Paws for a Moment by Bonny Corbeil

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The Topic That We Must Focus On

As this new year kicks into its second month, it is important to remind everyone in our St. John community that the most important and often heartbreaking issue that our ACC confronts on a daily basis is that of animal abuse. We wish we didn’t have to think about it so much, however we must because it stands in front of us every day demanding attention.

It will not go away until we understand it more deeply; take it under a microscope with a good dose of compassion and move forward in finding solutions in minimizing its impact on our community.

Human beings and animals have had a long historical partnership on this planet. We have been deeply connected on so many levels. Look at our Virgin Islands history and we see how important animals have been to our survival and progress. Do we not owe them a certain amount of respect and appreciation in return?

How we treat our animals certainly says a lot about our evolution as human beings. In the past 10 years, it has become increasingly evident that the incredible skills alone that dogs have contributed to the service of mankind are awesome, including serving the blind, sniffing out bombs in war-torn countries and saving children in a moment’s notice. The list is long and quite impressive.

I often wonder to myself who is more advanced spiritually, humans or animals? My rescue dog Princess convinces me that it is she. Her continual unconditional love, humility, dedication, loyalty and ability to be in the moment are all qualities that I have yet to attain in the ways she is able to demonstrate on a day to day basis.

There are many questions that we must all be asking along with public dialogue and discussion. These questions include:

– How can there still be so much animal abuse — not just here, but all over the world?

– What can one citizen and the community of St. John do to help change this?

– What impact has Bill #25, the anti-animal cruelty bill passed in 2004, made to our animal abuse issues today?

– How can we partner with our government, and particularly our V.I. Police Department, to enforce these laws?
Let’s start with some facts about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence:

– Seventy-one percent of pet-owning women entering women’s shelters reported that their batterer had injured, maimed, killed or threatened family pets for revenge or to psychologically control victims; 32 percent reported their children had hurt or killed animals.

– Sixty-eight percent of battered women reported violence toward their animals. Eighty-seven percent of these incidents occurred in the presence of the women, and 75 percent in the presence of the children, to psychologically control and coerce them.

– Thirteen percent of intentional animal abuse cases involved domestic violence.

– Between 25 and 40 percent of battered women were unable to escape abusive situations because they worried about what would happen to their pets or livestock should they leave.

– Pets may suffer unexplained injuries, health problems, permanent disabilities at the hands of abusers, or disappear from home.

– Abusers kill, harm or threaten children’s pets to coerce them into sexual abuse or to force them to remain silent about abuse. Disturbed children kill or harm animals to emulate their parents’ conduct, to prevent the abuser from killing the pet, or to take out their aggressions on another victim.

– In one study, 70 percent of animal abusers also had records for other crimes. Domestic violence victims whose animals were abused saw the animal cruelty as one more violent episode in a long history of indiscriminate violence aimed at them and their vulnerability.

– Investigation of animal abuse is often the first point of social services intervention for a family in trouble.

– For many battered women, pets are sources of comfort, providing strong emotional support. Ninety-eight percent of Americans consider pets to be companions or members of the family.

– Animal cruelty problems are people problems. When animals are abused, people are at risk.

– More American households have pets than have children. We spend more money on pet food than baby food. There are more dogs in the U.S. than people in most countries in Europe, and more cats than dogs.

– A child growing up in the U.S. is more likely to have a pet than a live at home father.

– Pets live most frequently in homes with children: 64.1 percent of homes with children under age 6 and 74.8 percent of homes with children over age 6. Women are the primary caregivers in 72.8 percent of pet-owning households.

– Battered women have been known to live in their cars with their pets for as long as four months.

These facts from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence certainly indicate that once again, animals have a great deal to teach us about ourselves, especially in regards to how we treat others. I wonder, are we learning these lessons?

Paws for a Moment will attempt to look at this issue more deeply in the coming weeks. Your concerns and comments are welcomed as we explore this important topic. Feel free to email me at bonnycorbeil@vipowernet.net.