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OK law enforcement, veterinarians addressing link between animal abuse and human violence

The Oklahoma Link Coalition hosts a day-long training on the link between animal cruelty and human violence (Caroline Vandergriff/KOKH).

Research shows a clear connection between violence to animals and violence to people, and agencies in Oklahoma are coming together to help prevent both.

"We do see a strong connection and overlap between animal cruelty and various forms of interpersonal violence, particularly in domestic violence, child abuse, and elder abuse," said Dr. Randall Lockwood with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The man who opened fire Sunday in a Texas church left behind no shortage of those types of red flags in the years leading up to the attack.

Devin Patrick Kelley escaped from a mental health facility five years ago, according to police reports, after sneaking guns onto an Air Force base. He served 12 months confinement after a 2012 court martial for beating his wife and baby stepson. In 2014, he was arrested on an animal cruelty charge in Colorado, after a neighbor said he punched a dog and dragged it by the neck.

“So almost a textbook case of the interconnection of all these different forms of violence,” said Dr. Lockwood.

Dr. Lockwood said more than half of school shooters have histories of animal cruelty.

“In many of these cases, the early history wasn’t recognized or reported or responded to, and that seems to be one of the failings in this case," he said. "People knew, certainly of [Kelley's] domestic conviction of child abuse, and that fell through the cracks and didn’t get into the system.”

The Oklahoma Link Coalition brought law enforcement officers, social workers, and veterinarians together Tuesday for a day-long training on the issue, in order to better prevent similar cases in Oklahoma from falling through the cracks.

“So really creating those connections and those networks is what’s going to spread the message and help solve the problem,” said Amanda Meeks, executive director of the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association. “it’s getting information into the clinics and working with veterinarians on signs and what to look for when an animal comes in that has been abused, and then the proper steps to take.”

By getting different agencies talking to each other, they hope to better recognize red flags and create a larger network to deal with them.

“You do need to respond to animal cruelty in a lot of different ways,” said Dr. Lockwood. “You need strong laws that protect animals. You need the general public to recognize and report it. You need police who will respond appropriately and investigate. You need prosecutors who are willing to take the case on. Everyone benefits from that.”

Dr. Lockwood added that it’s important for the public to speak up and report animal abuse if they see it, so law enforcement can then respond.

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