Police link pet, domestic abuse Department seeks grant to help identify, aid battered women


After beating and choking his girlfriend, a man threw an air conditioner on their dog and killed it. A man angry at his girlfriend beat her cat and broke its front teeth. Another man beat his wife and then broke the leg of the family's dog.

Violence against animals. Violence against women.

Using examples culled from city police reports to say that the two are connected, the Baltimore Police Department is seeking $200,000 of taxpayer money to establish a network of veterinarians and animal control officers to identify women battered by their partners.

Police also want to recruit volunteers to temporarily adopt pets so victims can leave their troubled homes and go to shelters where animals aren't accepted.

But the proposal -- one of more than 100 applications for $2 million in federal money to be distributed by the state -- is being met with skepticism by researchers who say the city should work to increase shelter space for abused women.

"A network of safe cages for pets is not a priority," said one state official who is familiar with the city's grant proposal and the review process and who chose to remain anonymous. "Rather, the city should apply the same energy and zeal for developing more safe havens for children and their adult caregivers."

But city officials, including the police and health commissioners, defend the grant application proposed by Col. Margaret Patten, coordinator of the Police Department's domestic violence program.

'It's not about animals'

Police Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier said he found the proposal "a little strange at first. When you first look at it, it sounds unusual. But the research behind it is very solid."

Frazier notes examples, including that of a wife of a city officer who said her husband bought her a dog and threatened to torture it if she filed a complaint about his abuse. "The animal was being used as leverage," he said.

"It's not about animals," Patten said. "It's about people. People are more likely to call because of animals being abused or neglected then they are for an adult or child who are being abused.

"I could see their concern if we thought the life of an animal was more important then the life of a person," she added. "But that isn't what this is about. This is about ending the cycle of violence."

Proposal not released

Baltimore police and state officials refused to release a copy of the grant proposal.

"We are unable to comment on any applications until the grant review processes are completed and specific projects are funded sometime in early June," said Marty Burns, spokeswoman for the governor's office of Crime Control and Prevention.

The state official said state researchers are questioning the studies noted in the grant proposal and feel that the money could be better spent on additional shelter space for battered women. Only one shelter accepts men and women -- the House of Ruth, which has 26 beds.

In 1997, police received 23,000 emergency calls for domestic violence-related cases, according to department statistics. Of that number, nearly 9,000 were documented, and police made more than 4,000 arrests. "That's a lot of people who are suffering," the state source said. "Pets have to take a back seat."

Sources familiar with the city's grant application say it seeks funds for 11 computers, four pet carriers, a clerk, a guest lecturer pTC and four 35 mm cameras. Money also would pay for a checkup for pets before they are given to the temporary caregivers.

Members of the police domestic violence team would use the carriers to take pets to a veterinarian for a checkup and then to foster care. They also would photograph the pets for children so they can be assured their dog or cat is being cared for.

The money also would be used to set up a network in which veterinarians and animal control officers would report suspected abuse to authorities or suggest to the woman that she seek help. Police also want a computerized network linking the agencies to track complaints.

Anecdotal evidence

Carole Alexander, executive director of the House of Ruth, said not enough empirical research has been done to prove a relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence. But she said domestic abuse is underreported, and that any method that could identify more victims is welcome.

She said her workers have anecdotal evidence that supports Patten's premise. "Do we see women who don't come here because they have animals? Yes. Do we see a lot? No. Do we routinely ask the question? No."

Baltimore police said they find it ironic that researchers from the state do not like their proposal. A month before it was submitted, they said, Gov. Parris N. Glendening told a group of animal protection advocates that he would appoint a commission to study the links between animal abuse and violent crime.

Patten pointed to a stack of literature and university studies supporting the link Monday and said other agencies, including ones in Colorado and New York, have similar programs.

Tough policy in place

The Baltimore Police Department has one of the toughest anti-abuse standards in the state. It is among the few agencies that require officers to make an arrest if they find even the slightest evidence that an assault took place.

After a third 911 call from a home, police supervisors will visit to make sure officers have taken appropriate action and to ask if the victim wants a police escort to a shelter. This latest initiative, Patten said, is "fine-tuning" the department's program.

The grant would pay to train veterinarians to identify potential victims of domestic abuse.

"It will teach the vets that if a dog comes in with broken ribs, and the woman has a black eye, there may be a correlation between the two," Frazier said.

The department has a poster encouraging abused women to call police, showing a woman and child huddled in a corner with the headline, "Love should not mean fear."

Patten wants to modify the poster to add a dog. And Frazier thought of his own slogan: "If your son-in-law kicks the dog, what is he doing to your daughter?"

Frank Ascione, a psychology professor at Utah State University whose research is noted by Patten in her grant proposal, said his studies have shown that there are "women who are remaining in danger because they don't know what to do with their animals."

He said a study of 100 abused women in Utah shelters, all of whom had pets, found that more than half reported that the animals had been abused or killed. He said that nearly one in four "reported that worrying about their animal's welfare kept them from going to a shelter."

Pub Date: 5/13/98

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