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    Friday, June 21, 2024

    Conn. officials address reported link in animal cruelty and child abuse cases

    Branford — There have been more reports of animal cruelty and child abuse in recent years in what officials say is part of a statewide effort to highlight and address the link between the two.

    Animals were harmed in 88 percent of homes where a child was physically abused, and 75 percent of female survivors of domestic violence report their pets were threatened or intentionally harmed by their partner Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz said at a press conference Friday, referencing statistics from various studies.

    Abusers can exploit the emotional attachment to pets as part of the "coercive control over victims," Bysiewicz said. There's also a cycle to animal cruelty, with studies finding that children who are exposed to domestic violence are three times more likely to be cruel to animals.

    "April is both Child Abuse Awareness Month, and it's also Prevention of Cruelty to Animals month, and it's important to recognize the link between these acts of violence, the overlap of child abusers and animal abusers," Bysiewicz said at the recently built Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter in Branford, where members of the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and Department of Agriculture spoke on the open communication between the agencies and cross-reporting efforts made to track cases of animal cruelty and domestic violence.

    Enacted in 2011, the cross-reporting law mandates that DCF social workers report suspected animal abuse to the agrigulture and vice versa. The program was further expanded in 2014 to include municipal animal control officers in the reporting system.

    Last year, the agriculture department sent DCF more than 90 reports while DCF sent 60 reports to the agriculture department, said Dr. Nicole Taylor, DCF's director of pediatrics. Of the reports, she said 17 percent met the standard for an abuse and neglect investigation.

    At the conference, Taylor said the rise in reports over the last several years relates to both agencies' increased education and outreach efforts.

    Taylor said DCF made cross-reporting part of the mandatory in-person and virtual training for all staff across its 14 offices. The department also doubled the number of cross-reporting liaisons who help triage cases between DCF social workers and animal control officers, and provide monthly training and educational support to staff.

    She said there's also an ongoing partnership between DCF and the animal advocacy community through Paws for Kids, which promotes child and animal well-being through education, cross-reporting efforts and marketing. The partnership also established Animal Assisted Interventions for children with trauma.

    Similarly, Department of Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt said the agency has also made the cross-reporting role a "critical component" of the animal control officer's work and reviews cases of suspected abuse on a daily basis.

    "Without the cross-reporting law, the data would sit in our respective agencies... (and) will not lead to outcomes," he said. "We don't believe in siloing our work. This administration believes in championing outcomes and finding solutions to make sure that the outcome that we're seeking to achieve is actually achieved."

    Executive Director of the Connecticut Humane Society James Bias said it's very rare for states to have animal cruelty and domestic violence cross-reporting between agencies. Although he is grateful for the work between agencies, he said other agencies still need a lot of education.

    He also said that many laws relating to animal cruelty in Connecticut need updates. He encouraged residents to make reports and call their local legislators to address the issues better.

    "There are a number of cases that have resulted in intervention, whether it's to bring in education support or the actual removal of children or animal," Bias said. "Animal cruelty cases rarely take a break, and having 24 hours a day, seven day a week access is important. We still need education in our court system and our prosecuting system."

    He said those at Friday's event recognized the link between animal cruelty and abuse.

    "But we still have agencies and those connected to those agencies that don't quite understand this isn't just a case of 'boys being boys' or kids just growing up, doing things and then they'll somehow transition into good citizens for our communities," Bias said.

    The conference ended with a tour of the new Dan Cosgrove Animal Shelter, which opened last year. The shelter's executive director, Laura Burban, said the new facility has many aspects that the former building didn't, such as a private room to conduct investigations, a private entrance for animal control officers, maternity and quarantine wards for sick animals and multiple play areas.

    They also have a number of community-based initiatives, like yoga days and reading to the animals at the shelter, Burban said.

    "It was really important to us that the animals that come here that are abused and neglected and treated cruelly have a safe place and a comfortable place to rehabilitate," she said. "We're very fortunate that we do work so closely with DCF and the Department of Agriculture to really get these cases to go to the court systems and see justice for these animals."

    Members of the public can report animal cruelty directly to their local animal control department or to the state animal control at 860-713-2506 or AGR.AnimalControl@ct.gov. Reasonable suspicions of child maltreatment can be reported to the Child Abuse and Neglect Careline at 1-800-842-2288.

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