by Phil Arkow, an internationally recognized author and humane educator. During a recent trip to Oklahoma City, Arkow spent a day working with the newly formed Oklahoma Link Coalition. With support from the Kirkpatrick Foundation, more than 25 organizations and agencies participated in the initial meeting, establishing a mission: “The Oklahoma Link Coalition promotes collaboration, cooperation, public awareness and education to end violence against people and animals by recognizing the link between human and animal abuse.”
The new group is coordinated by Paul Needham, Adult Protective Servic-es, Oklahoma Department of Human Services and member of the National Link Coalition Steering Committee.
“The link between the harm done to humans and animals is well document-ed when it comes to animals, domestic violence, child abuse and adult abuse,” explains Needham. “It is not the possibility that the others are being harmed when the perpetrator is doing harm to one of these; it is the probability.”
Arkow says, “In addition to causing pain and suffering to the animals, animal abuse can be a sentinel indicator and predictor, one of the earliest ‘red flag’ warning signs of concurrent or future violent acts. Abusers and impression-able children who witness or perpetrate abuse become desensitized to violence, and the ability to empathize with victims is lessened. Abuse is often cyclical and intergenerational. The earlier profession-als can intervene to break the cycles of violence, the higher the rate of success.”
Experts in child development agree that the danger of children witnessing, being exposed to, or participating in animal cruelty has a long-term negative impact on their future health, mental health and development. An added con-cern is separation of families from their pets when in domestic violence shelters.
“Domestic violence affects all of us, including our pets,” says Tracey Ly-all, Domestic Violence Intervention Services (DVIS) executive director. “More than 71 percent of victims reported that their abusers had harmed, killed or threatened animals. If an animal is abused, it increases the likelihood that the spouse and children are also victims of abuse, so it’s important as members of the community to intercede on behalf of families and their pets.” DVIS will be the first shelter in Oklahoma to have an onsite kennel to board pets of domestic-abuse families and will open in 2015 in Tulsa.
“There has been one case in particular in Oklahoma, where a father was using the family pet as the weapon to abuse his child,” says Tina Harman, public information officer, Oklahoma District Attorneys Council. “This is hor-rific and reprehensible. Anyone who would sling an animal around by its legs to hit a child is a monster none of us wants in our community.” In such instances, the legal system and law enforcement are both key to responding and holding perpetrators accountable.
Needham adds, “We want to provide a network, information and re-sources for professionals working within the different public and private entities of law enforcement, animal shelters, veterinarians, child welfare, adult abuse, domestic violence, universities and more—to better collaborate and serve the needs of animals and humans.”
Each of us in the community has a role to play in protecting children, the elderly and animals. The Oklahoma Link Coalition is a step in the right direction.
For more information about the Link, visit NationalLinkCoalition.com. The Oklahoma Link Coalition can be reached through its Facebook page. For more information about the Kirkpatrick Foundation’s Safe & Humane Initiative, visit SafeAndHumaneOklahoma.org.
Paulette Black is the program officer at the Kirkpatrick Foundation