Shannon Burke fallout: Domestic violence, animal abuse often go hand in hand, experts say
By Anika Myers Palm
Sentinel Staff Writer
May 9, 2009
For domestic-violence and animal-abuse experts, the case of radio personality Shannon Burke, accused of shooting his wife and dog, sounds very familiar.
Without referring to the specifics of the Burke case, they noted this week that there's often a relationship between abuse of animals and that of their owners.
"Once or twice a week, we have someone call Harbor House who wants to come in but is afraid to leave their animal behind because they know if they leave it behind, it'll be killed," said Carol Wick, chief executive officer of Harbor House, a local shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Batterers often will use animals to torture and terrorize their human victims, "to basically say, 'If you don't do what I say, this will happen to you,'" Wick said.
Shannon Burke remains in the Seminole County Jail after a chain of events triggered by accusations that he shot his wife's small dog and grazed his wife, Catherine Burke.
Shannon Burke, 43, faces charges of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and animal cruelty, accused of firing a .40-caliber bullet that passed through the dog's leg and grazed the side of his wife's head the night of April 30.
He is being held without bail after he was accused of violating terms of his pretrial release after his arrest last week.
Meanwhile, Burke's arrests and the allegations against him have triggered strong reactions across Central Florida.
Fans have accused the media of unfairly demonizing the former radio personality. Others have denounced Burke, saying he deserves the harshest punishment imaginable.
Now the aftermath of his arrest includes emotional reactions from Burke's fans directed at his wife. A profane message was left on the voice mail of Catherine Burke's attorney, Michael K. Rathel. The voice mail — an edited version is at OrlandoSentinel.com — was time-stamped late Thursday.
"That [expletive] deserved what she got," the message said.
"I had her home-phone and cell-phone numbers changed," Rathel said, so calls are coming into his Orlando office.
Catherine Burke isn't the only woman to accuse Burke of abusive behavior. His ex-wife, Susan Pendergraft, 47, of Winter Park, and former girlfriend Deanne Schulz, 39, of Heathrow both won court orders this week that effectively ban Burke from contacting the women or their children.
In a petition filed in Orange County, Pendergraft wrote that Burke was erratic and volatile and that he had once held a gun and threatened to kill himself. Pendergraft and Burke divorced in 2004.
Schulz's petition, filed in Seminole County, said Burke had bitten and choked her, and fired a gun in her presence.
Neither petition mentions animals.
Dog got outIn the incident involving Burke and his wife, dogs play a key role. According to her petition, Burke came home upset that his dog Waco had escaped a fenced area by digging himself out and that Catherine Burke did not know where Waco was.
That's when Burke threatened to shoot his wife's dog Charlotte, a Cavalier King Charles spaniel, according to her petition. Then, according to his statement, his gun accidentally discharged.
The correlation between animal and personal violence is so strong that local agencies have sought to increase awareness of the problem.
In fact, domestic-violence and animal agencies generally accept statistics showing that 71 percent of women in shelters reported they'd had an animal battered or killed by their molester, and that three of four animals in homes where domestic violence occurs will be tortured and abused.
Harbor House is emphasizing the subject this year, and Orange County Animal Services has launched a program called Cruelty Hurts to focus on the connection.
The American Humane Association, a Denver-based network of child- and animal-protection agencies, has encouraged domestic-violence shelters to consider the needs of pet owners. The group launched the Pets and Women's Shelters program in February 2008 to provide standards for shelters housing domestic-abuse victims and their animals.
Help for petsHarbor House personnel hope to break ground soon on a kennel for the animals of the people who stay at the shelter.
"As soon as we raise enough money for it, we'll be breaking ground," Wick said.
The shelter's kennel would be the first of its sort in Central Florida.
The only PAWS shelter in the state is in Naples, according to the American Humane Association Web site.
Currently, the Orange County shelter tries to find temporary foster homes for the animals.
Animal Services personnel have received training to work backward from cases of animal abuse, paying attention for hints of domestic abuse. If abuse is suspected, the Animal Services officers will contact Harbor House or the Department of Children and Families.
"We're out there investigating these kinds of situations all the time," said Kat Kennedy, a spokeswoman for Animal Services. "We did over 4,000 investigations of cruelty, neglect and abandonment last year."
Rene Stutzman and Gary Taylor of the Sentinel staff contributed to this report. Anika Myers Palm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5022.
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