Criminal justice researchers have known it for years: Children who hurt and torment animals often grow into adults who assault other people.
Many communities, including Howard County, are beginning to acknowledge that link. Some people have taken steps toward dealing with the dangers it presents.
"Animals are often the first visible victims of home violence," said Virginia M. Prevas, manager of the First Strike Campaign, administered by the Humane Society of the United States.
First Strike is a 5-year-old program aimed at educating the public about the relationship between cruelty to animals and violence against people.
Prevas joined speakers from the Snyder Foundation for Animals, the Howard County Domestic Violence Center and Days End Horse Farm at a conference on the topic Friday in Ellicott City.
About two dozen animal control workers, police officers, social workers and activists listened to speakers present statistics and specific examples linking cruelty to animals and violence against people.
Domestic Violence Center counselor Pat Machate, who planned the conference, said this was the first such event she could recall in Howard County.
In Colorado, Columbine High School killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot woodpeckers, Milwaukee serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer staked severed dog heads on fence posts and "Son of Sam" serial killer David Berkowitz poured ammonia into his mother's fish tank.
All are extreme examples of people guilty of animal cruelty and human violence, Prevas said.
Speakers at the Howard conference said the link is more often manifested in more common forms of violence, such as spousal or child abuse.
Each presenter delivered the same message: Animal welfare and people welfare go hand in hand.
Few have experienced the connection as intimately as Dr. David Tayman, a veterinarian with Columbia Animal Hospital, who lost a staff member to a domestic violence-related killing in 1998.
Vera Case, a 31-year-old veterinary technician at the hospital, was shot by her husband in her home east of Mount Airy hours before the man took his own life, Howard County police said.
There were signs Case was abused by her husband and might have been afraid to leave him in part because she did not want to lose her beloved dog, Sunshine, Tayman said in an interview last week.
Since Case's death, Tayman started a program called PetSafe, which boards pets of domestic violence victims while they seek help at the county's Domestic Violence Center.
PetSafe will soon have its own building, Tayman said, adding that he keeps the location secret to prevent batterers from harming the pets that will be housed there.
"I don't want another Vera," Tayman said.
Case's death was a drastic example of domestic violence, but Tayman said that several times during his 30-plus-year career as a veterinarian he has seen clues that his some of his patients' masters might be abuse victims.
"We talk very openly in these rooms," Tayman said, gesturing to the examination rooms at the animal hospital. "I become a mini-psychologist sometimes."
Although he did not attend the conference, Tayman has served on the Domestic Violence Center's board since Case's death. He said the conference was a good way to open people's eyes to the link between animal and human violence.