Winter 2016

On the Shelf

New book explores the forensics of animal abuse

In response to growing evidence that people who abuse animals are more likely to engage in other forms of violence, at least 31 states now mandate or recommend that those convicted of animal cruelty undergo a psychological evaluation or counseling. Until now, there hasn’t been much out there to guide psychologists and psychiatrists about how to do such assessments or to advise judges ordering evaluations on what to do with the results.

150WshelfbookA new book, Animal Maltreatment: Forensic Mental Health Issues and Evaluations (Oxford University Press, 2015), edited by Gary Patronek, an adjunct professor at Cummings School, and psychologists Lacey Levitt and Thomas Grisso, is the first to address forensic mental health assessments and interventions for animal abuse. In the book, 16 experts in animal protection, the law and mental health explore how the nature of animal abuse—be it a crime of unintentional neglect or one of malicious, intentional cruelty—should guide the criminal justice system.

The book is groundbreaking in that it describes how different forms of maltreatment affect animals physiologically, biologically and behaviorally. “The analogy to this is that if you were conducting the differential evaluation of child abuse, you would certainly want to understand the effects that abuse had on the child,” says Patronek.

A founder of the Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium, Patronek cowrote the chapter on hoarding, a recognized mental health disorder. “We know that if there’s no treatment, the risk of relapsing is very high in a person guilty of this behavior,” he says. “Simply taking away the animals is not going to be enough to solve the underlying psychological condition.”

Animals occupy a strange legal position in cruelty cases, he notes. “For all practical purposes, the animal is the victim, but from a legal perspective, the animal is actually considered evidence of a crime.” In a drug case, by contrast, police can lock up seized contraband and come back to it at trial. But animals are living evidence. “We are trying to bring this to the forefront, so the courts can do a better job of taking victimized animals’ interests into account when approaching these tricky cases,” says Patronek. Genevieve Rajewski

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