At a recent seminar on animal abuse, members of the Baltimore County Police Department, the Baltimore County Animal Services, the Office of the State's Attorney, and veterinarians met with various groups to discuss the problems associated with animal abuse and the correlations it has to further violent behavior, arguing for stricter enforcement and stronger laws.

During the daylong session, attendees were reminded that, in some cases, animal abuse is a precursor to domestic abuse. Oftentimes the victim in a domestic case is fearful of leaving the abusive situation because there is a pet at home. The abuser threatens the victim by threatening to harm or kill the pet if the victim leaves.

Another issue is the lack of shelters for the pets of the victims. That is starting to change. Social workers found that the victims will leave their home if they know there is a safe place for their pets. We forget that pets are part of the family and are loved. Finding shelter for household pets can become another difficult factor in the decision to leave an abusive relationship.

Animal abuse has been found to be a precursor to violence against other people. When investigators looked into the past of serial killers, they found that animal abuse is often the start of their criminal activity. Recent Texas serial shooter, Devin Kelley, was court-martialed in 2012 and sentenced to a year in prison for domestic assault on his stepson. He subsequently received a "bad conduct" discharge by the Air force. Kelley was arrested in 2014 for animal abuse after tormenting a dog by punching, hitting and throwing the defenseless animal. Other serial killers follow much the same path; they abuse animals and then proceed to abusing and killing people.

Our officers learned that if a child is found abusing animals, there may be something causing the violent and cruel behavior. Most likely there is physical abuse in the home, either of the child or another family member. The child copes by copying the same behavior as the abuser. However, studies have also shown that sexual abuse of a child also often leads the child to engage in the abuse of animals. Helping these children at an early age may prevent the escalation of violent behavior and future tragedies.

Prosecutors at the conference are working with police to go beyond the normal questions when handling a domestic violence call. Officers were told to inquire further regarding children and pets. With this information, our officers can make the necessary calls to the Department of Social Services. Officers can find out if there is an agency that can take the animals out of the home and place them in a safe environment while the children go with their abused parent. If the victim feels the children and pets will be safe, they will most likely leave with the officer and be taken to a safe house.

This is one of many conferences that Baltimore County Police attend to further their knowledge. As an officer and professional, it is important to keep up with the latest trends in crime prevention. Baltimore County Police constantly strive to make Baltimore County a safe and comfortable place to live and work.