Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence
Animal abuse and domestic violence often occur in tandem. Victims of domestic violence have deep attachments to their pets and consider them sources of comfort and affection. Perpetrators of domestic violence take advantage of this human-animal bond in order to emotionally abuse their victims. Abusers may threaten or commit violence against a pet to threaten or control their victims and to confirm their own dominant status in the family. Abusers can use violence against pets to isolate their victims and as retaliation if their victim tells others about the abuse or tries to leave. Victims who cannot find a safe place for their pet may delay leaving an abusive relationship for fear of what might happen to their pet. Abusers use the threat of violence against pets to coerce their victims to return or to punish them if they leave. Some abusers force their victims to participate in the animal abuse in order to emotionally abuse and degrade them.
In the United States and Canada, between 70 and 85 percent of female victims of domestic violence who left their abusers reported violence against their pets. Children witness violence against pets in one-third to two-thirds of these cases. Child abuse and animal cruelty are also linked. An abusive parent may kill or injure a pet to punish a child or to ensure the child’s silence about physical or sexual abuse. Victims of child abuse may themselves injure their pets in order to rehearse their own suicide, to “protect” the pet from parental torture, or because they identify with and imitate their abuser. The abuse of animals in childhood indicates an increased likelihood of interpersonal violence in adulthood because the abuse desensitizes the child and reduces his capacity to empathize with others.
What Steps can Law Enforcement Take?
Police departments may form cross-trained units who can respond to and investigate child abuse, domestic violence, and animal cruelty complaints. Police can instruct officers who respond to domestic disturbance calls to determine if a pet lives in the home and be alert for signs of animal cruelty. Police officers should notify local animal shelters or other animal welfare agencies of animal abuse. If cruelty to animals is a criminal offense in the state, police may arrest the abuser for cruelty to animals even if victims refuse to press charges on domestic violence counts.
Law enforcement officers can take signs or complaints of animal abuse as serious signs of cruelty that may indicate child abuse or domestic violence. Law enforcement officers should ask children and victims of domestic violence about their abuser’s relationship to their pets. Often victims are more willing to talk about the abuse of a pet than their own abuse.
Law enforcement officers should ask victims and their children:
- Do you own a pet?
- Has anyone in your home injured or threatened your pet?
- Has anyone in your home ever killed a pet?
- Do you have a safe place for your pet if you leave the home?
What Steps can Domestic Violence Shelters Take?
Domestic violence shelters can partner with humane societies, animal care facilities, veterinarians, or other animal welfare groups to provide shelter for the pets of domestic violence victims. In 2004, over 700 shelters reported providing such assistance in placing pets in safe temporary homes. Few facilities provide shelter for domestic violence victims and their pets in the same location.The Pets and Women’s Shelters (PAWS) run by the American Humane Society are one such program.
What Steps can Animal Shelters Take?
Animal shelters and other animal welfare groups can partner with domestic violence shelters to provide homes for companion animals. Animal shelters can also partner with local law enforcement agencies to provide training on how to recognize animal abuse. Shelters can also retrieve pets from abusive homes at the request of law enforcement. Animal groups can publicize the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence and distribute information on the signs of animal abuse.
What Steps can the Public Take?
The public can lobby their elected representatives to amend their state animal cruelty code to make killing or torturing animals in order to intimidate or frighten people a crime. Laws against domestic violence can be amended to include cruelty to animals in order to threaten or terrorize people a crime.
Legislators can also pass laws extending protection orders to pets. Orders of protection or restraining orders often prohibit an abuser from approaching a victim, the victim’s home, children, vehicle, or place of employment, but rarely include pets. Extending orders of protection to cover pets will reduce the use of violence against pets as retaliation against a victim for leaving the abusive relationship. Maine, California, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, Illinois, Louisiana, Tennessee, Washington, and Vermont have already enacted such laws.
- Fact Sheet on Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence: Lists reasons abusers abuse animals, how animal abuse is connected to domestic battery, questions domestic violence victims should be asked in order to protect their pets, and things victims can do to protect their pets.
- Facts About Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence: Gives statistics on the connection between animal abuse and domestic violence.
- Pets and Domestic Violence: Links to detailed articles and research on the link between pet abuse and domestic violence.
- Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: Explains what law enforcement and domestic violence advocates should ask victims in order to help protect their pets.
- Cruelty to Pets: Details how abusers can use pets to threaten and abuse their domestic partners.
- Domestic Violence Victims and their Pets: An article on battered women’s reports of their abuser’s violence against their pets.
- The Connection Between Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence: An article from the Journal of Social Work Education on the connection between violence against animals and domestic battery.
- Pets and Domestic Violence: Information on domestic violence includes a link to an article on pets and domestic violence.
- Pet Cruelty and Child Abuse: Information for veterinarians on the signs of and the connection between child abuse and pet abuse.
- Pet Abuse: An article on pet abuse and domestic violence.
- Fact Sheets on Domestic Violence: Links to fact sheets on the link between pet cruelty and domestic battery.
- Responding to Domestic Violence Handbook: A handbook for those who fight animal cruelty on how to recognize domestic violence. Also includes information on the link between both types of violence.
- Animal Cruelty and Domestic Violence Stories: Stories and statistics on the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.
- Report on Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: A report to the Florida Senate on the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.
- Animal Cruelty and Domestic Battery: Information and statistics on the concurrence of acts of domestic violence and animal cruelty.