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Pets often secondary victims of abuse

Most come in beaten.

They've been kicked and punched. They fear people.

The dogs and cats taken in by the foster home that helps a Pasco County domestic violence shelter are the secondary victims of an age-old social problem.

But there is no room at the shelter for them and few places for them to go.

That fact puts women at risk of staying in abusive situations, experts say. They often are loath to leave an animal behind to bear the wrath of an angry spouse or boyfriend.

"We had a woman in the shelter whose cat was murdered by the abuser," said Michele Anderson, domestic violence program director for the Salvation Army in Port Richey. "There is a great need for the women to be able to come in and make sure their pets are safe."

Anderson wants to create a committee of countywide officers from law enforcement, domestic violence shelters, animal control and even child advocacy groups to address the long-known link that joins their jobs.

"There is definitely a connection between animal abuse and child abuse and violence in the home," she said.

One of the duties of the committee could be to form and distribute a list of volunteer foster homes willing to take in pets on short notice.

"How do we connect with law enforcement so that if there is a domestic violence incident in the home, who can be responsible for that pet?" she asked.

She recently visited the advisory board to Pasco County Animal Control in search of help.

"Injuring or killing a pet is often a message by the abuser that I can do this, I'm capable of it and you could be next," she said after the meeting. "Harming something they love demeans the victim. It's a manipulative technique . . .

"The women will want to come in (to the shelter), and they don't want to leave their pets. Sometimes that makes their decision for them, whether they do come into the shelter."

Many people might remember the story of Buster.

He was the year-old boxer mix attacked last year with a claw hammer by his owner's then-boyfriend. Buster lost an eye in the attack, in which he was left for dead. Sympathy poured in from across the country. Thousands of dollars were raised for Buster's medical bills. He eventually was put in a boxer witness protection program and flown to a new home out west.

Buster's story inspired help from the woman who now runs the main foster home for animals of victims at the Salvation Army shelter.

"Most of them we have here have already been beaten," said Nancy, whose last name is being withheld by the St. Petersburg Times because of the nature of the business she runs. "That's something we work with them here, getting them to trust us again. My husband is a major part of that because, unfortunately, it's the men" who have abused them.

Police reports in Pasco give examples of animal abuse connected to domestic spats. Aside from Buster, a Zephyrhills man was arrested in July 2001 after he broke into his son's home and threw a kitten against a wall. He told police it was better he killed the kitten than his son. Officials later had to euthanize the animal.

Shelter officials tell tales of the children who report that their pets have disappeared, later to admit the animals were killed by their father.

There is a string of serial killers with histories of animal abuse: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer and Albert DeSalvo (the Boston Strangler).

Anderson's idea for Pasco has already taken shape to the south.

For a year now, the Humane Society of Tampa Bay has moderated a task force that is made up of members of the SPCA of Pinellas; the North Pinellas Humane Society; Hillsborough County animal services; the Tampa police; the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office; as well as social workers and psychologists.

They use videos, billboards and brochures to educate the public along with mental health and social workers about the link between domestic violence and child and animal abuse, said executive director Linda Baker of the Humane Society of Tampa Bay.

"It is our hope that an animal control officer investigating animal abuse who thinks there can be a crossover for human violence, that there can be some cross reporting . . . and vice versa," Baker said.

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