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Intersections conference explores link between animal cruelty, domestic violence

Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report
The new animal friendly license plate was unveiled at the Intersections conference Tuesday.
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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Animal cruelty may be horrific on its own, but it can also indicate escalating acts of violence against family members or the public.

On Tuesday, hundreds of Oklahomans attended a day-long training about the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence, child abuse and elder abuse at the Oklahoma Link Coalition Intersections Conference.

The training, hosted in part by the Oklahoma Link Coalition and the Kirkpatrick Foundation, was designed to educate law enforcement, social works, veterinarians, social services and more about the research that ties animal abuse to interpersonal abuse.

For Kathleen Romero, coordinator of the Link Coalition, the intimate tie between abuse of an animal and abuse of a human is only too real. The Oklahoma Link Coalition is a network of partners formed in 2014 that studies and educates the public and stakeholders about the strong correlation between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence.

“The purpose of this conference is to get more people involved in the coalition,” she said. “It is an event to get people interested in joining our coalition and move forward in our action areas. Something we are working on, for instance, is allowing animals in domestic violence shelters. Many people don’t leave a domestic violence situation because they will not leave their pets behind. Seventy-one percent of victims report that a perpetrator threatened, harmed or killed their pets.”

Already, changes are being made. The Women’s Resource Center in Norman and the YWCA in Oklahoma City have agreed to allow for shelter for animals escaping abusive situations as well.

More than 100 law enforcement officials, social services professionals and veterinarians attended the training, and the Oklahoma Veterinary Medicine Association unveiled Oklahoma’s new Animal Friendly vehicle license plate, which will be used in part to help fund low-cost neuter/spay for low-income families.

Speakers included Dr. Melinda Merck, a forensic veterinarian who assisted law enforcement with the animal cruelty investigation of former football star Michael Vick. She is also an author of several animal cruelty investigation textbooks.

“Any kind of animal abuse is linked to potential acts of violence,” she said. “There is so much literature about the link between child abuse, child sexual abuse with similar crimes against animals.”

The Oklahoma Kirkpatrick Foundation Executive Director Louisa McCune said the conference was the first of its kind in Oklahoma and was particularly timely as the shooter identified in the Sutherland Springs First Baptist Church mass shooting that left 26 dead also had a history of animal neglect and cruelty.

“From our first group of 13, the Oklahoma Link Coalition has grown to include representatives from more than 70 organizations. The coalition’s mission remains the same – to provide a collaborative, multi-disciplinary approach to studying the link between animal cruelty and abuse and bring attention to the role animal cruelty plays in the larger network of violence and crime,” she said.

Attendees also learned about veterinary forensics, early childhood trauma, Oklahoma laws regarding human and animal abuse and more. Speakers also included Dr. MaryAnne McCaffree, an Oklahoma neonatologist who serves on a national coalition regarding family violence and children, and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president for Forensic Sciences and Anti-Cruelty Projects, American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Dr. Randall Lockwood (left), Senior Vice president for forensic science and anti-cruelty projects for the ASPCA, and Louisa McCune (right), executive director of the Kirkpatrick Foundation, speak at the conference. (Heide Brandes / Red Dirt Report)

According to the Link Coalition, a study in Massachusetts showed that 70 percent of animal abusers had criminal records involving crimes of violence, property, drugs or disorderly behavior. In addition, 12 independent studies have reported that between 18 and 48 percent of battered women delay leaving abusive situations out of fear for the safety of their animals.

Seven percent of intentional animal abuse cases involved child abuse and neglect as well, according to the Humane Society of the United States. In a New Jersey study, at least one person in 60 percent of pet-owning families investigated for child abuse and neglect had abused animals.

Oklahoma’s new Animal Friendly vehicle license plate was also unveiled at the event, which will benefit the Pet Overpopulation Program, which is a fund established by the Oklahoma Legislature to provide financial support for pet sterilization and educational programs to low-income families.

The new license plate, which is currently being produced but available for pre-order, will cost $35 with $20 going directly to the Pet Overpopulation Fund.

“It has been estimated that two unaltered cats and their offspring can produce 420,000 more cats in seven years and that two unaltered dogs and their offspring can produce 67,000 more dogs in six years,” said Amanda Meeks, executive director of Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association. “Since 2006, the OVMA has received over 9,000 applications from pet owners in Oklahoma, and the program received over $377,000 in donations. Since 2006, 1,468 Oklahomans have purchased the plate and supported the program.”

The plates were designed by Steven Walker of Walker Creative. Plates can be obtained by downloading an application from the OK Tax Commissions’ special plate division or at a local tag agency.

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Heide Brandes

Heide Brandes is an award-winning journalist and editor with more than 18 years of experience....

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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