The D.C. council is considering an animal-protection bill that also would help protect against child abuse.
A provision in the Animal Protection Amendment Act would require animal-control officers to tell the D.C. Child Protective Services Administration that children live in homes where abused animals were found.
“We have often encountered cases of child neglect or abuse while investigating complaints of animal abuse,” said Washington Humane Society official Adam Parascandola. He said the bill is important because family welfare agencies rarely investigated his complaints when there was no clear evidence a child was abused.
The bill would require the protective services agency to make “reasonable attempts” to investigate the welfare of children in homes with abused pets.
The help of animal-control officers “essentially doubles the number of people who are looking out for the various forms of abuse,” he says.
Little scientific information is available about the correlation between pet and child abuse. However, a 1997 survey of the country’s 50 largest women’s shelters found 85 percent of women and 63 percent of children at the shelters said a family pet was abused.
A 2003 report showed children sometimes allow themselves to be harmed to protect a parent or pets. One of the first studies on the issue, in 1983, showed 88 percent of homes with abused children had abused animals.
Mindy Good, spokeswoman for D.C. Child and Family Services, which oversees the CSPA, said the agency supports the bill because it cannot investigate a home based only on an incident of animal cruelty.
Animal cruelty is defined in the District by such acts as mutilation, starvation and cruel chaining.
Miss Good said last year the CPSA received about 650 reports a month of child abuse and investigated an average of 400 monthly. Supporters also say people don’t see child abuse because it usually happens in private, but neighbors are likely to see an animal being abused outdoors and call authorities.
“It’s all to the good,” Miss Good said. “You’re doubling the number of eyes. If you’ve got a deplorable home situation, it may be unhealthy for kids.”
Every state and the District require certain professionals, usually doctors and teachers, to report suspected child abuse, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In at least five states — California, Colorado, Indiana, Maine, and Ohio — animal-control officers are among those professionals. Eighteen states, including Maryland, require a resident to report the abuse.
“Although this bill is titled the Animal Protection Amendment Act of 2007, it improves the lives of every human citizen of the District by promoting a safer, less violent and more compassionate community,” said Joan Schaffner, director of the Animal Law Program at the George Washington University Law School, who helped draft the bill.
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