Abused pets, abused people Domestic violence: City police proposal looks offbeat, but might be innovative, preventive approach.

May 23, 1998

THE BALTIMORE Police Department's interest in starting a program that would focus on abused pets as an indicator of domestic abuse might look a bit too offbeat or frivolous were the department doing nothing else to combat this problem.

But city police have some of the toughest anti-abuse standards in Maryland and are considered innovators in domestic violence prevention.

For instance, the department lists every 911 call as domestic-related or not and requires officers to write reports on domestic-related complaints, even if a crime has not occurred; reports are referred to the domestic violence unit for preventive action.

In this context, the department's desire to test the theory that mistreated animals can be a sign of domestic violence as well as a reason some victims won't abandon their homes makes sense.

The notion that abused pets might be accompanied by abused women or children is not far-fetched; studies show violent criminals' first victims are often animals.

City police seek a modest (less than $200,000) state grant to establish the program. Critics are fixed on the fact that a small portion of the money would be used to place victims' pets temporarily with other families. The critics note that pet rescue is not a law enforcement priority.

But whatever aid the animals would receive would be incidental. The purpose of the grant is to establish a trained network of police, veterinarians, animal control officers and health officials to help identify women and children at risk, and to educate potential victims about available help before they become victims.

Some will argue that this money would be better spent on more shelter space; not enough exists for abused women. While available shelter beds are one piece of the puzzle, preventing abuse is another. We think it's a valid one.

Pub Date: 5/23/98

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