My Turn: The healing power of furry beasts |

My Turn: The healing power of furry beasts

The link between animal cruelty, family violence and child abuse is a strong one. Pets are usually considered members of a family. Think of how many friends, or maybe you, who consider their dogs or cats as their children. A pet is the most defenseless member of a family; they have limited ways of protecting themselves from harm. Many people are conscious of the sad fact that animal cruelty occurs in all communities. However, the fact that animal cruelty is an indicator of family violence and/or child abuse often gets overlooked. In a 1996 study of women in domestic violence shelters, 85 percent of the women reported witnessing incidents of pet abuse. Also, 63 percent of children in the shelters talked about incidents of pet abuse. Acts of aggression against a pet are used to coerce, control and intimidate vulnerable human family members. When children witness such acts in the home, they are also vulnerable targets for emotional and physical abuse.Tahoe Womens Services (TWS) believes that violence is a learned behavior. Keeping this in mind, when a child witnesses a parent mistreating a pet, then they are more likely to replicate that interaction with a pet. TWS often refers to the inter-generational cycle of violence. This means that violent behaviors are taught or modeled to the younger generation and this continues on to the next generation and so on. Cruelty to animals is a strong predictor of violent behavior. Many of our countrys most famous serial killers had histories of mutilating, torturing and killing pets and animals.In an effort to stop the cycle of violence, Tahoe Womens Services will be providing a pet-assisted therapy group to child clients who have witnessed family violence or been abused themselves. Emerging research shows pet therapy to be a valuable tool in healing from trauma, improving mental health, and building empathy for others.Pet-assisted therapy is a true collaboration between Tahoe Womens Services and The Humane Society of Truckee Tahoe (HSTT). The Humane Society already has an animal-assisted therapy program, which reaches out to hospice and Tahoe Forest Hospital. This pet therapy group will be a new venture for both TWS and HSTT. The Humane Society will be providing the pet therapy dogs and their handlers. The dogs are certified Canine Good Citizens and complete training through the Humane Society with their human handlers.The group will cover a variety of humane issues as well as provide non-structured time for the children to interact with the dogs. Participants will learn about pet care, signs of animal maltreatment, animal communication and overpopulation. Discussions will also focus on how animal maltreatment relates to the participants own maltreatment. It is hoped that the experiences in this group will help the children grow into future responsible pet owners, empower them to speak out if an animal or human is mistreated, and simply feel good about themselves.Jessica Linn is the Children’s program manager at Tahoe Women’s Services.

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