Today's animal abusers may well become tomorrow's perpetrators of violence against humans.
That's the conclusion of a growing body of research, and at the heart of a one-day conference in Oklahoma City featuring law enforcers, social service professionals and veterinarians.
Forensic veterinarian Dr. Melinda Merck says a comprehensive strategy is needed to break the chains of the link between animal cruelty and human violence.
"It's a multi-task kind of approach – you have to work with children, you have to work with empathy, you have to increase empathy. There’s all sorts of programs with domestic violence cases where we’re not just throwing them in jail – is how to we work with the offenders to get anger management or to get them back into society as better functioning and better well-being for them. We can’t just throw away the key."
Dr. Merck helped law enforcement investigate the animal cruelty case against football star Michael Vick. The Intersection conference was hosted by the Oklahoma Link Coalition and the Kirkpatrick Foundation.
Also at the conference, the Oklahoma Veterinary Medical Association and the Kirkpatrick Foundation unveiled the state's redesigned "Animal Friendly" vehicle license plate.
Proceeds from the license plate will benefit the state's Pet Overpopulation Fund to support the OVMA's pet sterilization program for low-income families.
OVMA Executive Director Amanda Meeks says pet overpopulation remains a serious problem in Oklahoma.
"We've all seen on the news how the shelters are having special adoption days and how they are just overrun with animals. And so this is really cutting back on those numbers of unwanted animals and so its very important that you get your pet spayed or neutered and just help to cut back on unwanted animals in Oklahoma."
Meeks says eight to 12 million animals are entering shelters across the country each year, and the number of animals that come about from unwanted and unspayed animals is growing at an astronomical rate. The new Animal Friendly vehicle plates will be available by the end of this year, but are available to order now.