By Tatiana Garrett
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Pit Bull Awareness Month—both themes that promote the importance of compassion. And as the month comes to a close, I am reminded of the benefits that animals bring to humans. Interactions with animals can create more compassionate citizens. There are many lessons to be learned from companion animal friends, and the lessons extend to benefit people regardless of whether or not they share their home with a pet.
When reflecting on Domestic Violence Awareness, I not only feel compassion for the abused, but my thoughts also go towards what people can do to create cultures free of violence.
There is a researched and documented connection between animal cruelty and human-directed violence. Studies have shown that a significant percentage of serial killers and school shooting perpetrators had histories of animal abuse. Women admitted into domestic violence shelters have self-reported that their abuser also injured the family pet. Some children in violent households emulate the violence they experience by hurting their pets—the only family member lower than a child on the proverbial “totem pole.”
Humane education can be a valuable tool to teach children at a young age that it is important to treat animals with compassion and respect. Recognizing, reporting, and stopping animal abuse could help stop other forms of violence that might be taking place in secrecy.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “It is not the violence of a few that scares me, it is the silence of the many.” Anyone that becomes aware of any form of abuse has the power to seek help for the victim. A quick internet search can provide a contact number for a local domestic violence hotline or humane investigator.
The connection between domestic abuse and animal abuse is so prevalent that cross-reporting bills have been spreading across the country mandating humane investigators to alert child protective services if children are present in a home with documented animal abuse (and vice versa for child protective services to contact a humane investigator). Margaret Mead said, “The worst thing that can happen to a child is for him to harm an animal and get away with it. Animal cruelty kills respect for life.” It is not “normal” for children to hurt, kill, or torture animals.
Anti-violence initiatives promote kindness and tolerance. The same lessons can be applied to the current plight of the Pit Bull. A breed that was once revered as a war hero and loving family dog is now being sentenced to death in certain parts of the world (including cities in the U.S.) simply based on a broad and misguided definition of a “bully-type” breed.
Being biased against a breed does not address the issues that lead to aggressive dogs in communities. Pet guardians can be irresponsible with any breed. The truly irresponsible individuals that abuse dogs and force them to fight are not likely to bring their animals into the public eye and face confiscation. What lesson do we teach the children in our society when we exterminate based on appearance?
The Pit Bulls that I know and work with are loving dogs that have received certification—such as Canine Good Citizen, a test sanctioned by the American Kennel Club to verify a dog’s good manners and appropriateness for visiting with the public. The pet parents and the dogs volunteer to visit with children in camps, schools, hospitals, and juvenile detention facilities to foster empathy and compassion.
The Pit Bulls I work with all have stories of surviving abuse, and yet they still submit loyalty, love, and kisses to every person willing to give them a belly rub. When children hear an individual dog’s tale of abuse, neglect, and abandonment and see the animal before them with their adopted parent who provides unconditional love and patience—well, I’ve seen first-hand the inspiration and hope that these sweet Pit Bulls can provide to children that feel abused and forgotten.
Another October may be coming to a close, but all year long we can work together to stop violence in all forms. Advocate against violence and breed discrimination. Start by remembering that empathy and kindness are great antidotes to cruelty. Speak up to educate others on the connection between human-directed violence and animal cruelty and the current plight of the Pit Bull. Together, we can put a happy ending on every tale and tail.
Tatiana Garrett grew up with Borzoi, a rescued Standard Poodle, cats, hamsters, parrots, rabbits, guinea pigs, and an iguana… just to name a few pets. She began her professional career with animals in 1995 at Brookfield Zoo. She has studied wild dolphins in Australia and rescued wildlife in Florida, but people are truly at the heart of her work. If it walks, hops, or slithers, Tatiana cares about it. She currently oversees the Humane Education programs at The Anti-Cruelty Society and hosts “Chicago Tails” on Watch312.com.