A strong connection linking animal abuse and domestic violence has been discovered through recent studies of women in domestic abuse shelters and substantiated reports on animal abuse.
Seventy percent of the women in these shelters reported either threats or actual harm to their pets. The study further revealed that 54% of these women stated that their pets suffered physical injury. The study also included a control group of non-shelter women where more than sixteen percent reported threats to their pets, but only three and a half percent reported actual harm to their pets. Surprisingly, a significant number of the women in shelters reported that fear for their pets’ safety kept them from leaving the abusive partner at an earlier time to seek help.
Social workers in domestic abuse shelters are keenly aware that women who are being abused may postpone leaving an abusive partner because of concerns about their pet. Many abused people report that the mental anguish of seeing a dearly loved pet abused is often worse than the physical punishment they had themselves received.
These studies have identified at least three ways that animal abuse and human violence are linked:
1) Abusers use animals to influence or hurt people. By abusing an animal that a person cares for, the abuser shows that they have dominance and control over their partner. When an adult or child witnesses what an abusive person does to their pet, they realize they are helpless against similar abuse. Abusers sometimes injure pets to punish their partners for leaving or attempting to leave them. Abuse of pets is also used as punishment to get back at the pet owner for something the abuser disapproved of. An abuser will threaten to harm a pet to stop an abused person from telling others about their own abuse.
2) Animal abuse by a child may be a predictor of adult violence. Children who abuse pets are more likely to commit violent crimes, including murder, when they become adults. One of the most consistent predictors of domestic abuse is engaging in animal abuse when the abuser was a child.
3) Abused children may in time become animal abusers. Several studies have shown that children who grow up in an environment of animal abuse are more likely to commit animal abuse and human violence when they are adults. Children who grow up in a household where animal abuse is common may become desensitized to the brutality and consider it normal. Children growing up in households where emotional or physical abuse between partners is a common occurrence also learn that one way to demonstrate your power and control is to abuse a defenseless animal.
The American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Medical Association, and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence have joined with many local governments and districts in the fight against domestic violence and animal abuse. Many city animal shelters are also recognizing that abuse of pets is growing at an unacceptable rate and are working to find new ways to increase awareness of the problem. Some veterinary schools have added abuse recognition training to their core curriculum. Extensive information is now available to help veterinarians recognize the warning signs of animal abuse and how to distinguish between injuries caused by abuse versus ones attributable to other injuries.
Animal cruelty needs to be taken seriously. It’s not only a horrible and disgusting crime, but is a harbinger of future abusive behavior or other violent actions by a person. It’s important to report any acts of animal cruelty you witness. Abusive treatment of an innocent animal should never be tolerated. Please help our furry friends and report any abuse to your local animal shelter or call your local Animal Control.