181915 Animal care professionals' perceived responsibilities in the evaluation and intervention of pet abuse and its connection to family violence

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Peggy E. Goodman, MD, MS, FACEP , Department of Emergency Medicine, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Melissa A. Place, MA , Department of English, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC
Studies suggest a connection between animal abuse and family violence. It is hoped that earlier intervention in animal abuse cases might prevent other forms of family violence. This pilot study investigates whether animal care professionals are aware of this link, how veterinarians identify and respond to signs of abuse, and their knowledge and utilization of local resources. Telephone interviews were conducted with two veterinarians, an animal control officer, and an animal shelter director. All participants recognized the link between pet abuse and family violence. The veterinarians knew little about animal abuse laws or local resources. Uncertainty about the intentionality of abuse and fear of losing customers seem to play a key role in responding to potential abuse cases. These findings suggest a number of areas needing further study. All respondents recognized the link between pet abuse and family violence, but the different perspectives (healthcare vs. public safety) differ in how they perceive their responsibilities. Veterinarians rarely screened for abuse and knew little about laws or resources. Interview responses suggest that current state laws are too vague to be useful when screening for abuse, educating the public and prosecuting offenders. Most laws categorize animals as property, with minimal punishment. This might decrease the likelihood of veterinarian involvement, particularly if it threatens their customer base. In general, there seems to be minimal communication between veterinarians and animal advocacy organizations, and none with Social Services. It is hoped that increased education, screening and collaboration could detect abuse earlier, with more effective intervention.

Learning Objectives:
1. Articulate how animal abuse is linked to family violence. 2. List factors that may prevent veterinarians from addressing abuse in their practices. 3. Discuss areas needing further study, such as perceived differences between "abuse" and "neglect" among veterinarians.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: extensive professional background working in family violence prevention and intervention
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.