First Strike is an action campaign founded by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) in 1997 to address the “connection between animal cruelty and human violence,” according to informational materials published by the HSUS. The program aims to eradicate cases of animal cruelty while educating animal caregivers, law enforcement, and social workers about the link between animal abuse and violence in general. To help accomplish its goals, First Strike carries out educational campaigns, assists in prosecution of animal cruelty cases, works with a variety of people on the ground, and keeps statistics on animal cruelty around the United States.
According to the HSUS, 20% of all animal cruelty in the United States is perpetrated by teens, primarily males. Beginning in the 1970s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has linked incidences of childhood or teenage cruelty to animals with later psychopathic behavior. Continued studies by the HSUS and FBI have shown that pet abuse often accompanies elder abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence. By recognizing the link and the warning signs, First Strike hopes to improve the lives of people and animals.
First Strike works with law enforcement personnel, shelter workers, veterinarians, animal control officers, educators, and social service workers. In addition to providing educational material to these individuals to help them recognize warning signs, First Strike also helps them take action in situations where animal abuse is a concern. First Strike has successfully paired with local law enforcement in the investigation and eventual prosecution of numerous animal cruelty cases, and also lobbies the state and national governments to increase the penalties for animal cruelty.
When working with social service workers and educators, First Strike stresses that animals can be used as indicators. For example, if the pets of an elderly person with a caregiver appear abused or sick, it suggests that the elderly person may be in danger from his or her caregiver. Pet abuse also frequently occurs in households which are experiencing domestic violence, and many abused children also abuse animals. By recognizing this link, educators and people who work with children and adults at risk can potentially put a stop to a bad situation before it gets worse. In addition, people who may become violent offenders later can be treated and monitored.
In addition, First Strike works with teens and adults to educate them about animal cruelty and the ways in which they can prevent it. Adults are encouraged to start neighborhood watch for animals programs in their neighborhoods, while teens are given access to confidential tiplines and counseling. By addressing animal cruelty from a number of angles, First Strike can make a difference.