MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life

MAGGIE: the dog who changed my life
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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Therapy Dog Visit to Juveniles Allows Discussion of Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence

Since we returned to Colorado, Maddie and I have resumed our therapy dog visits to the juvenile center. I love combining the therapeutic effect of Maddie's interaction with the kids with valuable humane education topics. Yesterday I talked to the kids about the connection between domestic violence and animal cruelty after Maddie greeted and interacted with each of them individually.

"How is animal abuse related to domestic violence?" I asked them. (While I speak, Maddie is lying at my feet watching me with total focus, like I'm talking about the most interesting thing in the world ... but of course it's the treat bag around my waist that is captivating her!)

I got a few blank stares and a response about abuse in puppy mills. Although I was very happy to see how much a couple of the kids knew about the terrible conditions in puppy mills, I could see they didn't really know or weren't sharing what they knew about the connection between animal cruelty and domestic violence. One young woman noticeably slumped her shoulders, which made me wonder if I struck a chord for her with this subject. I was concerned for her.

I shared with the teens some of the information that I learned from the ASPCA website. A New Jersey study found that in 88% of families who experienced physical abuse of children they had also experienced animal abuse.

"Why do abusers abuse animals?" I asked.

"Because they feel insecure," offered one young man.

"Very true," I said. "And sadly the abuser often gains a sense of power and control over the family with his/her abusive acts with animals or people. An abusive person can use animal cruelty to perpetuate fear in family members or to enforce submission. It can also be a way to prevent the victim or victims from leaving the abusive situation; or a way to punish them for a behavior such as independence that the abuser does not like."

We discussed the signs they may see in an animal as a result of animal cruelty/abuse. According to the ASPCA these include but are not limited to:
  • wounds on the body
  • flea or tick infestation
  • missing hair
  • a very thin, starving animal
  • limping
  • animals who cower when approached by their owners
  • dogs who have been hit by a cars and not treated
  • dogs repeatedly left alone without water or food or chained in a yard
  • dogs left outdoors in extreme weather without shelter
  • actually seeing and owners strike or abuse an animal
My goal in sharing this information with these kids was to empower them to know where to turn if this was happening in their own family or in a friend's family. We talked about who to report animal cruelty to. I told them it could be different in different states but that the police department was always a place to turn to report animal cruelty.

"You can also contact your local humane society or animal control organization to report animal cruelty in or outside of your family.

You will not only be helping the animals, but you may also keep the abuse from escalating into human abuse."

We lightened up this difficult topic by ending with a 15 minute play period with Maddie, which brought smiles to all of their faces -- not to mention Maddie's!

Posted By:

Dawn Kairns
Author of
MAGGIE the dog who changed my life A Story of Love

2009 Indie Book Awards Finalist
DWAA 2008 Merial Human-Animal Bond Award Finalist

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