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DA's training links domestic violence, animal abuse

Posted by Erica Noonan  June 18, 2010 11:10 AM

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Abuse of a household pet rarely happens in a vacuum. It goes hand-in-hand with abuse of women, children, and elders, according to a coalition of domestic violence prevention advocates and law enforcement workers who met today at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.

About 50 social workers and police officers attended the seminar about domestic violence, elder abuse, and animal abuse, which was organized by the office of Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone.

‘‘There are so many barriers to disclosure and conventional ways of thinking about abuse and violence, we want to help change the mindset of the people who see it and prosecute it,’’ Leone said in a telephone interview.

Approximately 85 percent of women seeking shelter from domestic violence in Massachusetts also reported pet abuse in their home. About 50 percent of children in shelter care reported protecting household pets from harm, and as many as 25 percent of domestic violence victims have reported that concern for their pets was a factor in their decision to leave or stay with an alleged batterer, according to Leone’s office.

The hospital is enthusiastic about the coalition’s efforts to address the problem, said Erin Miller, coordinator of Newton-Wellesley Hospital’s Domestic and Sexual Violence Services.

‘‘We’ve seen these connections and it is really heartening to see us start to talk about it,’’ Miller told the group.

Frail elders are particularly susceptible to abusers who threaten to harm their pets. Often an animal is their most cherished companion and ‘‘threatening or actually harming a pet is a very effective way of controlling the victim,’’ said Marian Ryan, general counsel for the Middlesex DA’s office.

She also cited the case of Montiero Green of Framingham, who was convicted last year of abusing two women and attempting to kill one of them. Before Green was arrested for assaulting the women, he killed the family cat and abused one of the victim’s dogs by hurling it out of a second-floor window, prosecutors said. He was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

Dr. Lorna Grande, coordinator of the Berkshire Country-based Human/Animal Violence Education Network, said her coalition had found in 88 percent of the child abuse cases they handled, pets in the home were also subject to abuse or neglect.

She said her group is working on a statewide foster care program for endangered pets, so that victims of abuse can be assured their animals will not be harmed or killed if they leave their homes.

Training first responders about the connection between animal abuse and family violence will better help officials gauge the seriousness of a situation, and allow police to prosecute an abuser for animal cruelty when human victims are unwilling or afraid to testify, said Berkshire County Assistant District Attorney Kelly Mulcahy.

‘‘The most important part of effective intervention is recognizing the link’’ between animal and domestic violence, she said.

Other seminar speakers included Pittsfield Police Officer Jeff Kemp and MSPCA Director of Law Enforcement Peter Gollub.

The MSPCA has been actively lobbying for a bill introduced last year by State Representative Peter J. Koutoujian, Democrat of Waltham, that would allow judges to include pets in temporary restraining orders sought by victims of domestic abuse. That bill, which would also provide protection for volunteers who provide temporary foster care for endangered pets, is currently under review by the House Judiciary Committee, said MSPCA spokesman Brian Adams.

Erica Noonan can be reached at enoonan@globe.com

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