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Advocates seek cross-reporting of abuse

Link to human, animal violence

Animal advocates have long known about the link between animal abuse and violence toward humans. When there’s domestic violence in a home, the family pet can easily be used as a tool of manipulation, specialists say. The animals can also become victims of that abuse.

“People do not leave that abusive, very bad relationship because they’re afraid of what is going to happen to their pet,” said Dr. Edward Schettino, vice president of animal welfare and veterinary services at the Animal Rescue League of Boston. “Or they can’t leave because they have to leave the pet behind and know the pet is going to be abused.”


On Tuesday, as part of Humane Lobby Day, animal advocates went to the State House to talk to legislators about animal welfare bills. One key provision they’re backing: a requirement that animal abuse be reported by human service agencies such as the Department of Children and Families, and that animal control officers report suspected abuse of children, the elderly, and the disabled.

That cross-reporting is part of an updated bill known colloquially as PAWS II that local organizations, including the Animal Rescue League and the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, are backing.

A Northeastern University study found that someone who has committed animal abuse is five times more likely to commit violence against people, four times more likely to commit property crimes, and three times more likely to be involved in drunken or disorderly offenses.

PAWS II, which has yet to be reviewed in committee hearings, has 35 cosponsors.

It builds upon the Protect Animal Welfare and Safety Act — PAWS — which passed in 2014 after a pitbull, dubbed Puppy Doe, was found starving after being tortured for several months in Quincy.

The PAWS Act resulted in longer prison sentences for abusers, required veterinarians to report if they suspect animal abuse, and convened a task force to review the state’s handling of animal abuse.


The task force produced a 70-page report last August that contributed to the drafting of PAWS II.

The proposed legislation would make changes to the original law, including prohibiting animal drowning and emphasizing enforcement of penalties, according to Mary Nee, president of the Animal Rescue League of Boston, who was on the task force. Cross-reporting will be helpful when law enforcement responds to reports of animal hoarding.

“It’s amazing to see how many of those cases exist,” Nee said. “We’re going into homes and are taking sometimes hundreds of animals out. We know hoarding results from mental illness, but while our actions help animals, we’re under no requirement to report this to mental health folks.”

She said she has heard of cases from social workers involved with children or the elderly who may not know their role when they discover a dog in a home marred by violence.

Animal Rescue League staff have begun holding meetings with human services organizations to discuss how to share information. Schettino said most domestic violence shelters in Massachusetts don’t allow pets. Shelters try to help place animals, but in many cases domestic violence victims end up surrendering their animals, while fleeing for their lives.

Ruth Rollins, community coordinator of domestic violence outreach and support groups at the Elizabeth Stone House, said some of her most difficult cases have involved victims of domestic violence who were fleeing unsafe situations but refused to give up their pets.


One woman lived in her car with her dogs. Rollins said the woman began to blossom once advocates helped get her stabilized and into recovery programs. But the first step involved her knowing the dogs were in a safe place, too.

In some cases, animals come out as traumatized as humans.

They may require special training to address aggression and fear.

“You think of animals as just animals, but they’re like their children,” Rollins said.

Cristela Guerra can be reached at cristela.guerra@globe.com.