This X-ray image shows a bullet fragment lodged in the neck of a pitbull mix named Honey, who survived being shot through the mouth by her owner's physically abusive ex-boyfriend. Honey's story was one of four cases detailed by ASPCA veterinarian Dr. Robert Reisman and ASPCA legal advocacy counsel Elizabeth Brandler at the 10th Annual Veterinary Forensic Sciences Conference last month, and one of 65 cases handled by the NYPD and ASPCA between 2014 and 2016 that involved animal cruelty in conjunction with domestic abuse. (Image: Courtesy of the ASPCA)

The intentional harming and killing of animals is often tied to violence against humans, and knowledge of this connection can be used to improve anti-cruelty and public safety efforts, according to experts in law, psychology and veterinary forensics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The link between animal cruelty and domestic violence was one topic at the 10th Annual Veterinary Forensic Sciences Conference in New York City last month. During the session, ASPCA supervisor of forensic sciences in New York City, Dr. Robert Reisman, and ASPCA legal advocacy counsel Elizabeth Brandler, discussed over 65 NYC cases from 2014 to 2016 in which domestic abuse and animal abuse were connected.

“Animal abuse is often referred to as the tip of the iceberg and can be a glimpse into other family dynamics that may be at play,” Brandler said during the session. “This can also serve as a major risk factor for committing abuse against a partner.”

Animals can also be used as a tool to threaten and control an abused partner, Brandler said, pointing out that the power and control wheel, a tool that was developed in the 1980s to identify the tactics used in an abusive relationship, includes harm against pets.

“The ‘Using Intimidation’ piece of the wheel includes harming or killing a pet and saying ‘next time it will be you,’ or targeting pets, or friends and family who try to aid in the escape of the victim,” she explained.

Reisman told Forensic Magazine that the frequency of the co-occurrence of animal cruelty and domestic violence in New York City has come to light after an increase in caseload following the partnership of the ASPCA and the New York Police Department in 2014. He said they now see such cases about every other week. During the conference session, he made note of his increased awareness of this link and the role that animal advocates have in ending all types of violence.

“What I’ve learned working at the ASPCA and doing forensic work is that I can have an impact on society—with the knowledge I have as a veterinarian I can actually have an impact on violence in society, which is a major worldwide health problem,” Reisman said.

The link between animal cruelty and human violence has been the subject of research for decades, with several studies showing that those who are violent toward animals have also been violent toward humans, and vice versa. For example, a 2001 to2004 study by the Chicago Police Department found that 65 percent of those arrested for animal crimes had also been arrested for battery against a person. A 2014 University of Tennessee study similarly found that 41 percent of a sample of men who had been arrested for domestic violence had committed animal abuse during their adulthood, compared with 1.5 percent of men in the general population.

Research also suggests a link between adolescent animal cruelty and later violence. In 1996, FBI Special Agent Alan Brantley told researcher Randall Lockwood, who is currently the senior vice president of forensic sciences at the ASPCA, that FBI interviews conducted with 36 convicted multiple murderers showed nearly half had tortured animals during their adolescence.

Lockwood, who specializes in forensic psychology and the connection between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, told Forensic Magazine that law enforcement and courts have begun to acknowledge the link, and that this acknowledgement can bolster intervention and prevention efforts.

“What we found is most law enforcement who care about animals have already made that connection in their own minds. People who hurt animals are not nice people,” he noted. “We do spend a lot of time dealing with intervention and prevention programs as well, as far as (animal cruelty) being a potential indicator of future problems—that’s something that the courts seem to be very receptive to. If we can intervene at an earlier age, at an earlier stage, the idea is hopefully we’re more likely to have some success.”

Another response to the connection between animal abuse and interpersonal violence has been the strengthening of animal cruelty laws. During a conference session on the history of animal law in New York and the United States, lawyer Stacy Wolf, who is the senior vice president of the ASPCA’s anti-cruelty group, credited increased acknowledgement of the connection during the late 1990s with the passing of felony anti-cruelty laws in several states, including New York. She noted testimony by Brantley at a 1998 congressional hearing in which he said, “Violence against animals is violence and when it is present it is (…) synonymous with a history of violence.”

“While many people in our field felt they knew that a long time ago, it didn’t gain widespread acceptance really until around this time,” Wolf said. “I believe that even states that had not passed felony cruelty laws—after this (research) came out—did pass them. In New York state, it is the express reason why in 1999 we got a felony cruelty law passed.”

This knowledge continues to have an impact in the form of several recent law enforcement and legislative efforts. Last year, the FBI began including animal crimes in their National Incident-Based Reporting System, which the bureau said could help them begin to identify patterns of animal cruelty and its relation to human crimes. Additionally, a proposed law that tackles both domestic abuse and animal abuse, the Pet and Woman Safety (PAWS) Act, which would criminalize targeting a domestic partner’s pet and establish a grant program to help house and provide veterinary care to the pets of domestic violence victims, was reintroduced in Congress this year with bipartisan support.