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Domestic Abuse and Animal Cruelty

October 30, 2011 by  
Filed under Dog Health and Nutrition, Featured Articles

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and since animal abuse is so closely related to domestic violence, we wanted to bring you a short article about both.

Statistics on the link between domestic violence and animal cruelty

According to the ASPCA, “a New Jersey study found that in 88 percent of families where there had been physical abuse of children, there were also records of animal abuse. In Wisconsin, battered women revealed that in four out of five cases, abusive partners had also been violent toward pets or livestock. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted its own study in which 85.4 percent of women and 63.0 percent of children reported incidents of pet abuse after arriving at domestic violence shelters.

Looked at from the other direction, the Chicago Police Department reviewed the records of those arrested for animal fighting and animal abuse and found that 30% of arrestees had domestic violence arrests, as well.

Reasons why family abusers may also abuse animals

For the most part, domestic violence has its roots in power and control.  In abusing the family’s pets, the abuser can help to isolate family members from outside contacts and to keep family members in fear.  Animal abuse, or threats of it, can also be used to punish or bring back a family member who has liberated himself or herself from the home.

In some cases, family members become collateral damage when the abuser strikes the animal.  If a child or even an adult steps in to protect the animal, the abuser may injure the rescuer, either on purpose or inadvertently.

Pets also make great coercive devices for abusers.  For example, if the abuse victim doesn’t obey the abuser, the abuser might threaten to harm the animal as a way to bring the victim back in line.  Abusers also use threats of animal cruelty to coerce their victims to participate in sexual acts or to keep quiet about their abuse.

And one other thing:  what can a victim do if s/he wants to escape the home but is afraid to leave the animal behind?  Many women’s shelters cannot take animals, and victims are all-too-aware of what would happen to a dog or cat left behind with the abuser.  In some cases, victims choose to live in their cars rather than leave an animal behind if no pet-friendly shelter options exist in their community.

Some solutions

Criminal justice agencies are beginning to see the connection between domestic violence and animal abuse because of some of the studies cited above.  Because of this, judges are beginning to include animals in orders of protection, and some states allow judges to include violence against pets as part of the definition of domestic abuse.

When animal cruelty charges are brought, it is important that family members be asked about possible domestic abuse in the home because they so often occur together.

What can you do?

Contact your local domestic violence shelter and contribute whatever they need.  (Items most often asked for include paper towels, diapers, used furniture and household items, gift cards for local discount department stores as well as for fun places like McDonald’s and movie theaters.)

Meet with local veterinarians and try to start a foster home network where abuse victims will know their animals are safe while they work on finding permanent, safe housing for their family.  Find information on creating safe havens.

Lobby your state legislators if your state doesn’t already include animals in the definition of domestic abuse or if protection orders do not regularly include animals.

Learn more about the links between domestic abuse and animal abuse.  Read Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention.

Even if you don’t see animal abuse, you might see victims of domestic violence (which may indicate that animals are also being abused).  Learn to recognize the signs, because there won’t always be visible bruises.  A few of the things you might see in victims of abuse include:  fear, anxiety, high absenteeism from school or work, long-sleeved or high-necked clothing during the summer (to hide bruises), unwillingness to go anywhere outside of regular work/school hours, limited access to money or transportation, and low self-esteem.  If one of your friends shows these symptoms, help them get help for both themselves and their dogs.

Advocate for the end to all violence.  Learn about the Take Back the Night initiative to stop violence and attend events in your area.

If you or your family members or pets are being abused, report it as soon as possible and get out.  Leaving your home will put you at significant risk so it is important to plan carefully and go directly to a hospital or police station when you leave.  Either place can help you find safe shelter for both the humans and the pets in your home.  If you feel your abuser will challenge your ownership of the animals, be sure to get them licensed in your name and have at least one vet receipt in your name.  If you cannot take your pets with you when you leave, ask for law enforcement assistance to go back and get them.

AARDVARK has lots of other resources on this topic.


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