After the Webinar: The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Abuse. Q&A with Michelle Welch

Webinar presenter Michelle Welch  answered a number of your questions after her presentation, “The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Abuse.” Here are a few of her responses.


Audience Question: Who are the national experts or where are places that we can go and read about treating individuals who hoard animals? 

Michelle Welch: Randy Lockwood has done a lot, he’s a Ph.D. He’s done a lot of research in a lot of different animal issues. You could go to the ASPCA. They should have some of his work on hoarding there. The other resource I didn’t say was Phil Arkow has the National Link Coalition. You can look it up, National Link Coalition. That talks about the link between animal violence or animal abuse, pet abuse and family violence, domestic violence that’s another resource. For hoarding, Randy Lockwood has done a lot of writing on that. Frank Ascione has done a lot on the Link period. I’m pretty sure he has retired now but you can find his work. In a lot of my slides, I referenced the studies. Let me just page back little quick. For instance, the Common Bond has the questions that I was talking about. Here are some of the studies. Deviney, this is more about harsh parenting with domestic violence and child abuse. Really for hoarding, I would reference Randy Lockwood and a lot of the things he’s written. Mary Lou Randour has done a lot on domestic violence and family violence. Maya Gupta who is now at ASPCA has done a lot of writing about the Link as well.



Audience Question: What education is happening with the judges? Do judges recognize the link that you are talking about as well or there is still work to be done there? 

Michelle Welch: I think there is still work to be done there. I actually was asked to speak to our judges in Virginia, in our general district judges. The way to educate and I think AWI, the Animal Welfare Institute has done a really good job on trying to get at the National Judges Conferences and speak there. In a way, Randy Lockwood has as well from the ASPCA. What I would say is there was a unique approach a woman, an animal welfare advocate in my state did which I didn’t know whether it would go very well but it actually did. Marsha Landale (indiscernible57:10?) is her name and she sent just a kind of one-page document about the Link. I have to give her a lot of credit because she found all the most relevant and recent domestic violence literature and studies on there. I think if you are going to reach out to judges, you can’t approach them as an advocate. Here’s one of the Ascione studies, going to leave that up for a minute. That you have approach them with studies. That’s what’s going to sway them at the end of the day. They want psychological studies to show that there is really this link. You know the link between pet abuse and domestic violence and child abuse and child sexual abuse that has been well studied especially by Frank Ascione and Randy Lockwood and Mary Lou Randour. When you approach them you have to do it from a perspective of not advocacy. I don’t want to make you love animals. I’m not here to ask you to love animals. I’m here for you to see that there is a link between pet abuse and other violence. She sends that one-page document to all of Virginia judges. A couple of judges responded back to her and said yes, I understand this link and thank you for the literature. If you’re going to reach out to judges, you have to do it in a more, almost a more academic way. So when I do my presentation before them, I’m not going to come at them as I want you to love animals. I’m going to be talking about what the studies show and why this is important.



Audience Question: Is an attorney general’s opinion is enough precedent for cockfighting as we have it here in Georgia or do we need specific statutes for it? 

Michelle Welch: Not quite sure what they’re referencing there. Let me just speak what the attorney general’s opinions are, what about that? So the attorney general’s opinions are what we would call persuasive. They are not binding, they are not controlling. Going to back to, for the lawyers this will be like law school 101 but you know your highest court, your Supreme Court of your state is controlling. I had a young lawyer say to me today but it’s unpublished so it’s not binding. It’s still the Supreme Court of Virginia or still the Court of Appeals of Virginia. Your Court of Appeals of Virginia, your court of last resort which is your Virginia Supreme Court. That is binding especially if it is published. I guess you could say it’s not quite as binding as if it’s unpublished but it’s the most persuasive thing that you can do, right? Then Circuit Court or your trial court level right may have opinions where published or unpublished that’s persuasive for other courts. Often when I’m in court, I have a wildlife trafficking case where I talked about what other courts had done cause I had ten different jurisdiction and ten different defendants and you know that it’s a long process to trial those cases  and I talked about what Buckingham County Circuit Court did or what Mackleburn, I’m sorry, not Mackleburn, what Prince Edward Circuit Court did or whatever cases these Circuit Court did. That’s persuasive, it’s not binding. You can have an animal abuse case or seizure hearing. You can reference what other like courts did. They’re similarly situated. So the Richmond Circuit Court is not binding on Fairfax Circuit Court but it is persuasive that this other judge, the same level judge as the one you were arguing before did it this way judge. Obviously, it’s not binding but it’s persuasive. So attorney general’s opinions are just like that. They are persuasive, they are not binding. They do have some precedential value but they are not binding. They are merely persuasive. Just like with the court, when we have published and unpublished opinions, published is kind of the creme de la creme but unpublished does tell you what the attorney general thinks. Again that does not mean that the Circuit Court judge has to actually follow it but it is persuasive. Wall or code is always the best. If it’s outlawed in the code, that’s the best thing that you can have. Like I have a cockfighting case called Big Blue. In Kentucky, cockfighting is merely a misdemeanor but in Virginia, it’s a felony. Again, you really want that code section outlawing especially that this animal fighting every aspect of the animal fight. In Virginia, if you just attend an animal fight whether it’s cockfighting or dogfighting, that’s a class x felony. If you attend any organized pit that’s a class x felony. If you let a child be at a fight, or handle a bird, that’s class x felony. If you bet or wage that’s a class x felony. So the best thing you can have is to have it outlawed in the actual code section.



Audience Question: We know from other presenters that women will often not leave their domestic abuser because they are afraid what their abuser will do to their dog or pets. Most shelters don’t have a place or room for their animals. Is this changing across the U.S.? Maybe the better question is how can we help this situation change? 

Michelle Welch: I think the answer is twofold. It is changing across the United States. The length that I put back up for Animal Welfare Institute. Now it’s not perfect but the bottom line is it should have every safe haven which means any shelter that will allow you to either bring your pet or has a relationship with an animal shelter that will take your pet. We see that more than anything else. In Virginia, let’s talk about Richmond in particular, there’s two domestic violence organizations. They have a relationship with another animal shelter who will take the animal so that the woman can get out of harm’s way. That’s the first part of the question. I think the second part of it is to make sure you ask the question whether she has an animal because she might not tell you that right away because you are focusing on what her needs are especially like if she has children, right? You want to get the children out of harm’s way. You want to get her out of harm’s way. You may not understand the impediment for her not leaving is that animal. So, the bottom line is if you have a locality that doesn’t have a relationship with a shelter, I guarantee you someone will help you in the animal sheltering or animal rescue world. They don’t want an animal harmed. You can build those partnerships pretty easily. You have to do that over time. You can’t like you know you can’t just call — you could, and I am telling you that a lot of animal rescue would probably help you but you would want to develop that before you need it. That’s one encouragement I would have especially for DV advocates and social workers, is to reach out or to at least educate yourself on what resources you have. Almost every single locality in the United States almost has more than one animal shelter, private animal shelter. They all usually have a public animal shelter but we’re talking more about private animal shelters or animal rescues.



Audience Question: Kentucky is, she believes, the only state where it’s actually against the law for a veterinarian to report suspected animal abuse. Can you help us understand what the rationale behind this kind of law is? Is there hope for changing those kinds of law? 

Michelle Welch: Some well aware of that law in Kentucky. I actually just, I’m the chair of the Animal Co-advisory Committee for the Association of the Prosecuting Attorneys and we just had our Animal Crimes Conference in Kentucky. The only rationale for that law is to silence veterinarians from reporting animal cruelty. The problem with that and I know that there is some really great people in Kentucky — animal welfare advocates and prosecutors in Kentucky that are trying to change that law. That law silences veterinarians. Most states have either permissive laws like in Virginia we have our permissive law. They can report animal cruelty and if they do, they cannot be civilly liable for it. They can’t be sued for reporting to an animal control agency animal abuse. Other states have mandatory reporting for the veterinarians where they make the vet report. Again they usually have some kind of mechanism for civil liability. I hope that the Kentuckians that have been working on that law will get it repealed or at least changed because it really does silence veterinarians who would otherwise report animal cruelty.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of “The Link between Animal Abuse and Human Abuse.”



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