May 17, 2004 – National, international and local experts will discuss "The Connection between Animal Abuse and Interpersonal Violence" at a Caribbean Animal Welfare Conference hosted by the St. Croix Animal Welfare Center at the Buccaneer Hotel Thursday through Sunday.
The conference, organized by Paul Chakroff, executive director of the St. Croix center, is the first of its kind in the territory. Its scope will bring a wealth of information on sensitive and far-reaching issues concerning the relationship between animal and human abuse, as well as well as a myriad of other animal issues.
Sponsoring the event are the Pegasus Foundation, which provides private, independent support for animal and environmental initiatives; the U.S. Humane Society and the International Humane Society, in collaboration with the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council of St. Croix.
"It's exciting," Chakroff said Monday morning. "We have had a tremendous response from down island. That interest really pleases me. It's been a lot of work. We've been working on coordinating this with the Pegasus Foundation for about the past eight months."
About a hundred persons have registered for the conference — from Anguilla, Antigua, Barbuda, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, St. Eustatius, St. Lucia, Sint Maarten, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the U.S. mainland, as well as the Virgin Islands.
Of the speakers coming from off-island, Chakroff said, "Randall Lockwood, a vice president of the Humane Society of the United States, is one of the top two or three experts in the country on the relationship between animal and child abuse. Lt. Sherry Schlueter has more than 32 years experience in the Broward County, Florida, Sheriff's Office, specializing in animal cruelty investigations." Both are scheduled to speak and lead panel discussions on Friday.
Lockwood is vice president for research and educational outreach, overseeing professional education provided by HSUS, the nation's largest animal-protection organization. His areas of research into the interactions of people, animals and nature include:
– The benefits of pet ownership to human health.
– The link between cruelty to animals and other forms of violence.
– Animal cruelty as a factor in the childhood of violent criminals.
– The treatment of animals within child-abusive or otherwise disturbed families.
His HSUS efforts to increase public and professional awareness of the connection between animal abuse and other forms of violence and to find creative approaches to addressing the problems of violence in society have brought increasing attention to this issue.
Schlueter started and commands the Special Victims and Family Crimes Section within the central detective bureau of the Broward County Sheriff's Office. The emphasis of her investigative and law-enforcement experience has been on animal cruelty investigation. She has written successful local and state legislation, including the original Florida felony animal cruelty statute, which became law in 1989.
She has focused attention on the correlation between animal cruelty and interpersonal human violence through her writing, speaking, and teaching locally, nationally and internationally.
In the Virgin Islands, a proposed felony animal cruelty bill has been tossed from one committee to another or rejected in the Legislature for years. Chakroff is hopeful Schlueter's expertise can help spur action on the current bill, sponsored by Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg. It is now in Sen. Lorraine Berry's Public Safety, Judiciary, Homeland Security and Justice Committee, awaiting further amendments from Donastorg, Berry said recently. (See "Animal Cruelty All Too Common in the Territory", the first article of a three-part series the Source ran last fall.)
Donastorg is one of the local speakers scheduled, along with Sgt. Thomas Hannah and Officer Charles Nibbs of the Police Department; Mary Mingus, co-director of the Women's Coalition of St. Croix and Minut Sanden, assistant attorney general. Hubert Brumant of the Humane Society of St. Thomas and members of the society board will participate, as will Johanna Chawziuk of the St. John Animal Care Center.
The conference begins at 12:30 p.m. Thursday. The afternoon will be devoted to a Compassion Fatigue workshop for animal care professionals, domestic violence advocates, child protection service professionals, and other human services personnel. It will be conduced by Robert Roop, a certified compassion fatigue specialist with HSUS. Compassion fatigue is the natural consequence of stress resulting from caring for and helping traumatized or suffering people or animals.
Friday's schedule includes remarks by Donastorg, an address by Lockwood, panel discussions on cruelty and abuse "Issues in Law Enforcement" and "Issues in Domestic Violence and/or Children's Protection Services," and a "Call to Action" strategy session.
Saturday's theme is "Best Practices in Humane Control of Stray and Feral Dogs and Cats in the Caribbean." There will be addresses, panel presentations and discussions, including an address by Neil Trent of the Humane Society International on "Caribbean Animal Laws Overview: What Works and What Doesn't." The program concludes on Sunday morning with a "post-conference" hands-on workshop on animal capture and handling.
For the complete conference itinerary, see the Pegasus Foundation Web site.
Chakroff said the conference is open to the public, but seating is limited and it is almost booked solid. There is a $25 daily fee for Friday and Saturday. For more information, contact Chakroff at 719-4190.
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