Webinar presenter Phil Arkow answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Improving Public Safety by Stopping Animal Cruelty. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Are you aware of any efforts to overturn the law, which makes it illegal for veterinarians to report abuse in Kentucky?
Phil Arkow: Yes, It already happened last month, and we reported it in the May 2020 LINK-Letter. Yes, we finally got that passed in Kentucky. They didn’t make it a mandate, but at least they made a permissive. It’s a half-step, but it is progress. Veterinarians in Kentucky are now permitted to report. Kentucky had been a real outlier with that one, for a long time.
Audience Question: As a law enforcement officer, how did we start to change the culture in our organization? So, our officers do start looking for connecting crimes when animal abuse is reported.
Phil Arkow: I don’t want to get into a too lengthy discussion about changing police culture in the current environment we’re in. But if you go on our website, you’ll find a whole collection of resources on The Link for law enforcement that demonstrates that animal abuse is, in fact, a human safety issue with more information. By showing police officers and Sheriff’s deputies how this is relevant, that it’s not trivial, and that animal abuse investigations are going to open the door to investigating more crimes, they will start seeing that this is, in fact, significant. We do a lot of training for law enforcement and there’s sometimes a lot of resistance, with officers saying, you know I’m dealing with rapes and robberies and burglaries and you want me to worry about a bunch of dogs? But the fact is, if you start looking at looking for animal abuse, you will see other crimes as well.
We have training available for law enforcement agencies. If you can put the audience together, we can conduct either webinars or in-person training once travel restrictions get lifted. We can do trainings for any law enforcement agency anywhere in the country, for other countries as well.
Audience Question: I really like this next question, Phil, just one, I think, everyone must have heard about the link. I run into someone else who hasn’t heard of this connection. Why do you think that is? Is it new people always entering the profession, or is it just dissemination of the information that’s been slow?
Phil Arkow: Why don’t people know about The Link? It’s because it’s such a simple concept. It goes right past most people. But once you mention it they go, Oh, yeah, I had a case like that once. Or, Oh, gee, that makes sense. Why didn’t I ever think about that before? And that’s the reason why. It’s also because people who are not familiar with with the world of animals and animal agencies, it just never occurs to them that pets might be part of what defines families and communities in America today.
Audience Question: Given the link between domestic violence and non-accidental injury to pets, coupled with the incidence of domestic violence, do you have any advice on dealing with your veterinary team when a link case identified at the clinic, especially since some staff may actually be suffering some from domestic violence?
Phil Arkow: Oh, that’s a good one. I just got an inquiry yesterday from a professor at the Veterinary College at the University of Florida who mentioned a very interesting idea: she’s pregnant, and when she goes to her OB-GYN they have a system in place where if they see a woman who is having some kind of issue, but is afraid to talk to somebody about it, they color code the paperwork with some kind of a colored sharpie to recognize that this is the case that needs a little bit of extra special attention. And she can then talk to somebody in particular who she may feel more comfortable dealing with. Why don’t veterinarians have a similar process?
Many people are domestic violence survivors themselves, and this is always a challenging and emotionally charged subject for them, so I usually have to do all sorts of trigger warnings when we’re doing our trainings. But particularly with the fact that the majority of women in veterinary schools right now, and maybe in veterinary medicine altogether, are women, this is becoming more and more relevant for veterinary staff across the board. There are several things that hospitals can do. One is to present yourself as a friendly resource. I saw this years ago in Indiana, with veterinarians wearing buttons that came from the domestic violence shelter that just simply said, “It’s okay to talk to me about family violence and abuse.” Presenting yourself as a friendly resource can help the animals because people love to talk to and through their animals.
Veterinary offices could have literature in the lobby from either the state domestic violence coalition hotline or the local women’s shelter agency, because the overwhelming majority of clients are women. They may not know what resources are available out there if they are having a particular issue. Practitioners are understandably afraid of the risk of potential physical violence to their staff. But again, they can have a protocol in place so that if something comes up they can make a call to the appropriate agency, or slip the information to her saying, “I don’t know if you have a problem here, but here’s who you can call to help.” I don’t know if that answers the question completely or not, but just some ideas off the top of my head.
Audience Question: Have you found research that uncovers links between animal fighting and other crimes like human trafficking, drug distribution, things like that?
Phil Arkow: Not from a statistical standpoint, just anecdotally. We see cases all the time where police go to investigate a dogfight and they turn up all these other crimes. I don’t think we have any hardcore data on incidents. That’s why we’re hoping once the NIBRS system gets more developed, we’ll start seeing those numbers.
Audience Question: How do you see that NIBRS data being used as we move forward? Obviously, you gave one example.
Phil Arkow: A lot of different areas. I mean, just when a state legislature, or a city council asks how big the problem is, we will be able to tell them. Or to get back to the earlier question, how do we convince law enforcement agencies that this is important? We’ll have the numbers to show them that what percentage of animal abuse crimes also involved homicides or human trafficking, or whatever. So, I mean, it’ll just really enhance our ability to let people know how serious this is, and to target which areas need more intervention and areas for further concentration.
Audience Question: What opportunities do you believe that become available in Link related community and response services, if the decentralizing movement of defund the police does become widely adopted?
Phil Arkow: To be honest, I haven’t thought about that yet, but I can see where that could be a concern. A lot of times, police will investigate animal cruelty because there is no humane or animal control agency empowered to do it, particularly in rural communities, affecting Sheriff’s offices moreso than cities, perhaps. And it’s not a priority issue for them. If police agencies start restructuring to get more into social work and counseling and de-emphasizing law enforcement for what are perceived to be less serious crimes, it could be that those auxiliary types of personnel will be more involved with the animal protection work. And they may see the animal issues as more significant because they may have more time or resources or social work expertise to deal with those issues. Many, many animal cruelty cases don’t really require prosecution. Overwhelmingly, these cases are neglect, or it’s just stupidity or financial and economic constraints that are keeping the animals from getting optimal care. So, it may not require a full-fledged law enforcement and prosecution effort. Save those efforts, for the really serious cases. It could also lead to more movements to give reputable SPCA and humane societies official law enforcement powers, and more training so that they could, in fact, enforce themselves rather than relying on the law enforcement agency to do it.
Audience Question: Assuming the abuse of animals in rodeo is accepted as secure as occurring, what is your opinion of the impact on children when they witness it in terms of the link or ACE when it’s so widely promoted?
Phil Arkow: First of all, the definition of what constitutes animal cruelty is completely inconsistent. It varies from time to time, place to place and culture to culture. Somebody walking a dog in Central Park and somebody goes into a rodeo in Eastern Wyoming can be 180 degrees apart. So, part of it is a case of what’s normal under current cultural standards. Most children attending a rodeo don’t necessarily perceive it as cruelty because most people aren’t that intimately familiar with what a flank strap is, or the training regimen that may be involved, or the fact that most rodeo activities take place behind the scenes outside the view of the spectators. The same thing is true about animals in circuses and animals in entertainment. Cultural standards are consistently changing. The Link focuses primarily on individual acts in households and families as opposed to cultural or culturally-sanctioned activities. I mean, we know that there are more incidents of domestic violence, for example, among meatpackers, but does their exposure to slaughtering animals make them more prime for other forms of violence? Or are there other factors involved? There have been only a couple of reports on that and the jury is still out on that one. Most rodeo events that you look at on the surface appear benign. There are, of course, occasional instances where the animals get hurt, and the same thing can be said with horse racing.
Audience Question: Does animal behavior change with abuse, whether it’s sexual or physical abuse that they may be suffering?
Phil Arkow: Absolutely. Animals are wonderful in giving you immediate feedback as to what they like and what they don’t like. They recognize who they like and who they don’t like, and their behavior will change immediately. Now, what constitutes abuse? What’s the definition of abuse? There’s a difference between the public perception of that and the legal definition. The legal definition is set by cultural standards, which, again, vary from time to time and place to place. Probably, the question I’m asked most frequently is about emotional abuse: if somebody leaves their dog alone all day and he’s barking and whining, is that abuse? The answer is no, if he has food and shelter and water. There is no such crime as emotional abuse when it comes to animals. We have it with domestic violence and elder abuse and child maltreatment, but emotional abuse doesn’t exist for animals.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of Improving Public Safety by Stopping Animal Cruelty.