PHOENIX (September 20, 2017)— Americans love animals. Nearly two-thirds of us have them in our homes. Unfortunately, the love for pets can be used against domestic violence victims when abusers see it as a means of power and control. In fact, 71 percent of domestic violence victims report that their abuser targeted their pet. An estimated 1 million animals are abused or killed each year in connection with domestic violence.

Now, the deadly link between animal abuse and domestic violence is catching the attention of local law enforcement, prosecutors, and domestic violence experts. The link is the focus of a press conference by the Maricopa Association of Governments and the City of Phoenix as the region prepares for October’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month. The press conference will be held at 10 a.m. on Friday, September 29, 2017, at the Arizona Animal Welfare League, 25 N. 40th Street, Phoenix.

“This link is very real,” says Buckeye Mayor Jackie Meck, chair of the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG). “Eighty percent of homes where abused or neglected pets were found also had previous investigations by child welfare agencies of physical abuse and neglect. Animals and children are easy targets since they cannot pick up a phone and dial 9-1-1.”

Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton says animals are often the only source of kindness and compassion for domestic violence victims, making them targets for abuse. “Domestic violence and animal abuse share disturbing links. People need to recognize the signs that lead to abusive behavior so that every person can do their part in ending it,” said Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton. “No person should feel helpless.”

Many animal abuse cases are investigated by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) and placed in the MCSO Animal Safe Haven (MASH unit), where they are cared for and often serve as evidence.

“Our investigators witness heartbreaking stories in which animals were threatened or tortured to keep the victim from leaving the situation, and studies bear that out,” states Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone. “As many as half of victims delay leaving an abusive situation for fear of what will happen to the pets left behind,” he says. “We are finally seeing renewed attention to this issue and we hope it leads to policies that better protect both humans and animals.”

Orders of protection grant domestic violence victims custody of their animals and include an order for the abuser to stay away from the animals. When offering a plea bargain, prosecutors often request that animal abuse defendants undergo domestic violence counseling. Prosecutors say animal cruelty cases may be “precursor crimes” and must be taken seriously.

“Animal abuse should be seen as a red flag for family violence, including domestic violence, elder abuse and child abuse,” says Mesa Assistant City Prosecutor Alison Ferrante. “It is one reason that the FBI now mandates that animal cruelty be reported as a separate violent offense. Animal cruelty is a violent act that can lead to greater violence.” Ferrante calls on law enforcement, prosecutors and judges to implement standard operating procedures in dealing with animal abuse.

If you or a loved one are experiencing domestic violence, please call 9-1-1 or 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). To report animal cruelty, contact the Sheriff’s Office at (602) 876-TIPS (8477). For emergency animal rescue assistance, please contact the Arizona Humane Society at (602) 997-7585 Ext. 2073.

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