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14 October 2001 Issue
First Strike Conference Worth the Effort

By Michelle A. Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com 

In legal terminology, a preemptive strike is a point made by an attorney in anticipation of a potentially damaging point made by his opponent. By anticipating what opposing counsel may say, and arguing the point before it can even be made, lawyers take the legitimacy of an argument out of it before it is uttered.

This is the idea behind the national initiative known as First Strike. By looking at the earliest indicators of family violence, we are in a position to affect an anticipatory strike against it. And experts have determined that one of the earliest indicators of family violence is animal abuse. Simply put, those who are beating the family pet are most likely to abuse other family members too. If not now, then soon. And by identifying those abusers, treating and/or punishing them, and finding safe haven for the victims, we are effectively preempting the almost certain violence to come and take steps to avoid it.

So what can be done to encourage local law enforcement, prosecutors, educators, social workers and others to become involved at the first sign of abuse? We can help them to carry out the initial strike against family violence. We can bring them together to share resources, statistics and remedies. And we can do it at a First Strike Conference. I am in the process of putting together one locally in West Palm Beach that is being hosted by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League. There are several local co-sponsors including, The Sherry L. Schlueter Foundation. (For those in the South Florida area, our conference, the first of its kind in Palm Beach County, will take place from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm on Saturday, November 3, 2001, at the Palm Beach County Commission Chambers.)

World-renowned experts and honored speakers include Randall Lockwood, Ph.D, (HSUS), Lt. Sherry Schlueter, (Broward County Sheriffs Office); Hon. Edward Rodgers, (Retired Circuit Court Chief Judge); Rep. Lois Frankel (D-FL); WPBFs Terri Parker; Dr. MaryAnn Jones of the Governors Task Force on Domestic Violence; Dr. Priscilla Stockner, D.V.M. and Jeanne Howard, Assistant State Attorney. Other speakers include Ann Gearheart and Dierdra Jorgensen who are experts from other animal agencies that have successfully initiated programs to assist animal victims of family violence; and Pat Preu, a victim of domestic violence who suffered the loss of her cats when her husband drowned them in retaliation for her leaving him when he held a gun to her head. Her story has been told on Entertainment Tonight and in Cat Fancy Magazine.

Law enforcement officers, domestic violence workers, prosecutors, educators, social workers, animal control agencies, and other members of the community who are committed to stopping animal abuse and domestic violence are encouraged to attend. Continuing education units are being offered for police, attorneys, educators and licensed social workers. And this workshop is about more than just learning about animal abuse, its also an occasion to meet others who share in our quest to put a stop to violence in its many forms. Indeed, for years, government agencies and humane organizations have been working together to find a solution. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), released a study in 1996 entitled The Tangled Web of Abuse which details evidence that those who abuse animals, especially those who begin at an early age, will go on to abuse people. Indeed, Jeffrey Dahlmer, Kip Kinkel and the Columbine killers, to name just a few, all had a history of animal abuse. But nowhere is animal cruelty more prevalent than behind closed doors. With little concern for consequences, abusers mistreat family pets for a variety of reasons, including:

* To demonstrate and confirm power and control over the family
* To isolate the victim and children
* To force the family to keep family violence a secret
* Teach submission
* To retaliate for acts of independence and self-determination
* To perpetuate the context of terror
* To prevent a victim from leaving or coerce the victim to return
* To degrade victim through involvement in the abuse

There are compelling reasons why we should recognize animal abuse as a form of battering. It differs from other crimes committed against animals in that abusing animals exposes the deliberateness of battering rather than loss of control. The abuse of animals and children is closely related because both targets are small and vulnerable.

No single event can reduce a social illness as devastating as domestic violence, so, there should be post-conference plans to support victims who fear for the lives of their companion animals if they flee for their own safety. Since 28% of the women who call shelter hotlines refuse to seek safety for themselves if it means leaving their pets behind; it stands to reason that programs set up to help battered women are not meeting all their needs. After our conference, the Animal Rescue League seeks to set up a foster network to provide safe, temporary homes for these at-risk animals. While battered women and children seek shelter from the storm of domestic violence, we seek to give them peace of mind and their animals care and comfort until a permanent solution can be found for both. The First Strike Conference will address this project as well.

For more information on how to put together your own First Strike conference, and to learn about other national anti-violence initiatives, visit the following websites:

The Humane Society of the United States www.hsus.org
The Latham Foundation www.latham.org
The American Humane Association (http://www.americanhumane.org/link/default.htm

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