- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 31, 2000

Antwonye Kirkpatrick's devotion to animals is mirrored in his compassion for people. The 14-year-old, who lives in a row house in the Petworth section of the District, has formed a group called Youngsters

Against Animal Cruelty (YAAC). He also checks up on his elderly neighbors and plays the saxophone for nursing-home residents.

He calls the animal shelter when he discovers an animal that needs help. He is the youth leader on his block and organized a neighborhood cleanup. He is planning a Thanksgiving for homeless animals via his YAAC Web site, sponsored by the Wall Street Journal.

Antwonye says he first knew he wanted to help animals when he was 9.

"A cat was in my yard, and his leg was hurt," says Antwonye, a ninth-grader at Theodore Roosevelt Senior High School. "I wanted to save him so bad."

Antwonye did save that cat by asking the animal shelter for assistance. He since has helped many other animals, too.

"When I was 12, I had a dream of teaching other kids how important it is to love and care for animals," he says. "I like telling other children what I know to help them out."

Antwonye's actions bolster a point embraced by social scientists and law-enforcement officials across the country: Compassion toward animals is linked to compassion toward people. Children who do not understand the lesson of empathy, they say, too often grow up to be violent adults.

"We are born with an element of empathy that hopefully continues to grow," says Barbara Boat, a psychologist at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center. She researches the connection between domestic violence, child abuse and animal cruelty.

"There have been studies on it," she says. "If you have a group of babies together and one cries, the others will get a real look of concern on their faces. But this has to be promoted and nurtured. If it isn't, it can get turned off."

Cruelty cases growing

Animal cruelty is a continuing blight in the District.

"In general, our cruelty caseload is increasing," says Cory Smith, a humane education specialist for the Washington Humane Society (WHS). "We are receiving more reports of animal cruelty every year; therefore, we are receiving more reports of juvenile cruelty."

Last year, the WHS investigated 3,500 reports of cruelty or neglect. Of those cases, 5 percent were believed to be perpetrated by children or juveniles.

For example, three boys found three kittens in a vacant Southeast apartment in June. According to WHS documentation, the boys (ages 12-13) kicked the kittens off a balcony. They then threw bricks on top of the animals and strangled them with cable wire. A parent of one of the boys later told a WHS officer that he was unaware that killing cats is against the law.

The boys have been referred to D.C. Child and Family Services (CFS) by the WHS. Although the WHS and CFS usually do not share information beyond the point of referral, "it is our hope that there is immediate intervention to prevent these kinds of violent acts in the future," says Rosemary Vozobule, WHS director of humane law enforcement.

Reasons for everything

Sometimes the link between the physical and the emotional is ignored, Ms. Vozobule says. It's this disconnect that confounds many mental-health professionals.

"Sometimes these are kids who are really in pain, and they desire to hurt something. Animals are an available target," Ms. Boat says. "But for some, it does bring satisfaction, and this is a very dangerous group of children."

Animal cruelty cuts across race and class lines. Recent events show it is alive and well in middle-class America. Columbine High School shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold apparently told their friends about engaging in animal mutilation, according to data from the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

And 16-year-old Luke Woodham of Pearl, Miss., murdered his mother and several classmates in October 1997 after beating, torturing and burning his dog to death. Randall Lockwood, HSUS vice president for research and educational outreach, says that in April of that year, the teen wrote in his diary: "I killed my first victim, a loved one, my dear dog Sparkle."

Heed warnings

These private preambles to public events have served as eye-openers to many.

"We really started to concentrate efforts [on the abuse link] after Columbine," says Lisa Lange, director of policy and communications for Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. "We now speak at women's legislative conferences and attend state legislators' conferences. We have met with the U.S. Department of Education. There is no reason why the signs should be there and be ignored. Lives can be saved when we are taught to recognize them."

The FBI makes a business out of searching for those signs.

"We take all forms of violence very seriously," says Alan Brantley, a supervisory special agent at the FBI's National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime in Quantico, Va. "Violence against human beings, we believe, is an escalation of violence against animals."

As a "profiler," Mr. Brantley investigates cases of violence against children and adults, sometimes reconstructing histories of people to solve crimes. His training grounds have been fertile. Before his 17-year career with the FBI, Mr. Brantley served for six years as a psychologist in a maximum-security prison.

"Animals can represent human victims," he explains. "They can grimace in pain, suffer, bleed and die. They are easier to obtain and control, and the penalties for hurting them aren't as stiff."

Data in hand, law-enforcement agencies, mental-health experts and animal-protection organizations are scrambling to find ways to help parents raise kinder children.

Starting young

The WHS has embraced Antwonye as well as about 75 other D.C. children who the organization has deputized as junior humane officers for reporting abused, injured or stray animals during the past year, Ms. Smith says.

"These children are usually very proud of themselves, and they should be," she says. "They've been brave enough to get involved and make a difference."

On a larger scale, agencies around the country are mobilizing to provide forums for the cruelty-violence link. Almost two dozen national agencies have joined to form the backbone of a campaign called Year of the Humane Child 2000, based in the District. The board comprises a mix of pediatricians, veterinarians, mental-health professionals, educators, law-enforcement personnel, lawyers and animal-welfare activists.

"Our mission is to educate parents, children and teachers about the importance of respecting and protecting all of Earth's creatures," says Sara J. Amundson, project chairwoman.

And the HSUS, a nonprofit with 7.1 million members and constituents worldwide, is focusing on the abuse link. Its First Strike Campaign was created in 1997 to "stop compartmentalizing violence and instead see it as a continuum," manager Claire Ponder says.

First Strike educators, including Mr. Lockwood, annually participate in hundreds of workshops across the country.

"I speak at child-abuse conferences, elder-abuse conferences," Mr. Lockwood says. "Very often, the perpetrators of violence don't make a distinction between victims, whether a spouse, a disabled person or an animal. They pick targets of opportunity."

Mr. Lockwood says First Strike educators do not ask various agencies to change the way they do their jobs, "but to be aware and use this as a way of gaining additional insight." Child-protection workers, for example, simply may ask children to tell investigators about their pets. These conversations sometimes lead to information about the care the child is receiving.

Members of both campaigns also are active on Capitol Hill, pushing for tougher animal-cruelty laws, which they believe are tantamount to breaking the cycle.

"In 31 states including Virginia but not Maryland some forms of cruelty to animals can carry felony-level penalties," says Lila Wadhwani, HSUS state legislative specialist.

The District's felony cruelty bill, which includes a provision for dog fighting, has been signed by Mayor Anthony Williams. In September, the bill was sent for congressional review, and a decision is expected in the spring.

"Animal cruelty is a serious problem in the D.C. area," Ms. Wadhwani says. "We think this will have a positive and important effect for the community, especially because it makes dog fighting a felony," as in 45 states.

A Herculean effort

Locally, the WHS is fighting a large battle with a small army. Ms. Smith and her colleague, Debbie Duel, spend their days on the front lines bringing the message of compassion to D.C. classrooms.

"About 69,000 kids attend D.C. public schools," Ms. Smith says. "Instead of trying to reach those 69,000 one time, we decided we would do 10 classrooms, or about 200 kids, for the whole school year to see if we can make a measurable difference."

She and Ms. Duel visit these selected classrooms regularly. They entertain and motivate the children via games and activities that stress the importance of responsibility. Every year the children receive the opportunity, courtesy the WHS, to visit a Maryland animal sanctuary. There they meet rescued farm animals.

Meanwhile, Ms. Duel has been conducting interviews with fourth-and fifth-grade students, using a survey created by Ms. Boat to measure attitudes about animals. During her one-on-one sessions with the children, Ms. Duel asks questions such as: Have you ever known an animal? Did that animal die? How? Have you ever hurt an animal?

The WHS plans to survey the same children at the end of the school year in an attempt to gauge the effectiveness of the humane-education program.

At Anacostia's Birney Elementary School, former Marine Steve Burton invites Ms. Smith to his fifth-grade class every two weeks to speak to his 17 students, each of whom she knows by name.

At Birney, the front doors are locked tight, many windows are cracked, and shards of glass glint from the playground blacktop. But the children are attentive and polite eager to please and eager to learn.

Ms. Smith asks the class: "What are some of the reasons you think people might give up an animal to the shelter?"

The students respond one by one.

Tiffany: "Maybe they didn't like them anymore."

Allen: "They couldn't afford them anymore?"

Alicia: "Because the pet was abusing the people."

Learning about animals "gives these children the opportunity to help those that are not protected," Mr. Burton says. "In a way, it covers some of the children, as well."

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