ANN ARBOR -- A half-dozen therapists gathered at the University of Michigan's School of Social Work Thursday for a training program aimed at equipping them with the skills to counsel animal abusers.
AniCare is a systematic assessment and treatment of animal abuse developed by experienced therapists and researchers. It is usually court ordered.
It was created by the Ann Arbor-based Animals and Society Institute, an independent research and educational organization that seeks to advance the status of animals in public policy, promote the academic study of human-animal relationships, and implement programs to break the cycle between animal cruelty and other forms of violence.
Thursday's program was conducted by Kenneth Shapiro, executive director of the Animals and Society Institute, and Kate Nicoll, a social worker from Wallingford, Conn., who developed an animal therapy program called "Soul Friends," a nonprofit effort established with a mission to promote the healing benefits of the human-animal bond.
One attendee at Thursday's program was Giovanni Santacroce of Toledo, a substance abuse counselor at the Salvation Army's Harbor Light program in Monroe.
He said he sees some parallels between the initial attitudes of substance abusers and animal abusers regarding accountability. The program gives him new techniques for treatment.
"Any training you get helps you to become a better clinician," Mr. Santacroce said.
The group has conducted more than 65 trainings in 22 states, Mr. Shapiro said. A new grant from Kenneth A. Scott Charitable Trust will fund programs this year and next in Cleveland, Columbus and Chicago, he added.
What could really kick-start the programs in Ohio is passage of a law that would make counseling mandatory for animal abusers, said Molly Tamulevich, who is pursuing a master's degree in animal studies at Michigan State University and was recently hired by the institute to administer the grant.
The Ohio legislature previously considered a bill, introduced by Rep. Courtney Combs (R., Hamilton), which would require a mental health evaluation for any child found guilty of companion-animal cruelty and, if appropriate, any treatment or counseling.
The child or his or her parents could be ordered to pay for the evaluation and any treatment or counseling ordered.
House Bill 25 would require mental health, therapy, and other medical professional and social work regulatory boards to offer courses on counseling individuals who abuse companion animals. The bill passed in the House in June, 2011, but then died in the Senate.
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