A 2012 report called The Cruelty Connection looked at whether there was a relationship between animal abuse and domestic violence in Alberta.
And there was — people who committed crimes against animals also committed crimes against people.
The project (a collaboration between the SPCA and the RCMP) found that in 85 per cent of cases when the abuser threatened to harm an animal, he carried that threat out. This ranged from breaking legs on food animals and pets, hanging, drowning, beating, starvation, isolation and painful slaughter, as well as torture. So when a person holding his family hostage said he would harm the animals or pets, he usually did so.
If that was not enough, there was a certain mind game involved where the crime was committed in front of the children. Again 85 per cent of the time — often driven by fear of leaving home — the family pet was usually the victim.
The report found that abused or oppressed women on farms are reluctant to leave because they have to leave the animals behind. If they have access to transportation and are not being watched, they can get the kids in the car and maybe the family dog. But it is hard to get the cat, chickens, geese, sheep, cattle, and horses in the same vehicle. The concern of the welfare of the animal is so great that it keeps families at risk — 59 per cent of women said they endured spousal abuse rather than leave their animals.
In the Cruelty Connection report, the authors were astounded to discover that basic animal welfare was misunderstood and most certainly underappreciated. The connection between human and animal welfare was very deep and the report urges us to consider the importance of the continued work with food animal welfare programs.
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On larger farms, because of their access and public transparency, codes apply and audits are necessary. That does not mean that family violence does not exist on larger farms, but these sorts of programs often do not get to isolated farms where women, children, and animals are marginalized. And when people are marginalized, so are animals.
I heard this first hand when talking about animal welfare to children ages nine to 18 years. They did not consider intermittent care of food animals or even the stoning of the family dog to death wrong, because it was part of their everyday life. It was “just Dad’s way.”
Animal welfare research has highlighted the importance of touch and of voice when handling animals. How we speak to and handle animals not only affects their emotional well-being, but also their production.
Other research has documented the “profound difference” on production and behaviour when food animals were exposed to familiar faces and actions. It found a disruption in the human family can often spill over into a disruption in the emotional and productive state of the animals in our care.
We have said before on these pages that society lumps animal welfare and human rights in the same camp — and this is well documented. What they may have not realized, and nor did agriculture, was just how deep those two are related.
The director of dairy stewardship at one of the largest U.S. dairies reminded us at a recent livestock care conference that “poor animal welfare is unsustainable” — a statement most folks would wholeheartedly agree with. Very few wake up in the morning with an intention to harm or create suffering. Rather we work toward the care and comfort of our animals at all times. It is in their best interest and in ours — as farmers or pet owners.
But human beings make mistakes, and they can often arise in that constant quest for ultimate performance. This results in infertility, woody breast, laminitis, and a host of other sources of pain for both the animal and the caregiver. We need to revisit the cost of single-trait selection, which is not a sustainable practice and impacts the bottom line.
And there are often simple ways to avoid complex problems. A poultry expert at the same Alberta Farm Animal Care conference said that in designing housing, we need to remember “these are ground birds — going up causes stress.”
It is our duty as farmers to ensure that we train, respect and care for those who work on our farms and this is very critical for family. Everyone on the farm should be empowered to do the right thing and no one should be pressured to accept a practice just because it is ‘Dad’s way.’
In other words, the key to the creation of a safe and wholesome environment for people and animals on our planet is culture. We do not turn a blind eye to animal suffering nor should we to human suffering — both are a grave injustice.
You can report animal welfare concerns by calling Alberta Farm Animal Care’s Alert Line (1-800-506-2273) and animal abuse by calling the SPCA (1-800-455-9003 or 911).
You can report domestic violence or abuse by calling 911.
Information on women’s shelters in Alberta can be found at www.acws.ca and your local RCMP detachment has information on victim services in your area. Alberta Health Services’ help line number is 310-1818.
By reporting abuse, know that you have taken one step forward for a culture that honours the animals and people entrusted to our care.