Updated: Friday, 23 Apr 2010, 5:20 PM MDT
Published : Wednesday, 03 Mar 2010, 11:06 PM MST
ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - The connection between domestic violence and animal abuse is a big, ongoing problem in New Mexico, and a number of different groups are trying desperately to call attention to it.
Many people refer to it as "The Link."
"It's been a recognized phenomenon for hundreds of years, but we still have a lot of folks that don't know about it," said Tammy Fiebelkorn, a volunteer with the annual governor's conference focused on the phenomenon.
Numerous studies show domestic violence offenders often use violence against animals as a way to torture their human victims while asserting power and control.
Between 50 and 71 percent of women seeking shelter from domestic violence reported their abuser had hurt or killed at least one family pet.
"It was horrific. That's the only word I can think of," one victim told News 13, requesting her identity not be revealed.
According to the victim, who asked to go by the name Sam, the abuse began shortly after she got married to a man who became jealous of her dog.
Eventually the jealousy turned to violence.
"I knew that he knew the way to really hurt me was to go after my dog," Sam said. "At that point he left me and went after him. (The dog) had so much blood coming out of his nose and mouth."
According to Sam, the dog survived the initial attack. But shortly after the couple divorced, Sam's ex-husband came back and killed the dog.
"Our first step in stopping this Link is educating the public about the fact that it exists," Fiebelkorn said.
State lawmakers responded to a push to recognize the Link, by passing a joint memorial in the last 30 day legislative session declaring February 10 New Mexico Link Awareness Day.
Another push to modify the state's Family Violence Protection Act died on the Senate floor. The change would have formally included animals in orders of protection.
Pets are not currently mentioned in paperwork for restraining orders. Changing the law would have made it easier for domestic violence victims to escape dangerous situations, knowing their pets would be OK.
It's a big factor when it comes to getting victims to feel comfortable enough to get help, according to police.
"Us investigating these types of cases, you do definitely see that," Albuquerque Police Department Sgt. Paul Szych said. "For people who don't have children, a lot of times their pets are their kids."
According to Animal Protection of New Mexico, abusers often use animals to demonstrate their power and control.
"I've had calls regarding animals as large as horses. Horses that were cruelly castrated in front of the victim as a show of power and force," said APNM cruelty complaints manager Sherry Mangold.
"The really frightening one is where the person remains in the situation for fear of what will happen," Mangold said.
Supporters of the push to include animals in orders of protection say they will push for the change again in the next legislative session.
Fiebelkorn will be amongst a large group of volunteers, law enforcement officers, lawyers and judges meeting in June to identify better ways to identify and stop abuse, investigate cases and provide proper treatment for abusers.