Pet Abuse Registry May Raise Awareness of Animal, Family Abuse
NEW YORK -- A New York county is launching a registry for animal abusers which could also help to identify potential violence against women and children.

The registry in Suffolk County, which will go live next week, is modeled after the sex offender registry to protect children.

It is the result of growing awareness that brutality against an animal is an indicator of possible family abuse, according to experts and studies.

"Animal abuse is not only the tip of the iceberg of family violence, but it's often the first warning sign and the one a neighbor is most likely to call in," said Phil Arkow, of the National Link Coalition, which educates people about the link between animal and human abuse.

"People assume the kids and the spouse can pick up the phone on their own, but they feel sorry for the animal because it's a silent victim," he said.

Nineteen U.S. states allow family pets to get restraining orders. Four states have also included animal cruelty under the criminal definition of domestic abuse.

The progression from animal to human abuse, known among experts as "the link," is changing the way laws are being written and enforced.

As many as 71 percent of battered women say their pets have been killed, harmed or threatened by their abusers, Arkow said.

Animal abusers use more forms of violence against humans, such as stalking and marital rape, and are more dangerous than batterers who do not, he added.

And nearly half of battered women with pets report they delayed entering a shelter because of concerns for an animal left behind, said Frank Ascione, head of the University of Denver's Institute for Human-Animal Connection.

In Nashville, Tennessee deaths from domestic violence decreased 80 percent just a year after a domestic violence hotline initiated a triage system which elevated to high risk any reports that the batterer had weapons, threatened suicide or vowed to mutilate or kill an animal.

More domestic violence shelters are also welcoming animals or have nearby pet safehouses, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In Maine and West Virginia, animal protection workers and their child protection counterparts are cross-reporting cases in accordance with laws. Connecticut is considering similar legislation.

In Ohio and California, humane society agents and animal control officers are bound by law to report suspected child abuse, according to Scott Heiser, criminal justice director at the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

"I typically encourage child abuse investigators to open their child victim interviews with questions about how the family pet is doing," said Heiser.

Arkow said that by talking about how adults at home treat animals, children can unwittingly reveal child abuse.

"In many cases, they don't know it's animal abuse." he said. "Kids think, 'That's just the way my family treats animals.' They release information about patterns of control at home that you might not get otherwise."