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Animal Abuse and Family Violence

Animal welfare, law enforcement, domestic violence and child welfare agencies are working together more and more in recognition of the link between animal abuse and family violence. In fact, animal abuse is considered a predictor of family violence. Because abusers target those who are powerless and vulnerable, crimes against animals go hand-in-hand with crimes against humans. Sometimes one of the first physical acts of violence displayed by an abuser is towards the family pet. This is a good indicator that physical violence will be used against family members, if it hasn’t already begun. In order for abusers to get power and control within the family, they will often terrorize the family by threatening to harm or actually harming the family pet. Threatening or hurting the pet may be used as a warning (“Next time it could be you”). Threats may also be used as leverage. Fear for the pet keeps the family members from disclosing the abuse and exposing the abuser. Abusers may emotionally abuse their victims by forcing them to witness cruelty to their pet.

Statistics

  • 85% of pets living in households with family violence are either abused or killed
  • 57% of survivors of family violence have had a pet killed by their abuser
  • In 2007, 7% of media-reported animal cruelty cases either occurred in the context of a domestic dispute or involved a person with a history of domestic violence
  • 59% of survivors of domestic violence are unable to escape abusive situations because they worry about what will happen to their pets if they leave
  • Up to 70% of animal abusers also have records for other crimes
  • 19% of people who have witnessed abuse in animals have never reported it

Possible Signs of Abuse & Neglect of an Animal when Domestic Violence is Occurring

  • Fear of people
  • Pain response to touch
  • Easily startled
  • Skin conditions that have caused loss of hair, scaly skin, bumps or rashes
  • Unexplained injuries such as limping or open sores
  • Under weight or over weight
  • Fur infested with fleas, ticks, or other parasites

Types of Abuse against Animals

Physical abuse includes causing unnecessary pain, like inappropriate methods of training. Emotional abuse may include repeated or sustained “mental violence” like withholding social interactions. Neglect is the failure to provide adequate levels of food, water, shelter, and veterinary care to animals causing poor physical condition.

Characteristics of an Abuser

    • Needs great amount of attention
    • Possessive, jealous and controlling of their partner
    • Fear of being abandoned by their partner
    • Emotionally dependent on their partner
    • Low self-esteem
    • Poor impulse control and easily frustrated
    • Use children or animals to exert power over their partner
    • Blame their partners for their own abusive behaviour
    • Constantly lie and/or play “mind games”
    • History of serious and repeated animal cruelty in their childhood or adolescence

Unfortunately children often learn what they live. Children who abuse animals may be imitating parents who are abusive towards them or other family members. These children may be seeking a sense of power or they may just be venting their anger or frustration. They sometimes may want to kill their family pet to prevent the abusive person from doing so. Paying attention to these behaviours and intervening when the abuse takes place may prevent the child from developing aggressive or abusive tendencies towards others.

Community Action

Communities are beginning to realize that animal cruelty is not a small crime that receives a slap on the hand. It is a serious crime and could be a sign to more significant crimes in the future. Some courts are now investigating the families of animal abusers. As a result, psychological evaluations or counselling may be recommended to the abuser. Communities must continue to be aware of abuse and understand that is it unacceptable behaviour in any form.

What should I do with my pet if I decide to leave my relationship?

Until recently, pet-owning victims of abuse had few options if they needed to escape from a violent relationship and feared what might happen to animals that were left behind. In the last decade, many domestic violence shelters have teamed up with humane societies, animal care and control agencies, veterinarians and others to provide temporary shelter for animals in need. You could also try to find a friend or a family member to take care of your pet until you are able to look after them again.

      • Tell the individual who looks after your pet to keep your pet’s location a secret.
      • Make sure to have your pet licensed and vaccinated and any receipts from the veterinarian are in your name.
      • Have any items that belong to your pet in a safe place, especially medications.
      • Have law enforcement accompany you to reclaim your pet if they need to be left behind.

What can I do to help?

If you or someone you know is abusing animals please contact your local Police, Animal Control Officer or Animal Shelter to let them know what is happening. Be aware of any signs of neglect or abuse. Take children seriously if they report that animals are being abused or neglected. Some children will not talk about their own suffering but will report the abuse of their family pets.

      • Be aware of the link between family violence and animal abuse.
      • Get involved with your local Humane Society or Shelter and see what kind of support they can give to a victim’s pet.
      • Report abuse immediately to your Animal Control Officer, Animal Shelter or Police.
      • Ask questions.

Please do not ignore this crime, tell someone as soon as you can to help prevent further abuse towards animals or towards family members from happening.