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Domestic Violence: Pets as Pawns

Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention Child Abuse, Domestic Violence, and Animal Abuse: Linking the Circles of Compassion for Prevention and Intervention

Evidence is mounting that animal abuse, frequently embedded in families scarred by domestic violence and child abuse and neglect, often predicts the potential for other violent acts. As early intervention is critical in the prevention and reduction of aggression, this book encourages researchers and professionals to recognize animal abuse as a significant problem and a human public-health issue that should be included as a curriculum topic in training. The book is an interdisciplinary sourcebook of original essays that examine the relations between animal maltreatment and human interpersonal violence, expand the scope of research in this growing area, and provide practical assessment and documentation strategies to help professionals confronting violence do their jobs better by attending to these connections.

This book brings together, for the first time, all of the leaders in this emerging field. They examine contemporary research and programmatic issues, encourage cross-disciplinary interactions, and describe innovative programs in the field today. The book also includes vivid first-person accounts from "survivors" whose experience included animal maltreatment among other forms of family violence.

Domestic Violence & Pets

Some people are cat people. Some people are dog people. Bird, fish, reptile and other animal-type people abound as well. "Fur People" (as pets are known in many homes) have some great assets, just by nature of being our pets. They're usually home, even in the middle of the night. Substance abuse among the pet population is rare (catnip might be an exception). Unemployment is expected of them, and they love us unconditionally. Animal companions are good for us. Studies show that people with pets have lower blood pressure, live longer lives and suffer from less anxiety.

But for victims of domestic violence, pets can become a barrier to leaving an abusive relationship and can even become a tool of violence for an abusive partner who is willing to injure or kill a pet as a retaliation or as part of a pre-emptive strike designed to gain or maintain control by means of terrorism. The more you or your children are attached to a pet, the more that pet can be seen by an abuser as a means to control you. Pets are also often seen as being in competition with an abusive partner for your attention.

Even if a spouse has never been violent towards YOU, it's vital that you take even the threat of violence against a pet seriously - not only for the pet's safety, but for your own as well. Tons of research has been done on the issue of animal abuse and the relation to child abuse and spouse battering and the facts are in: threats or actions against your pet are a very strong indicator that violence is on the way for you or your children.

Of 50 shelters surveyed about women and children escaping from domestic violence, 85% said that women in their shelter talked about pet abuse, 63% of children talked about pet abuse, and 83% said that they had observed the coexistence of domestic violence and pet abuse.

See: The Abuse of Animals and Domestic Violence:
A National Survey of Shelters for Women Who Are Battered
By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Claudia V. Weber, M.S., and David S. Wood,
Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Society and Animals, 5(3): 205-218. 1997

Further research indicates that 70% to 75% of women reporting domestic violence also reported that their partner had threatened and/or actually hurt or killed one or more of their pets. Actual (as distinct from threatened) harm to pets represented the majority (57%) of reports.

See: " Battered Women's Reports of Their Partners' and Their Children's
Cruelty to Animals
" By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Utah State University,
Logan, Utah. Originally published in Journal of Emotional Abuse, Vol. 1(1) 1998.

Nearly half (46.4%) of the incidents involved the father, stepfather, or woman's boyfriend as the perpetrator. 93% of the children indicating they were "sort of upset " or "very upset" by the incidents. 50% of these children said they had protected pets, in some cases by directly intervening to keep pets from being harmed. See: "Animal Welfare and Domestic Violence". By Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D, Claudia V. Weber, M.S., and David S. Wood, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. Originally submitted to The Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, April 25, 1997.

If your partner harms your pet in any way, consider filing a police report. Not only can this result in criminal charges, but as part of the bigger picture it helps to build your case for a restraining order to protect yourself and the rest of the famly, establishes a paper trail on the trend of violence from the abusive partner, and can start the ball rolling for your state crime victim compensation program to cover costs associated with abusive criminal action (remember to save all your vet bills). It also helps to establish a civil case against an abusive partner for intentional infliction of emotional distress should you decide to sue an abuser in civil court at a (much) later date.

Unfortunately, many victims stay in abusive relationships because they don't know what to do with their pets. Many victims, up to 25%, report that concern for their pets had affected their decisions about leaving or staying with the batterer. Higher proportions of rural than urban women reported that their partners had threatened or harmed their pets and that concern for their pets had affected their decisions. See: "To Leave or to Stay? Battered Women's Concern for Vulnerable Pets" by Catherine A. Faver, Elizabeth B. Strand. Journal of Interpersonal Violence. Beverly Hills: Dec 2003.Vol.18, Iss. 12; pg. 1367.

Family, friends, or a local domestic violence safe house might welcome you and your children, but what do you do about Fluffy?

If you are thinking about leaving because of domestic violence but hesitating because you don't want to leave your pet behind, always call your local program and let them know the situation - it's not a unique one. Some shelter programs have on-site kennels, others have other arrangements in place. Ask the program to help you find someone willing to house your pet. Many domestic violence programs work with local animal rescue programs or their local Humane Society to find safe and loving homes for your pet until you've made safer arrangements for yourself and your children. Just because you've never seen it advertised, don't assume that the help isn't available. You've got to ASK. Your safety and the safety of your pet depend on it!

Other things to do include:

  • Develop an emergency plan for sheltering the pets (check out the First Strike Planning Guide and the Personal Safety Plan on this website)

  • Establish ownership of the pets: obtain an animal license, proof of vaccinations or veterinary receipts in your name to help prove who owns the pets

  • Prepare the pets for departure (collect vaccination and medical records, collar and identification, medication, bowls, bedding, etc.).

  • Ask for assistance from law enforcement or animal care and control officers to reclaim the pets if left behind.

Resources: The Humane Society maintains the Online Directory of Safe Havens for Animals Programs. You can find a local pet shelter at the Humane Society Website. Also check the Pets 911.com website for local rescue groups and emergency vets.

If you are interested in starting a shelter program for animal victims of domestic violence, you can download:

Safe Havens for Pets: Guidelines for Programs Sheltering
Pets for Women Who Are Battered (PDF file)

by Frank R. Ascione, Ph.D., the world's leading authority on
the connections between animal abuse, child abuse, and
domestic violence. A must read for every domestic violence
worker, advocate, student, and supporter.

The American Humane Society also has excellent resources, such as:

We also highly recommend Breaking the Cycles of Violence (Set) A Video and Training Manual. When animals are abused, people are at risk; when people are abused, animals are at risk. This video, which is accompanied by a 64-page cross training manual, assists child protection, human service and domestic violence, and animal welfare professionals to identify, report, investigate, and treat interrelated forms of family violence. The video is a sensitive portrayal featuring a cross-disciplinary team of experts. It promotes community awareness about the connections between family violence and animal abuse. The video and manual are designed to train agency personnel, cross-train other agencies, sensitize community groups, and build coalitions. (26 minutes). Avaliable for about $30.00 from the Latham Foundation.

Related Articles and Links

Pets Get Pulled Into Web of Domestic Violence. News article from the Kalamazoo Gazette. July 25, 2004.

Animal Cruelty and Family Violence: Making the Connection. Article from the Humane Society of the United States

Additional Bibliography

2003 Report of Animal Cruelty Cases from the Humane Society of the United States.

Adams, C. (1994, Spring). "Bringing Peace home: A Feminist Philosophical Perspective on the Abuse of Women, Children, and Pet Animals. Hypatia. Vol. 9, Issue 2, Pages 63-84. Reprints available from Indiana University Press

Allen, M. A. "The Human-Animal Abuse Connection". The Latham Letter. Vol. 19, Issue 2, Page 9-15. Reprints: 510-521-0920.

American Animal Hospital Association. Human/Animal Bond: The Link Between Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence. 2004.

Arkow, P. 1994. "Animal Abuse and Domestic Violence: Intake Statistics Tell a Sad Story". The Latham Letter. Vol. 15, Issue 2, Page 17. Reprints: 510-521-0920.

Arkow, P. 1996. "The Relationship Between Animal Abuse and Other Forms of Family Violence". Family Violence and Sexual Assault Bulletin, Volume 12, (1-2), 29-34. Reprints available from The Family Violence and Sexual Assault Institute.

Ascione, F.R. (1998). Battered Women's Reports of their Partners' and Their Children's Cruelty of Animals. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 1(1), 119-132. Copies available from Haworth Press.

Ascione, F. R. (1996, Winter). Domestic Violence and Cruelty to Animals. The Latham Letter. Vol. 17(1), 1, 14-16. For reprints call: 510-521-0920.

Black, H. and Kramer, L. "DVERTing Domestic Violence". The FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. June 1998. Vol. 67, Issue 6, Pages 22-25.

Boat, B.W. (1995, June). "The Relationship Between Violence to Children and Violence to Animals: An Ignored Link?" Journal of Interpersonal Violence, Volume 10, Issue 2, Pages 228-235. Reprints available from Sage Publications at 800-818-7243.

De Angelis, Richard. "The Viscious Circle". Doris Day Animal League. Animal Guardian Magazine. Vol. 11, Issue 3, 1998.

Feldman, L. (1997). "Cruelty to pets and people as one battle". The Christian Science Monitor. September 10, 1997. Reprints can be ordered from Christian Science Monitor Archives.

Finkelstein, Susan. "Canary in a Coal Mine: The Connection Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence. Bellwether. Penn Veterinary Medicine. Issue 58. 2003.

Kogan, L., McConnell, S., Schoenfeld-Tacher, R., Jansen-Lock, P. "Crosstrails: A Unique Foster Program to Provide Safety for Pets of Women in Safehouses". Violence Against Women. Thousand Oaks: Apr 2004.Vol.10, Iss. 4; pg. 418. Reprints available from Sage Publications at 800-818-7243.

Korioth, T. (2000). Veterinarians: A Missing Link. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 216(1), 10.

Lockwood, Randall. "Animal Abuse and Human violence". Presentation for the World Small Animal Veterinary Association. Vancouver. 2001.

McCullough, S. (1999, September/October). Saving battered women: One pet at a time. Pets: Part of the family.

Murphy, P.A. (1999, January 8). Animals escaping domestic violence. OTI Online. [On-line*]. Available: http://www.echonyc.com/~onissues/f97murphy.html.

Quinn, Kathleen. "Violent Behavior Animal Abuse at Early Age Linked to Interpersonal Violence. Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter. Volume 16, No. 3, March 2000.

Randour, M.L. "What We Know About the Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence". Animals Voice Website. nd.

Ritter, Jr., A.W. (1996, January/February). The cycle of violence often begins with violence toward animals. The Prosecutor. 31-33.

Van Patten, Jan. The Relationship Between Violence Against Children and Animals (PDF). Protecting Children, Volume 15, Number 2, 1999.

Wisemoon, D., and Adams, C.J. (1994). A family affair: Battered women and battered animals. The Animals' Agenda, 14(4), 28-29.

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Last Updated: March 3, 2011