Animal Advocates expanding resources for survivors of domestic violence and animal abuse

Recent domestic violence cases involving animal cruelty have called the Animal Advocates of Island County to assess resources and look for options.

Recent domestic violence cases involving animal cruelty have called the Animal Advocates of Island County to assess resources and look for options.

December, 2013, 35-year-old Carl J. Phillips, Jr. faced charges for allegedly choking a woman and throwing her kitten across a parking lot. September, 2017, Coupeville resident Jonathan P. Rasmussen faced charges for allegedly killing a dog with a pickaxe and threatening his mother with a chainsaw. November, 2021, Edward C. Barrera faced charges for alleged attempted child molestation, beating and threatening his wife and abusing a dog.

The overlap is more common than people think, said Animal Advocates of Island County co-founder Donna DeBonis at an educational meeting Thursday. Abusers often use animal cruelty as a tactic for emotional domestic violence.

Since starting the advocacy organization, DeBonis has received these calls, she said.

“It was shocking,” she said. “It was. I had this happen a few times. That’s how this particular thing evolved. I felt the need for it. I have many, many things I could talk about education-wise, but this just came to the forefront.”

The group originally formed to push for a new county animal welfare code that would set more stringent kennel licensing requirements, tougher penalties for violations and more power for animal control officers. It was this link between domestic violence and animal abuse that earned them the unanimous support of county commissioners.

“I have had people contact me and say ‘Can you help me and my dog get out? Can you help me find a place for me and my dog?’ I didn’t expect those phone calls, those emails, those texts and I really felt it was important to respond to that so I could try to find some resources for them,” DeBonis said.

Animal abuse laws came before child abuse laws, DeBonis said. It started with the Cruelty to Animals Act in 1849 in England, followed by the formation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals in 1866 in New York.

Child cruelty protection came later, with the formation of the first child protective agency in the world in the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children in 1874.

In 2018, the Pet and Women Safety, or PAWS, Act, signed a grant program into law for entities that provide shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors with their pets.

DeBonis was quick to acknowledge that men suffer from domestic violence and the emotional trauma of animal cruelty as well.

As part of the Revised Code of Washington 16.52.205, involving a child in animal cruelty is a form of abuse. In many states, abusing an animal in front of a minor is considered child abuse.

Sheriff Rick Felici attended Thursday’s meeting to provide additional resources.

“I’ve been in the business for 30 years and I was not aware of (that code),” he said.

If an animal is in imminent danger, call animal control, Felici said. A dog not on a sheltered property is likely not an emergency unless it is in “dire straits.”

If in doubt, just call.

“We get calls for all kinds of stuff that turns out to be nothing,” he said. “That’s sort of just the nature of the way things are. We’re not going to be upset about that.”

Animal Advocates of Island County is working to create additional resources and expand existing resources for survivors of domestic violence and animal cruelty in the coming months.

Island County’s domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking support agency, CADA, can be reached around the clock at 360-675-2232. For animals needing homes, the Whidbey Animals’ Improvement Foundation number is 360-678-9011. Animal Control can be reached at 360-679-9567.

If all else fails, dial 911, Felici said. The non-emergency line ends up in the same dispatch center anyway. With modern technology, calls don’t clog the line like they used to.