Oklahoma cases highlight link between animal abuse and family violence.

OKLAHOMA CITY - Several recent incidents in Oklahoma show the clear link between animal cruelty and escalating acts of violence against other members of a family or community.

In Craig County, a man with a history of violence and domestic abuse had an argument with a female postal worker, resulting in him violently stabbing her two family dogs in the chest and leaving their dead bodies by the post office front door. He did this after killing his own dog with a claw hammer, frightening his live-in girlfriend to the point that she called law enforcement to seek assistance in fleeing the violence. The male subject has an outstanding $50,000 warrant for animal cruelty. Craig County Sheriff's Office Investigator Frank Miller also cited a recent case in which a man with a history of violence toward his wife and child, as well as disabled family members, killed cats in front of his wife and child as a way to threaten and control them. An Oklahoma County man was charged in 2015 with felony animal cruelty after violently beating his dog. This year, the same man struck his partner multiple times while she was holding their infant daughter. He has been charged with domestic assault and domestic abuse in the presence of a minor.

This small sampling of cases in our state illustrates what research has shown for years - acts of cruelty against animals are an indicator and predictor of violence toward other vulnerable members of a family, which often spills into the larger community.

As this connection becomes harder to dismiss, communities around the country, including in Oklahoma, are taking animal cruelty more seriously. Several animal cruelty investigations in the last year in Oklahoma County have resulted in harsher convictions and sentencing. An offender recently received an 8-year prison sentence after officers discovered starving dogs and neglected goats in his care. Another received a 20-year suspended sentence, has to spend weekends in county jail, and is banned from owning animals for not providing shade or water for his dogs. Yet another perpetrator received a year in county jail, plus a 5-year suspended sentence and 160 hours of community service. These acts were in conjunction with other offenses, which is consistent with the proven link between animal abuse and other crimes. Addressing these acts of maltreatment toward animals leads to more protected families, safer communities, and less violence in our state.

Other communities are joining the movement to recognize that animal abuse isn’t just about an animal victim. Ottawa County Sheriff Jeremy Floyd started a unit in November 2017 specifically to address animal abuse, citing “the Link” as a significant reason.

Roger Nagl, a deputy with the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, states that “animal abuse has been a topic that has been brushed aside for quite some time now. The damage goes a lot further than just the animals being abused. A perfect example in Oklahoma is how domestic violence victims have stated over and over that their abuser has abused the victim’s pets before abusing them or threatened to abuse the animals if the victim tries to leave the situation or speak to anyone about it.”

According to Nagl, funding and training are two major issues, and the Ottawa County and Craig County Sheriff’s Offices, the Oklahoma Link Coalition, Oklahoma Alliance for Animals, and the Humane Society of the U.S. are taking steps to create a training module to provide law enforcement and prosecutors the education and resources needed to combat this growing problem.

One response to this growing issue is the Oklahoma Link Coalition, a network of over 200 Oklahoma professionals and concerned citizens that seeks to promote awareness, education, and action around the link between animal abuse and family and community violence. To learn more, visit http://www.oklahomalinkcoalition.org.

The Oklahoma Link Coalition is a project of the Kirkpatrick Foundation under its Safe & Humane initiative.